Mini Memoirs: On the road to recovery
Here's some sound advice for anybody with a hankering to invest in a classic car: don't. It's not the cars that are to blame. There's a delicious delinquent appeal in tooling around in an old car that's thwarted the scrapyard and defied the cynical planned obsolescence of the manufacturer. No, the problem is that word "investment". As Quentin Willson, presenter of the BBC's Top Gear and owner of a Daimler SP250 Dart, says: "Investment has got nothing to do with the modern realities of the classic car marketplace. It's used mostly by guilty men to justify their obsession to themselves - and their partners - to explain why there'll be no family holiday this year." Robert Brooks, chairman of the leading specialist collector's car auction house Brooks Auctioneers, which grossed sales of £34m in 1999, takes up the theme: "A keen angler wouldn't sit on a riverbank and tell fisherman's tales about what a fantastic investment his fishing rod is. But it's something some classic car enthusiasts still persist in doing and it's a great way to spoil the pleasure of a tremendously enjoyable recreational pursuit." And if it's enjoyment you want, rather than investment, there's never been a better time to buy - for all sorts of reasons. The world's moved on since the classic car boom of the late 1980s and the collapse of the market in the early 1990s. Today the strong pound is keeping many foreign buyers at bay and high-level interest has further receded after the squeeze on far-eastern economies. This is particularly significant to Britain because it is at the hub of the old-car market, with more classic cars auctioned each year by UK houses than the rest of Europe put together - about 5,000. The disappearance of leaded fuel on January 1 has caused a further blip. Active enthusiasts know that it's actually a detail to be sorted rather than a fundamental problem, but classic car "virgins" are confused by it all and are shying away because they fear that, if they buy a classic car, it will soon be no more than a useless, immobile museum piece. What's more, today's borderline enthusiasts are being seduced away from old cars by a generation of modern cars awash with crass retro styling and the massive renaissance of the convertible. Pound for pound, marginal, faint-hearted or fair-weather classic car enthusiasts are going to choose a used Mazda MX-5 over an MGB roadster any day; likewise a BMW Z3 over an aged E-type Jag. All of which is absolutely fabulous news, because it means there's a kaleidoscopic choice of classic machinery at prices that must rate as bargains. Two of the best examples are the E-type Jaguar roadster and the menacing Mk2 saloon. At the height of the boom, E-type roadsters were going for £100,000 and sometimes more. Today prices above £30,000 are the exception rather than the rule and £20,000 gives you a world of choice. Useable Mk2 Jaguars are available at under £10,000, where once high-spec versions commanded £40,000 and more. Recently a 3.8 Mk2 restored in the late 1980s fetched £11,800 at auction. Its restoration must have cost three times that. The most recent Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona to sell at auction fetched just £56,000; at the height of the boom, some were commanding £250,000. Mk2 Jaguars and E-types are most definitely undervalued. It's not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with these models - rather it's the psychology of the marketplace. They've failed against unrealistic expectations and left a sense of betrayal in the collective consciousness of the classic car world, their reputations tainted with the sour aftertaste left by cars worth only a proportion of the costs of their restoration. There are any number of similar examples - Austin-Healey 100s and 3000s from £12,000 to £17,000, and civilised Jaguar XK150 fixed-heads at £15,000. If you want to make a 17ft ironic statement, try a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, with herds of them available at under £10,000. But for how long? There are signs of a gentle recovery in the market. A few years ago, there was an abyss between the hopelessly optimistic price tags of cars on offer in private classified adverts and the reality of the marketplace. That has closed right up and should lead to increasing movement and circulation. Second, activity in the important £100,000-£1m sector has really livened up in the past year. In 1998 UK auction houses sold 60 cars in that range; in 1999 the figure was 112. Confidence at that level of the market shows that the "feel-bad factor" is on the ebb. As Robert Brooks puts it: "The investment is in the driving pleasure and joy of ownership. Buy something you like and enjoy driving and, if you've bought sensibly, you'll also have something that won't lose capital value in real terms and, compared with rampant new car depreciation, that's something to smile about."
Article Date: Jan 30, 2000