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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Exclusive: Interview with Derek Tam-Scott, OTS and Co Co-Founder

I had the pleasure to interview a passionate and knowledgeable car enthusiast in the past days, someone with a rich background on the rare and obscure jewels in the car world: Derek Tam-Scott; he is OTS and Co. co-founder, who, by the side of Robert Eppley and Tazio Ottis reunites several decades worth of experience and passion for the ultra-rare in the industry.

Please join me to read more about OTS and Co; and how it fits in today’s enthusiast-driven supercar market. Derek has not only founded OTS and Co, but he can also be found on the Hagerty Podcast Network co-hosting the Carmudgeon Show, or through his past BTS with DTS video series on Youtube, back when he was working with ISSIMI.

Dear Derek, I just visited the otsandco website, had a look and found the phrase: Think of us as your car sherpa. Then it proceeds and talks about specialty car experience.

First of all, please, tell us about otsandco, what is it exactly? Who is it for?

OTS and Co is specialty car dealer which doesn’t have any particular focus beyond cars that are interesting. This is of course quite subjective, but our target is to have each car produce a “wow that’s cool” response. That or we’ve said yes to a great customer and we are fundamentally in the business of keeping our customers, both current and future, happy. Most of our clients are collectors or at a minimum passionate enthusiasts.

Let’s go back a couple steps, shall we? What does otsandco actually mean? As in, what do those letters stand for?

O is the last initial of OTS co-founder Tazio Ottis, whose father started one of the most well-respected Ferrari repair and restoration shops in the United States. TS are my last name initials.

What would you say is the unique recipe that has guided Derek, Robert and Tazio to founding otsandco?

From an external standpoint, our recipe comes down to several core competencies. The foundation of our business is deep subject matter expertise. Both Tazio and I started in this world as children and thus, despite being only in our 20s or 30s, have a lot of experience operating in this world. We’ve had the privilege of interacting daily with dream cars (our own dreams included) and have learned how to vet them, contextualize them, and intimately understand what separates an average example from an exceptional one. These years of experience have also allowed us to build deep international networks of car folks that allow us to find, place, and evaluate cars. We are also able to present cars at the high level that today’s market demands, including photography, video, and prose.

Internally, our team has a great, informal rapport that makes almost all our team interactions feel like friends hanging out. We have complementary personalities and skill sets, respect one another’s knowledge, work ethic, and judgment in a way that makes working together a pleasure.

Speaking of those speciatly cars, are they stored at your own facility? Do you have a physical showroom that people can visit?

Yes we have our inventory stored at our facility which people can visit by appointment.

On your website, you mention two key principles, being know what we’re talking about , and do what we say we’re going to do.  Can you please elaborate further?

See above for more color on “know what we’re talking about” but I would also add that our approach towards placing cars is based on knowledge. This could mean general expertise about what is and isn’t correct on a model of car or specific knowledge about the example for sale such as its history, condition, or shortcomings. Our goal is not to sell anyone on anything but to instead give them the information they need to make a purchase or selling decision.

Regarding “do what we say we’re going to do,” this comes down our standard of conduct in this industry, which is of course not always known for being transparent or a model of moral rectitude. We are in it for the long haul and thus preserving relationships and generally doing right by people is our most important goal, even if that means a less favorable outcome in the short term.

So, are you a specialty car broker? Is it only about the über-rare exotics?

Yes we broker, buy, and sell on consignment as well. We definitely don’t focus exclusively on exotics. The litmus test is more about whether the car interests or excites us. Cases in point:  the Lotus Carlton or the E46 M3 we have which is a fairly pedestrian enthusiast car except it is a one-owner 29,000 mile car and happens to be the only Laguna Seca Blue on Cinnamon manual coupe without a sunroof sold in North America. When we learned about the car’s existence and availability, we thought “this is too cool not to have,” so here it is.

 Thank you, understood. Are you able to provide financing, or is it all cash?

We can refer clients to entities that do specialty car financing but we don’t provide it ourselves. So far, all of 4 months in, all of our deals have been cash.

I understand you’re based in the US; Berkeley, CA to be precise, but do you deal with cars and customers internationally? Please provide me with an actual real-life example of that.

Certainly, despite only being in business for 4 months, we have already done deals in Japan and Europe. In one case, a client was looking for a very particular Porsche in a very particular color and we were able to find exactly what he was looking in Japan so I flew there to inspect it and it’s now on its way back to our client in the US.

We’ve found and imported a 190E 2.5-16 Evo II for a client in Europe and also helped place a purple Lamborghini Diablo SE30. We are currently working on bringing a very quirky one-off Ferrari to the United States from Switzerland, and these deals came together via a collaboration with Swiss dealer Andreas Wuest, who is a also good friend. The common thread in these dealings is combining our network with those of other dealers and brokers around the world to bring our collective resources together to get cars transacted. This builds trust, and ultimately over the long term, friendships.

Let’s imagine for a moment that I was in search of my next dream-car-come-true experience. A very specific idea I’ve had in mind since childhood: maybe having a poster of it, maybe seeing it at a relative’s or neighbor’s garage, and now I’m all ready to purchase the ultimate example.  How does this process work at otsandco? Where would we start? How would we go about finding, knowing, and actually purchasing the car? 

These scenarios always start as improbable texts or emails and then with shocking frequency, actually consummate as successful deals. If you provided me the parameters of what you’re looking for, then depending what it was, I’d send a few targeted messages to dealers, brokers, clients, collectors and see if I could scare one up. Sometimes it happens immediately, other times, it could take months. Depending on your request, I might also know who owns such a thing and I could ask after a specific car. We strongly believe in collaboration. If we don’t know where a car is, but we know someone who might, then we make sure to make it worth that person’s while. Brokers and dealers are used to making money on cars, but other folks who interact with them such as detailers, photographers, mechanics etc. get left out too often and we don’t do that. Few things make me happier than to pay someone who helped a deal come to be.

As of today, I can definitely see some rare gems in your online inventory. Would you mind please choosing one, and telling us a little of its backstory and how did it get to otsandco? Whichever you like: the GTP race car, RS Porsches, Diablo VT, or even the ones you’ve already sold. 

I really adore this 1974 Ferrari 365 GT4 BB, it is certainly has created one of the strongest “I want this car for myself” reactions in me of all the cars we’ve handled so far. It sort of just ticks all the boxes. It’s never needed to be fully restored and has a wonderful honest undisturbed feel that isn’t present in restored examples. It still has its original interior and it drives fantastically. I’ve noticed huge variation between the way Boxers drive (this is true of old cars generally) and up until this car, I don’t think I’ve ever fully gelled with the way a Boxer drives before. It’s an early car, with a distinctly 1970s feel, which is heightened by its wonderfully period orange paintwork, a hue which Ferrari calls red, more specifically Rosso Dino, but parked next to a conventional red Ferrari, it’s very obviously orange. Boxers were never officially imported to the US and this car spent the first few decades of its life in Italy. Its first owner was a 67 year old woman from Vicenza who reportedly bought it for a man with a different last name. I’ll leave to your imagination to speculate on the nature of their relationship.

What can we expect from otsandco throughout the year? Perhaps a clients’ meeting? Cars & coffee for the extra rare and special cars to gather? A touring drive for your clients? 

We’ve been very focused on getting our deal pipeline flowing up to this point, which has gone surprisingly well. This is giving us the opportunity to start thinking about other things, especially marketing, which includes both video and events. We will have a proper launch event at some point, and would love to host cars and coffees as well. I’m also in the habit of organizing drives for me and my friends so it would be natural to extend this to our clients as well if there’s interest.

 Do you see yourself becoming a future Jay Leno in the way he’s quite the expert and the go-to reference for collectibles, but for specialty cars?

I don’t see myself becoming anything in particular. I don’t say that to be evasive but to highlight that my professional philosophy is characterized primarily by its lack of intentionality. Up to this point, I have effectively just done whatever seemed appealing and wise at the time with no idea of where it might take me. I could never have imagined in advance that I’d end up where I am now and certainly can’t imagine what may lie ahead. I’m excited for whatever it is!

What is otsandco goal for the immediate future? Do you imagine the team and business expanding in a medium term?

Our biggest goal is of course to continue to transact cars which in turn builds relationships. Our philosophy is to expand the team and our facilities only as much as is necessary to support the underlying business of transacting cars and supporting our clients.

Finally, what would you advise a car enthusiast who is dreaming of obtaining the unobtainable in life? Those kids dreaming of a low-miles 500 E with no damage history, but who still feel far from calling otsandco and actually acquiring it?

I know it’s a tough time to be a young enthusiast as cost of living, real estate, education balloon and wages aren’t keeping pace. I hate that that’s a current reality. I think every car enthusiast deserves to be able to buy a nice air-cooled 911 for $15,000 the way you used to be able to do 15 years ago. But those days are gone and we live in a new reality now. There are still plenty other interesting enthusiast cars at more approachable prices at least.

As for actual advice, something I have noticed is that I am able to get a bunch of value out of cars at nearly any price point. Even though I routinely interact with cars that cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, I still get a thrill out of cheap cars I find on craigslist or facebook marketplace and most of the cars I own are of this genre. Being analytical about money is important: learn about interest rates and the power of leverage and don’t indiscriminately take debt. The idea of spending a thousand dollars a month on a car payment for a rapidly depreciating car makes my physically uncomfortable and I wouldn’t counsel anyone to do this unless they really are okay with throwing that money away. If the car isn’t depreciating though, then making that same payment could be justifiable. Buying a high quality example of an enthusiast car, no matter how pedestrian, at least gets you into the market and will allow you to have fun in the meantime so that if the market keeps moving, you’ll at least be moving with it.

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