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Fast money

Classic cars give their owners a huge amount of pride and pleasure. But can they prove a sound investment, too?

29 November 2017 / Lifestyle

This summer, car enthusiasts gathered in the stunning surroundings of Stowe House, Buckinghamshire, next to the Silverstone motor circuit. Amid the splendour of the Capability Brown gardens, they marveled at some of the most hideous motor vehicles ever to put rubber to tarmac.

The Nissan Cherry. The Morris Marina. The Hillman Avenger Super Estate. This is Hagerty’s Festival of the Unexceptional, an annual celebration of the unloved vehicles of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Its existence proves that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It also reveals the unpredictability of the car collector market: essentially, anything can become collectible. It just needs the right combination of rarity, condition, beauty, mileage – and that intangible X factor.

And that even includes a Metro Vanden Plas. Marcus Atkinson, marketing director at Hagerty Classic Car Insurance, says: “The event did start as a bit of fun. But the collectors are now moving in. Some of these cars were built to last a lunchtime, so there aren’t many left. And they are part of people’s personal histories, so there’s a definite emotional factor.”

Marques on the market

The “unexceptional” factor is one facet of a collectible car market that has changed drastically in the last 10 years. The trigger was the 2008 financial crash: prior to that, collecting was dominated by private enthusiasts indulging their passion for motoring, but post 2008, the speculators moved in. Unsurprisingly, they pushed prices to unprecedented levels, with auction houses fuelling the hype.

According to the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, average returns rose by 161 per cent in five years from March 2006, and by 467 per cent in ten years. Even high-end London property ‘only’ rose by 133 per cent in a decade. In 2014, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for $38m. It’s still the most expensive car sold at auction.

But the boom couldn’t last forever. The market peaked in May 2015, when the Hagerty Index (a number representing the collective value of key models) hit around 72. By February 2017, it was nearer 67.

Edward Legge, director of commercial development at car specialist Classic & Sports Finance, says the decline was an inevitable correction. “By 2015, most people who were looking purely for an investment had got one. I think speculators sensed that the big price rises were over. But this doesn’t mean values are down. There will always be people who love cars and want to collect them.”

In fact, Legge argues there are more private collectors than ever, thanks to the greater numbers of high net worth individuals and the democratising effect of shows like Top Gear. Social media has also had an impact: classic car blogger Harry Metcalfe, for example, has 145,000 YouTube subscribers.

Starter motors

This might explain why, according to Legge, the entry level market for cars between £10,000 and £100,000 is buoyant, while the £100,000 and over market is “drying up a little”. The top end – £250,000 plus – will always prosper thanks to the rarity of the sales.

The trick for investors is to spot the unexpected movers. According to Legge, there is currently a lively market for 1980s hot hatches, such as the Fiesta XR2 and the Peugeot 205. “A lot of people remember these as their first cars. They see one with low mileage for £20,000, and they have just got their bonus. They think: I’ll have it,” he says.

But there are vagaries at the prestige end of the market too. People will always want Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches – but which ones? That’s less predictable. “The Porsche 964 used to be considered a poor man’s Porsche. But now it’s really come into favour,” says Legge. It’s a similar story for models such as the previously maligned Alfa Romeo Alfasud and Ferrari’s very 1980s Testarossa.

Of course, tracking down these cars is not easy. Atkinson recommends finding a dealer to help. “There’s a lot of rubbish out there – cars that look good but have been restored with cheap filler. A good dealer will find the car you want that’s the right condition for the price and with a full history. And it will be a good investment. These kinds of cars will always be in demand.”

Tips for buying a collectible car

Rarity is not enough. There are lots of rare cars. It has to be desirable, too.

You can’t go wrong with a Ferrari – even a boxy one like the Testarossa.

Upkeep is not cheap: a £30,000 increase in value over a decade could easily be swallowed up by bills.

Restoration is not cheap either. It’s cheaper to buy a pristine car than to fix one up.

A dealer can help, and there are around 400 in the UK. They’re best placed to find what you want, and to avoid the rip-offs.

Think about 40–65-year-old men. If a car was cool when they were young, it will be valuable now. But only a few models will stay that way.

Buy a classic because you love it, and you’ll worry less about valuations.

Ten cars to buy now

Where’s the best place to put your petrol money? We asked expert Edward Legge of collectible car specialist Classic & Sports Finance to choose 10 models.

Hypercar heroes

Pagani Zonda
An exquisite machine built in much lower numbers than modern hypercars. Quite a few have been crashed, too…
Ferrari F40
Arguably the first hypercar. Future generations will marvel.
McLaren F1
The nearest challenger to the Ferrari 250 GTO.

Absolute classics

Jaguar E-Type
Enzo Ferrari said it’s the most beautiful car ever, and it’s not losing admirers.
Land Rover Defender
Yes, the Defender. As a nation, we are in love with them – and they won’t build any more.

Modern classics

Subaru Impreza Turbo
Find one of these that hasn’t been modified and you’ve found a winner.
Porsche 968 Club Sport
Only 178 left in the UK. Amazing to drive, easy to spot.
Ford Focus RS Mk2
The RS badge has great cachet and World Rally Championship heritage.

Everyday classics

Smart Roadster
Low volumes built and with a loyal following. Concept is ahead of its time.
Volkswagen XL1
VW’s glimpse into the future. An everyday driver that looks out of this world.

You should have bought one of these

Some cars move incredibly fast – and not just across tarmac. Here are three of the best performers based on sales in 2012 and 2016, according to the Hagerty price guide.

Porsche 911 2.4S
£46,000 to £219,000
Jaguar E-Type Series I 4.2 Roadster
£87,000 to £188,000
Ford Capri 2.8i
£6,750 to £22,100

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