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It’s long been known thatwhen buying a new car, it becomes a depreciating asset from the second the tyres hit the tarmac outside the showroom. In fact, with few exceptions – which I’ll come to – buying a new car has never made sense in financial terms.

By contrast, classic cars since the first classic “bubble” of the 1980’s have largely been regarded as a safe place to put your money. In some cases – such as any Aston Martin DB but especially a DB4 or 5 – providing quite dazzling returns on investment. And although that bubble burst in a major way in the very early ‘90’s, it has since been re-inflated, and prices of many classics have – until very recently – been on a steady upward curve.

During that 1980’s bubble, some cars – usually limited-edition sportscars at the very top of the market, such as the Porsche 959, Ferrari 288GTO or Ferrari F40 – were bought by so-called “collectors” (in reality, investors who thought classic cars were a way to make money at a time of unreliable stock markets) and salted away in centrally-heated garages or sealed in plastic cocoons. This trend, if one can call it that, has continued to this day, as high-end – and occasionally, not so high-end – classics are advertised as “investment opportunities”. However, what they were not, was driven.

Now I won’t lie – when I was looking to buy a classic, I had hoped that ownership would at least be a cash-neutral proposition, and maybe a small profit at the end of it as and when I came to sell. As it turned out, as someone with no mechanical or welding abilities, I was soon disabused of this notion as it became increasingly evident that the car I had bought was not in the condition I had thought it would be, and were I to sell die Zitrone today, I would lose several thousand pounds. In fact, this is probably the way of things for most classic car owners in our efforts to keep our cars in the best possible condition, or at least roadworthy – not least, because we drive them, at least during the summer months, and even in the winter if the roads are free of salt. However, the main thing is that die Zitrone gets driven – almost 9,000 miles so far in my 5 years of ownership and another 2,000-mile roadtrip is planned for next year. Our International Editor has taken driving a classic to another level by using his 1978 Reliant Scimitar GTE as his daily driver. His fibreglass Brit covers his commute to and from work as well as regular family use, and has already covered several thousand miles in the half-year he’s owned it.

So where am I going with all this (this type of article isn’t called Random Thoughts for nothing)? While scrolling through the lots for the forthcoming Silverstone Classic Auction, there were the usual relatively low-mileage cars up for sale such as a Rally Red 1966 Corvette Stingray C2 estimated at £50,000 – £60,000 with only 44,000 miles, a 1980 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC with just 33,000 miles with an estimate of £35 – 45,000 and a beautiful 1972 Pine Green metallic W108 280SE 3.5 with a mere 12,500 warranted miles, estimated at £30 – 40,000. Many of these cars have therefore been driven an average of only 1,000 miles each year and sometimes significantly less.

But what really caught my eye were a pair of BMW ‘02’s. Now I’m always interested in checking out any ’02 that comes onto the market, for obvious reasons, but these two really got me thinking about why we buy a car – and not just a classic.

One of these ‘02’s is a very rare 1974 BMW 2002 Turbo in Polaris Silver, one of about 500 left of the 1,672 originally built and a car which has seen values increase dramatically in recent years. The wide-ranging estimate of £65 – 85,000 with no reserve for this one seems to me like the auctioneers are hedging their bets, especially for a car that is nowadays almost a blue-chip investment, and in particular one with a believed genuine – though not warranted – 7,001 miles, or an average of 155 miles per year. It’s also claimed to be in “incredible condition”.

As if this wasn’t enough, also being offered at no reserve “from the Property of a Gentleman” (the same collection as the two Mercedes-Benz mentioned earlier), there is a 1975 BMW 1602 in black with cream cord interior on offer with a warranted 3,055 miles on the odometer – that’s Three Thousand and Fifty-Five miles, in 44 years, or 70 miles per year. That this BMW is in fabulous condition is not in doubt, and it comes with the paperwork to prove its history. It was bought on January 1st 1975 by a Mr. M.J. Ledger (not the original purchaser of the Turbo), who kept it until 2016, since when it has been sitting in a private collection.

Now unlike with special edition supercars, when he bought this 1602, Mr. Ledger would surely have had no clue that the ’02 series would become future classics – classic cars weren’t even really a thing back then, as far as I know. Especially not relatively ordinary family saloons, no matter how good. It’s not as if the 1602 was even top of the range. So why buy it and then barely drive it?  Even if one possesses several cars, surely each would be driven more than a few miles each year? Is this a good thing – as the auctioneers seem to think – or not? Their value estimate ranges from £30,000 to £40,000, a lot for any ‘02 other than a Turbo, and a huge amount for a 1602.

As this pair of ‘02’s have reached their mid-40’s with barely any miles under their wheels, it’s now highly likely that they will barely be used in the future as well, as regular use would presumably result not only in running costs, but probably also in a significant reduction in value. Their fate is most likely to sit in a private collection, and other than have the engine and wheels turned over a little each year, remain basically unused. This seems a great pity to me, for what is a classic primarily for, if not to enjoy for the purpose for which it was built? What would our readers do with such a car? How often do you drive your classic(s)?

 

8 Responses

  1. Kim

    No point in having a car if you don’t drive it.. This saturday i took my 2cv on a 700km spin across Denmark and back…It’s a car, cars are meant to be driven.

    Reply
  2. Andrew Boggis

    It is sad to see many cars being hoarded away rather than being used. With respect to Kim’s comment, he is 100% right. The 2CV is cheap, practical and fun and this is exactly where many faster and pricey cars fall down.

    I have just sold my e89 Z4 28i. A fabulously swift car with surprisingly good fuel economy and a rubbishy ride. However, as my local BMW garage cracked a front headlamp just as I was selling it (the garage denied it but which my insurer accepted), I was interested to see the bill: 1500€ incl VAT…just for a headlamp in the BMW network (only 550€ when bought directly from Hella) !

    This gave me a very sharp reminder why folks perhaps end up hoarding: they cannot afford to actually do any driving.

    This parts pricing scandal has put me off buying another modern BMW, especially as “her indoors” would prefer a zany coloured Citroën GS….

    Reply
  3. Claus Ebberfeld

    Well, with the cars mentioned I would probably do just as Tony suggests: NOT drive them – more than necessary to keep them in shape, at least. The market is very clear on cars like these, and they DO command rather large sums over comparably fine cars with higher mileages.

    I don’t have cars like that myself: My Mercedes SLC now shows 341,000 kilometers, and although already restored (maybe more than once) this puts it into an entirely other league than the mentioned SLC. Mine can NEVER ever become the unrepeatable virgin 33,000 miles example – and that’s what collectors want. So it is very natural that they command a premium price and mine only can compete on the joy it gives its owner. In fact it might be VERY competitive there!

    I havent’t driven it much this year though – as it spent most of it’s time at the mechanic trying to make the point that Tony also states above: It costs money to keep it going. I got the message loud and clearly, thank you.

    On the other hand I’ve driven my Jaguar XJ12 6,000 kilometers the last year. But then again: My Scimitar only around 300. And the Alpine A310 – well, I haven’t driven it more than 200 this season. The Spitfire? Well, as Summer is here it gets used almost daily. With a bit of luck I’ll reach 10,000 kilometers in classic cars this year. Considering there has not (yet) been a proper grand tour in the schedule I suppose that’s OK.

    Reply
  4. Niels V

    Garaging a brand new car with little to no mileage is is the art of turning a car in to a paperweight.
    But I guess some people just like to look at things and are not interested in the sensation of driving or some of them are just greedy and think only of it as a way to earn money.

    The funny bit is that a driven car will most likely be in a better mechanical condition than the trailer Queen, standing does not do them any good, and material decomposition happens no matter what you do with.

    I have a car from 65 with alleged sub 50000 miles on the clock…… well that’going to change. (It might not have been driven far, but it has been driven very hard, it was on its 3rd engine before turning 10 year old)

    Reply
  5. Dave Leadbetter

    I often wonder about the stories behind humble cars with genuinely very low mileages and there’s often a somewhat gloomy story behind them. Eccentric millionaires aside, it usually transpires that some terrible fate immediately befell the first owner and a grieving family just locked the car away. Not a happy thought really. 30 years later the world inherits a 1,000 mile VW Passat or somesuch that is neither fish nor fowl. Cars don’t like sitting for extended periods.

    My ‘02, with its five digit milometer must have been around the clock at least once before I bought it, and I changed the clocks on it myself to swop to a cluster with a rev counter. My best estimate for total distance travelled, given the state of the car when I found it, would be “absolutely loads”. Mileage on that car is just a way of keeping score for the terms of the insurance. It makes no difference otherwise. The adventures I’ve had in it are worth far more.

    Reply
  6. Anders Bilidt

    It is indeed somewhat odd how seemingly common and ordinary cars end up going through a lifetime with virtually no miles being accumulated.

    While I find it a shame when a rare and exotic car a stashed away and never driven, I do of course understand the financial motivation to do so. Personally I couldn’t do it. If I actually had the cash to put a Carrera 2.7RS in my garage, it would be pure torture to then not allow myself to drive it as it was meant to. But still, I do understand that others apparently value money higher than fun.

    But all of that doesn’t explain cars such as a BMW 1602 ending up with only 3,055 miles on the odometer after 44 years. It’s just plain weird! How did it come to this? And sadly, this fine 1602 is now confined to a life in a garage. What a waste of a lovely car…

    Reply
  7. Tony Wawryk

    Interesting comments from all. Like @anders-bilidt I couldn’t bear to have something like a 911RS and then not drive it, though I, too, can understand the financial imperative.
    For more ordinary cars, like the 1602, perhaps there is a specific set of circumstances that have resulted in such a low mileage, but it still seems slightly puzzling. I cam across an even more extreme case over the weekend at the Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional (more on that later this week) – a 1978 Chrysler Horizon with 318 miles on the clock, apparently genuine. Couldn’t get much of the story, just that it was a prize in an Aer Lingus competition – seemingly unwanted, yet whoever bought it later still didn’t use it – a Chrysler Horizon, as mundane a car as you could find.

    Reply
  8. Kim

    I hear “Don’t drive your car, the collector wants it..” And that’s where i say, why have a car if you don’t use it? The cars are being reduced to Pokémon cards or stamps..

    Reply

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