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)?