Let's be honest - there is rarely a fortune made from collecting classic cars. You really need to do your homework, and have the dice fall your way. Of course, when you consider the enjoyment that a classic car can provide, while keeping pace or even outstripping inflation, then it can make for a true asset every bit as sensible as bricks and mortar. There are the few cars out there that will turn a serious profit for the astute buyer - but these are few and far between. Some people may be able to make a quick buck, but for most of us, we need to satisfy ourselves that classic cars are at least as safe an investment as art, old books, coins or stamps - and a heap more fun.
Classic Car Collecting Ground Rules
Even today, some people buy the car to drive and enjoy now, in the expectation that it will appreciate. That is a very hard ask, but the Gen-F HSV GTS, for example, will probably be one such beast. And even if it doesn't, it will depreciate a great deal less than an ordinary sedan or luxury limo. To make sure that the classic car you buy will appreciate, it is best to remember a few ground rules. The first is to stick to the most popular names and models. Pre-war sports cars change hands infrequently and usually at rarefied prices. Even so, those fetching top money are the big names - Alvis
, Aston Martin
. Of the post-war crop of sports cars, the names which spring most readily to mind are Alfa
, Aston Martin
Keep It Original
This is not to say these cars are necessarily better than some of the contemporaries. Daimler SP250
, Singer Nine, Sunbeam Alpine
sports, Jowett Jupiter, TVR
all won plenty of friends in their days. But they are not as well remembered as the so called "classic" marques. When it comes to collecting, public knowledge is the price setter. Probably Triumph
offer the best prospects for immediate appreciation, because both have shut up shop in the UK and both have well established public identities and reasonable spare parts availability. Unless skilled in the art of restoration, you should buy a complete car in first class condition. Nothing depreciates more than an unprofessional restoration. Work done on it - especially cosmetic attention - must be as close as possible to the original.
If the dash was originally padded with vinyl, you do more harm than good by replacing it with polished wood. New trim should follow the original design, stitch for stitch, using leather if the original car had leather. New paint must follow an original colour scheme (and we have a comprehensive colour guide here on the Unique Cars and Parts site). And you'll get no thanks for adding accessories which were not available when the car was in its heyday. Incomplete cars are often sold because the owner has run out of money or patience when trying to track down the missing bits. In this connection, it is worth knowing that you can buy almost anything needed for MG
models, if not locally, then from specialist shops in Britain and the USA.
On the subject of advice, it is worth repeating that a sports hybrid is worth only a fraction of the real thing. Don't sign up for any car until it has been vetted by someone with intimate knowledge of the marque. Nothing wrecks a car more than having the wrong engine, incorrect headlamps or phoney mudguards. One sound approach is to phone the secretary of a car club specialising in the particular marque. Ask them to kindly put you in touch with a knowledgeable member owning a concours example of the model in question. You'll find that they will sweep their eyes over the car you consider buying and pick up almost every item of equipment which should not be there. They can probably also guide you on current prices and the availability of spare parts or accessories. Alternatively you can buy from a reputable classic car dealer, such as Healey Sales here in Melbourne.
If you are looking to buy a sports car, remember there is a big difference between a "convertible" and a "sports car". Many open tourers have made their way to the classic car market and some have acquired a kind of sporting reputation, but they were not sports cars and would never be bought by a sports car collector. Much as many people have enjoyed driving open versions of the Austin A40
, Ford Zephyr
, Morris 8/40, Morris 10, Renault Floride, Skoda, Triumph Herald
, Vauxhall Wyvern and Detroit's convertibles, you can't pretend they have any real sporting pretensions. But time has a way of being kind, and these "non-sports" cars are now appreciating in value as they become scarce, being almost a museum piece on wheels. Decide if you are really looking for a sports car, or open top tourer. The team here at Unique Cars and Parts have often wondered how many Triumph Herald
convertibles, for example, have survived in proportion to the number of E-Type Jaguars
A Classic As A Daily Drive?
The next step is to consider whether you plan on buying a car for daily use, with the investment potential as a secondary consideration - or if you want a car you can leave in the garage in the hope that its value will soar. Apart from Bugatti
and the very early Jaguars
, most readily available sports cars are eminently driveable. Usually you fit seat belts and turn-signals and maybe a radio, but otherwise few concessions are needed to suit modern motoring. Old timers are not as easy to drive as a modern car, requiring more deft gear shifting and a first class knowledge of road craft to stay out of trouble. But in the right hands, they are safe, practical and very fun-worthy.
Your main consideration will be the question of spare parts and service. MGs, Triumphs and Austin Healeys come into the "reasonable" bracket when it comes to parts/service prices. Alfa Romeo is "upper-crust" whilst Jaguar, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Porsche and Daimler SP250 vary from mid-range to expensive - the trick being to find the right mechanic. Insurance can be very expensive. No open car is cheap to insure, unless you are related to an insurance magnate, but there is a surprising variation in the premiums charged by different firms. Some companies deliberately price themselves out of the business, others have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Fortunately, there are a few specialists in each city who will do the right thing. You can sit down with the classified section of the phone book and let your fingers do the walking, or call an insurance broker and put them to work.
Apart from the sports roadsters, there are some closed vehicles which deserve attention. These are ones which have been appreciating for some time, are likely to appreciate, or at least depreciate less than most cars, and are very suitable for day-to-day motoring. Models in this category include Datsun 240Z and 260Z, mint BMW 2002, early Porsche coupes, Fiat 124 coupe and Volvo P 1800. The latter is one of the dark horses of the appreciation race and a potential winner. Occasionally you come across a real odd machine. With these, it is impossible to establish a price, as values are set purely by negotiation. The eventual figure depends on how much the buyer wants the car and how long the seller's nerve holds out.
Very Unique Cars
You probably remember the wave of diminutive open cars which appeared during the 1950s and 1960s - cars like the English-made Berkeley (1957-59) and the local Goggomobil sports (1959-1961) and Zeta Lightburn sports. Very few are still around, but provided you pick up a complete car in sound condition, it will only ever appreciate. Your big problem will be getting spare parts, should they be needed. There have also been a number of Australian-designed sports cars. The best known are the Buchanan Cobra (an open car with Standard 10 mechanicals) and the closed coupes from Buckle 1959 - 1961, (Ford Zephyr), Ascort (VW), Bolwell Mark 7 and the Ford-based Bolwell Nagari which appeared in 1970. All had fibreglass bodies and proprietary suspension systems, engines and gearboxes. These cars are both interesting historically and have become true collectors' items in the usual sense of the word.
On the subject of the unusual, some excellent sports cars came here during the early post-war years, yet failed to benefit from the nostalgia kick until the last 20 years or so. There were cars like the Singer Nine (one of the few cars of its day with an overhead camshaft engine), Jowett Jupiter, Sunbeam Alpine and the open Riley roadsters. They are hard to find and exceptionally rare in concours condition, but it is almost impossible to put a realistic price on them. Morgans have an indefinable image. To aficionados, they are the cat's whiskers, the soft tops to end all soft tops. To others they are achronistic body styles wrapped around other people's engines. There are, however, more than enough collectors around to ensure Morgans will continue to rise in value. The pre-war three-wheelers are just about impossible to buy these days but if you chance to find a good example your luck is in.
Datsun produced the Fairlady open sports cars, which proved to be tough machines; even Daihatsu got into the act. Though neither marque is ready to enter immortality, their sports cars, as well as the later Datsun 240Z and 260Z coupes, continue doing well on the used car market. Alfa Spiders, when new, were one of the best buys around but not many people realised it at the time. Honda's early fling at sports cars, the S600 and S800 never really caught on, despite the jewel-like engineering, but they too are worth serious money these days. So are their spare parts, most of which are in short supply.
Giving advice is a mugs game when it comes to classic cars. Not everything old will appreciate. The Datsun Stanza, for example. So if you are looking to buy your first classic car, our advice would be to stick to the top names - British cars such as MG, Jaguar, Austin Healey and Triumph, or American muscle cars pre 1980. As far as British cars go, the Austin Healey 100 is much more of a collector's car than the later Sprite. The T-series MG is well ahead of the MGA as a collector's item, but the MGA is ahead of the MGB. Even so, MGAs and MGBs have been rising fast over the last two decades. With Jaguar, the XK series has always risen faster than the E-types, though their day has come and they will soon be out of the reach of most.
Also see: Classic Car Insurance
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