AOPA's Better Than New 172 Sweepstakes
The Broker Business
In search of the not-so-perfect Skyhawk
BY THOMAS B. HAINES (From AOPA Pilot, March 1994.)
In early 1993 when we first started shopping for a Cessna 172 to refurbish for our Good As New 172 sweepstakes project, we perused the pages of the aviation classifieds (those magnifying eyeglasses at the drug store really do work) and let our fingers do the walking. We sent out a big stack of postcards to Skyhawk owners in the Mid-Atlantic region and asked all the owners we knew if they were interested in selling their airplanes. After several weeks, we found, on our own and quite by accident, an owner of a 1974 Skyhawk who was willing to deal with us.
For our 1994 Better Than New 172 sweepstakes and refurbishment project, we decided to try a different tack. We called a couple of brokers and dealers to see what was available. Days later, we had identified an airplane that met our needs, and the negotiations began.
Brokers and dealers can respond so quickly because they know the market so well. Every day, they are on the telephone or fax or computer, tracking down leads for customers and squirreling away notes on what's available for the next client who might call. And, yes, they too pore over the classifieds.
Defining who's a broker and who's a dealer can be difficult. Brokers generally deal in information. They put sellers in touch with buyers and then often help with the paperwork in the transaction. For their services, they usually command from the seller about 3 to 5 percent of the selling price.
It can also work the other way. A buyer can pay a broker to find an acceptable airplane.
Dealers, meanwhile, usually own the airplanes they are selling or at least are in physical possession of them, often taking aircraft in trade to make a sale. Their income is derived from whatever markup they can make on the sale. Dealers often also will act as brokers if they don't have in stock the sort of airplane a customer desires.
Before contacting dealers or brokers, we had to have an idea of what type of Skyhawk we wanted. In our quest to make it "better than new," we were planning to replace the 145-, 150-, or 160-horsepower engine with one of 180 hp, so an airplane with a runout engine was fine; in fact, it was desirable because it would mean a lower purchase price.
One could probably make a case that the very early 172s are a better value than later models. They are lighter and, some say, faster, with a definite classic look to the straight tail. They are, understandably, also cheaper. But they also have limited panel space, and not even the most complete refurbishment can put the sands of time back into the top of the hourglass. The early 172s are now nearly 40 years old, offering corrosion and plain old age plenty of time to play havoc deep inside the airframe. And even all dressed up, they still look like early 172s.
A later model airframe would best allow us to carry off our project theme. The 172Ns, manufactured from 1977 through 1980, offered the most potential. They were built in large volume during the go-go days of the late 1970s, so there are plenty to choose from. The 172Ns also are powered by the 160-hp Lycoming O-320-H2AD engine, which early on earned a reputation for lunching itself because of insufficient lubrication to the camshaft and cam followers. A sheaf of airworthiness directives and modifications later, the engines are now fairly reliable, but the reputation remains. As a result, the N models tend to be somewhat underpriced in the market. In fact, many M models, built from 1973 to 1976, are priced higher. In the 172P, the follow-on to the 172N, Cessna replaced the -H engine with a higher compression version of the O-320 used in the 172M. Not surprisingly, the 172Ps, which were manufactured from 1981 to until production ceased in 1986, demand a premium price.
In an effort to replace the -H2AD in the 172N and to increase the performance of the earlier 150- and 145-hp 172s, engine modifiers have developed a number of engine swaps for the series, including an upgrade to the 160-hp O-320-D2J that is in the 172P and the installation of the 180- hp O-360 engine.
Aside from the engine differences and a few airframe details, the 172N is nearly identical to the 172P. By re-engining a 172N, we could have about all of the benefits of the late-model 172P without having to pay the premium.
Though all the rationale suggested a 172N, we weren't married to the model and decided to also consider others if we couldn't find an N to our liking. The brokers and dealers we talked with agreed with our thinking. We set a budget of $25,000 to $35,000 for the aircraft purchase.
About a week later, one of the brokers called to say he had located a candidate aircraft through a broker friend of his in Wisconsin. The 1978 172N had just 1,700 hours total time. With just one nav/com, an ADF, and a transponder, the panel was nearly blank, which was fine with us, because we planned to replace all the avionics anyhow. A videotape sent by the owner showed some dents on the left wing leading edge and more hangar rash on the right elevator. Aside from that, the airplane looked very clean.
Joseph Miller, the owner, agreed to fly the airplane from its base in Superior, Wisconsin, to Watertown, about 250 nautical miles southeast, where we arranged for a prepurchase inspection. The mechanics there found a few squawks but no showstoppers. The turn coordinator was broken, the compass needed fluid, the main tires were bald, there was a hefty nick in the prop, and much of the plastic inside and out was cracked. The logbooks were mostly in order, except the weight and balance sheet, which failed to reflect a few small items that had been added to the airplane. But engine compression was good, the windows were relatively glaze free, and the paint and interior were in pretty good shape. The airplane had spent all of its life in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and, as a result, had no serious corrosion. All in all, it looked like a nice, clean airplane with only the usual squawks you could expect on a 15-year-old Skyhawk. We had a keeper.
Because of the distances involved and the weather and with the Christmas holidays bearing down on us, we decided to go ahead and purchase the airplane, even though we had not seen it. That can be a risky proposition, especially if one is buying a complex airplane that can easily hide many foibles. But the 172 is a simple, rugged craft, and we planned to replace the engine, avionics, paint, interior, and windows. Our biggest concern, the airframe, was pronounced solid by an independent mechanic.
A title search conducted by AOPA's Title and Escrow Service in Oklahoma City turned up one small problem. It seems that a previous owner of N737QN had bought the airplane under the corporate name of M&P Flying, Incorporated, in 1979 and then in 1982 sold it under the name of M&P, Incorporated, to Kermit A. Mahlum. The missing word "Flying" in the second transaction meant that technically all was not right with the world. Such a tiny slip-up highlights the need for a thorough title search. Without a clear title, the true ownership of the airplane can be legally challenged and future sales can be more difficult. So, it was that one word that set me off on an investigation that would make Sherlock Holmes proud.
According to the Chain of Title report prepared by AOPA's Oklahoma City staff, M&P Flying was based in Bowbells, North Dakota. But directory assistance there had no listing for such a company. A call to the number listed in AOPA's Aviation USA for the Bowbells Municipal Airport connected me with the wife of Bruce Anderson, the former airport manager. It seems that David Mahlum is now the airport manager. Nonetheless, Mrs. Anderson was very friendly and helpful. The M&P name didn't sound familiar to her, but maybe Jerry Melbey down at the bank would remember. He is active at the airport, she explained. She also suggested I try Mahlum. Indeed, he remembered N737QN from the early 1980s. In fact, his brother, Kermit, had owned the airplane once, he said. The Chain of Title Report showed Kermit Mahlum as the one who purchased the airplane from M&P. Kermit had long since sold the airplane and moved to Duluth, but David could provide his telephone number.
After a couple of tries, I managed to catch up with Kermit, who said that, yes, he and a partner had owned the airplane under a corporation called M&P Flying, Incorporated. Kermit had bought out his partner in 1982, and that apparently was when the paperwork had not been filed properly. Kermit agreed to sign an "amendment to aircraft bill of sale" form provided by AOPA, which would correct the Federal Aviation Administration's files and clear up the discrepancy. So thanks to the helpful folks of Bowbells, North Dakota, I could now proceed with the purchase.
After some negotiating, Miller agreed to a price of $30,500, which was about what the Aircraft Bluebook-Price Digest said the airplane ought to be worth when adjusted for flight time, condition, and equipment. We wired the funds to an escrow account set up by AOPA's Oklahoma City staff, and Miller sent them the signed bill of sale. When all was in order, the funds were transferred to Miller's bank, and the new registration documents were filed with the FAA. We owned an airplane.
Actually taking possession of the Skyhawk would not prove so easy, however. At about the time we finished the purchase, Mother Nature and Old Man Winter teamed up to send one Alberta clipper after another through the Midwest and Northeast. Temperatures swooped to record lows and this in an area on the shores of Lake Superior where residents hardly take notice when the mercury drops to single digits below zero. The cold snap left temperatures well below zero for nearly three weeks, making it impractical if not downright dangerous for us to send a pilot to retrieve N737QN, an airplane not even certified for IFR flight.
Finally in late January, AOPA Pilot Associate Editor Al Marsh, a former Army captain who spent two winters training in Alaska, sensed a break in the weather. He hopped the airlines to Duluth, and cabbed it across town and Duluth Harbor to Superior.
After digging the airplane out of the snowdrifts and donning his warmest winter garb, Marsh set out in the still frigid cold and beat a path home. Upon his arrival here in Frederick on January 22, the temperatures had climbed to a balmy 40 degrees. The airplane probably thought it had retired to Florida.
We're still finalizing our plans for the refurbishment of N737QN. As we stated in "Next: Better Than New 172" (January Pilot), our goals are to improve the performance, comfort, and safety of the airplane. We plan to start on the engine phase within a few weeks. We'll let you know how it goes in a couple of months.
Good as New Goes Home
Our 1993 project airplane retires to the beach.
In late 1973, as Cessna employees in Kansas rolled N13057, a 1974 172M, out the factory doors, a 35-year-old dentist in Fort Pierce, Florida, was taking his first flying lesson. Twenty years later, a random pick of a computer would bring the two together.
William E. Teschner, D.D.S., now 55, was unsure of what to make of the telephone call in mid-January from someone purporting to be from AOPA and telling him to expect a very important call within the next couple of hours. The caller had hinted that maybe there was a prize involved. Teschner, a 20-year AOPA member, had read about the Good As New 172 refurbishment project and sweepstakes but assumed that he could never be so lucky as to win it. Instead, he thought maybe had won "a gold watch or something."
Teschner quickly re-read his January issue of AOPA Pilot, which features the airplane on the cover, especially the part that said some lucky member would win the prize in mid-January. With that he began to get very excited. "My stomach was really churning," he said. The excitement proved to be justified a few hours later when the official call came in telling him that from among more than 500,000 entries, his name had been randomly selected by a computer. That Skyhawk that first flew about the same time he had would be his. Only now N13057 had been renamed N172GN and had been refurbished from spinner to tailcone.
A week later, AOPA President Phil Boyer landed the gleaming white, gray, and red Skyhawk at Fort Pierce and taxied it up to an appropriately ohhhing and ahhhhing crowd on the ramp that included Teschner and his family and a group of more than 50 well-wishers, friends, and media.
After Boyer presented Teschner with the keys, the two of them took a brief flight along the Atlantic Coast. The dentist came back smiling a perfect smile, proudly showing off the airplane to the crowd. He later admitted that he intends to sell his 1958 Cessna 175 and keep the Skyhawk. "This is just too nice to give up," he said. "I just can't believe how solid it is and how nice it is to have everything really new."
Before buying the 175 with a partner in 1975, Teschner had owned a 1966 Piper Cherokee 140. He earned his private certificate in 1974 and has flown the 175 to a number of meetings of the Flying Dentists Association and to visit his father in Indiana. His first goal after winning the airplane was to convince his wife, who does not like to fly, to go for a ride with him. "I know she'll love it," he predicted. TBH
What You Think
Member ideas for the Better Than New 172
In the January issue of Pilot, we asked AOPA members to send us their ideas on how we could make our 1994 refurbishment project a truly "Better Than New 172." Dozens of you responded. Here are just a few of the many excellent (and occasionally outrageous) ideas:
Forget all those doo-dads and extras. With a bigger engine, just knock off the nosegear, install a "Texas Taildragger" kit, then add a Robinson STOL kit, and you would make the average pilot more than happy.
Joseph E. Manos AOPA 639042
Take a straight-back 172 with a vertical tail and completely rebuild it, adding strengthening where necessary to handle braces for skis and floats. Offer it as either a taildragger or trigear. Thanks for letting me share my dreams.
Neale C. Thompson AOPA 690517
Install a Franklin 215-hp engine. It makes a terrific airplane. You will end up, I'm sure, with a great airplane.
Ralph A. Vernet AOPA 235149
I suggest you consider the Porsche PFM 3200 engine. It offers improved power, a longer TBO, and better fuel economy.
Alvin J. Bisel AOPA 837613
Maryland Heights, Missouri
Good suggestion, but unfortunately, Porsche no longer makes the engine Ed.
Install a Horton STOL kit, flap gap, and aileron seals. I'm a short-field nut, and who knows, I may win it.
Joe Carbaugh AOPA 462426
I would like to see if there is a better propeller for the airplane because recent research has proven that more or different shaped blades can reduce noise and increase performance.
Karl Hendrickson AOPA 1183388
When you get to the interior phase, consider Airtex, Incorporated, in Trenton, New Jersey. It did a wonderful restoration for us. Fabrics are wool, seats rebuilt, all headliner and door-post plastics are covered in premium wool no plastic shows. Ceiling insulation was added to reduce noise. It's outstanding.
E. Richard Purdy AOPA 558030
West Chester, Pennsylvania
How about a throttle quadrant similar to that of the Piper Arrow and a solid metal panel? Maybe shift the radios to the right and set them at an angle toward the pilot. As for avionics, start with an HSI (every airplane needs one), then go with a flight director.
James C. Pratt AOPA 1120903
Orangeburg, South Carolina
No matter what upgrades are done to a 172, it is still a 172, old or new. Cessna addressed the problems by adding longer wings, larger fuel tanks, and a bigger engine. It's called a 182.
William R. Crittenden AOPA 1127325