In 1992, Tom Hartley was in a traffic jam on the edge of Hyde Park in London when a classic Bentley caught his eye. He immediately rolled down his window and struck up a conversation with the man in the back seat, who was being driven by a chauffeur.
“I bought the car off him in the traffic jam. We pulled over, he got out, I did an invoice, and we picked up the car from his address that day,” he told Insider. “And, of course, we sold it a few days later.”
This is typical for Hartley, who spends his days brokering deals for supercars and classic cars, focusing on manufacturers like Ferrari and Lamborghini. “I’ve bought cars in saunas, in swimming pools, on airplanes — you can’t name where I haven’t bought a car,” he said.
Hartley, now 60, runs an eponymous showroom on a 48-acre family estate in Derbyshire. He said his team sells between 40 and 50 vehicles per month, and past clients of his include Elton John, Rod Stewart, Nicolas Cage, and Rory McIlroy. The average sales price of his vehicles is £250,000, or around $286,000 — but a rare Ferrari could fetch $30 million.
He shared with Insider how he got into the trade and what his job entails.
He learned the art of selling from hanging out in his father’s store
Growing up, Hartley’s father owned a carpet business, and Hartley said he spent most of his time at the shop watching deals being made. He itched to follow in his dad’s sales footsteps, and as he watched his family change cars every few months, it seemed like the perfect industry to get into.
His first deal was brokering the sale of a luxury Range Rover between two of his father’s acquaintances when he was a teen. “I made myself 150 quid on that car, which was a lot of money then,” he said. “By the age of 12, I had the experience of an 18-year-old.”
After selling the Range Rover, he stumbled onto what’s now known as thegrey market, where barely-used luxury goods can be traded at a premium on the secondary market. If you could source an in-demand car like a Range Rover, Hartley’s theory was, there was easy profit in reselling it to a buyer unable to find one.
He began buying cars from manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche, which were mostly based in Germany, directly and imported them to the UK to resell to hungry buyers.
When car brands began cracking down on nonauthorized dealers, he quickly pivoted to buying up supply from car owners.
Soon after, he saw a man pull up outside a luxury hotel in London driving a brand-new Jaguar Daimler XJ40, a particular model launched on the market just days earlier, and offered to buy it for £3,000 over asking price. Within days, he said, he’d sold it to a C-suite executive who’d been unable to secure one from the manufacturer for £42,000, a profit of just over 16% in a few days.
Customers can come via appointment only and enjoy resort-level amenities
Hartley started out primarily in the supercar market, but he added classic cars to his roster in the wake of the Great Recession, when he saw wealthy clients turning to assets rather than keeping money in cash or stocks.
“It was an addition to what we were doing, but we didn’t change our method of buying and selling,” he said. “We wanted cars with great history, low mileage, and real rarities.” He handles all his sales from his family estate in northern England, a property he bought in 1981 to serve as both a home and a showroom.
At any one time, he said, there are 75 cars worth more than $150 million onsite. The key difference between his assortment and that of conventional dealers, he added, is that he stocks different brands like Mercedes and Ferrari in one place — a move aimed at his ideal customer. “Back in the 1970s, a successful guy would have one car, maybe two. A lot of buyers mix and match now and might have anything from six to 10 cars,” he said.
Hartley said he gets about five customers a day and takes visitors by appointment only. Despite the car world being mostly dominated by men, Hartley said around 20% of his clients are women.
Those that stop by his showroom can expect more than just a selection of unique cars: Customers can enjoy the estate’s private spa and cinema, as well as a full restaurant. Sometimes, they’re even invited to stay overnight in one of the estate’s four bedrooms. “I wanted to create an experience around buying a secondhand car,” he said. There’s a helipad for those that travel by air, but Hartley can also send a chauffeur to collect someone from a nearby private airstrip.
Despite being around expensive cars 24/7, he’s never owned one himself. “It’s a personal statement that I can’t get attached to them,” he said.”I always say when you walk on the Hartley estate, everything has a price, except my wife.”