Market Watch, February 2017

MG Midget/Austin-Healey Sprite bargains

With the prices of top condition MG Midgets and equivalent Austin-Healey Sprites lagging behind the market, and particularly their old rival, the Triumph Spitfire, now looks like a good time to buy.

I’ve always found the Midget and Sprite more fun to drive, and also surprisingly accommodating for my 6ft 1in frame. Excellent examples can be bought from £6-7k with £11k buying the best. And after that initial investment your ownership costs will be tiny, leaving you with nothing more to worry about than which twiddly B-road you’re going to attack next.

Lotus Esprit Turbo on the move

After being left for dust in the price acceleration race by rival Ferraris and Porsches, the Lotus Esprit Turbo seems to be on the move, with top auction and dealer examples already tipping over the £20k mark.


That still doesn’t make the Esprit Turbo expensive for such a fast, sharp-handling and dramatic looking car, especially as privately-advertised examples can be found for 10% less. In the current market you can have a lot less fun for a lot more money.

Price guide climbers and fallers

The latest price winners and losers analysis in the new issue of Classic Cars magazine reveals the top 66 climbers and eight fallers.

Top gains go to the Alfa 75, which has jumped 43% to £7.5k for the very best and £5k for excellent examples. The top ten spans all eras, from 1918 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost to 1998 Ferrari 456 GT, and all price points, from £3.6k Wolseley 1500 to £590k Aston Martin DB6 Volante.

Heaviest fallers range from the Maserati Ghibli 4.7 down just 2.5% to £140k to Austin-Healey Sprite MkII-IV down 7.4% to £7k. In most cases it looks like previously over-inflated models suffering a reality check. Handy if the recent market heat had taken them out of your reach.

Ford Pilot buying

The Ford Pilot’s handsome and confident American styling and flathead V8 propulsion look extremely attractive at anything from the £6k entry price for something usable through to circa £20k for a faultless example.

But various design flaws and limited parts and specialist network can catch out the unwary. Fortunately, Classic Cars magazine has just produced an in-depth buying guide for the latest issue in order to guide you through the challenges and make buying and owning one as simple and pleasurable as possible.

Imagine the sense of occasion when showing up at anything from a favourite pub to a classic car event in something so distinctive.

 

We want this

This 1959 Alvis TD21 looks like a lot elegant and discreet motoring pleasure for its £27.5k asking price. Of course, a lot of cars can appear so when you find a few small pictures and a lot of glowing prose in the small ads, but when we went to look at this one it stood up to scrutiny with good cosmetics and driving demeanour to match. Add to that the novelty of it being bought new by a diamond dealer and subsequently owned by a hot air balloon pilot and you have something worth a more detailed look. You can read more of our observations in the Ads on Test story, one of four cars for sale that we evaluate in the latest issus of Classic Cars magazine.

MARKET WATCH, January 2017

Mondial renaissance

With Ferrari prices falling back after a period of over-inflation by ambitious vendors you might expect the Mondial to share the hangover. After all, it suffers from the curse of four seats that have always held back values – who chooses a Ferrari to be practical?

Well, quite a few smart buyers as it turns out and prices are up nearly 14% on last year. If you avoid comparison with the pretty 308 GTB and GTS, the Mondial is a good-looking car, it’s a buzz to drive and you can take the family out for a spin, at least while the kids are still young. Even with the recent growth, the Mondial still looks good value at £14k for a decent one, £23k for something really sharp, and running one shouldn’t lead to financial ruin if you start off with a properly looked after example. But we’ve seen recent examples of these cars selling for significantly more, so they may not remain such good value forever.

Cortina gold

We’re used to strong prices for Ford Cortinas MkI and MkII – all of that period motor sport heritage has a direct impact on Lotus and GT values, and a halo effect on the lesser models – but the MkIII with its transatlantic styling and suburban image has never been as covetable.

But newer generations of buyers aren’t under the spell of the Sixties – it’s just too far in the past now – and instead they’re drawn to flamboyant images of the Seventies, from Raleigh Choppers to Cortina MkIIIs. Which goes some way to explaining more than £13k paid recently for a low-mileage 1600 GT. That, and the scarcity of this two-door model. When was the last time you saw one?

Market winners and losers

Of the 289 movers in the latest update of the Classic Cars magazine Price Guide, just 32 are fallers. The rest are showing growth of anything up to 71%. That chart-topping figure is achieved by the Jaguar XJ12 Coupé, meaning that good examples now start at £9k and you can pay anywhere from £16-24k depending on how perfect the car is. The six-cylinder version isn’t far behind with figures around 20% behind the V12 model.

The top five slots are locked out by cars that hitherto had been keeping quiet – Lotus Esprit S2, Triumph Spitfire MkII and original Spitfire 4.

Fallers show no pattern of age or car type, with the Subaru Impreza Turbo and Austin Atlantic coupé topping the chart at -14% and -12% respectively. Now that pairing would make for a diverse two-car garage.

Lancia Flavia

With prices starting at £2k for a usable saloon or £4k for the equivalent coupé, the Lancia Flavia is looking very tempting right now.

These cars bristle with clever design including aluminium flat four engines, front wheel drive and disc brakes, and in coupé and cabriolet forms offer the sort of Pininfarina styling normally reserved for Ferraris.

The best saloons are £10-15k, coupés £25-35k and cabrios £30-40k, which still looks attractive when you consider the alternatives. As the buying guide in the latest issue of Classic Cars magazine reveals, repair costs aren’t disproportionate unless you pay too much for an example with too many faults. Our detailed advice should help you spot the trouble areas so that you can negotiate on the price, or vote with your feet.

We want this MG TA

The 1936 MG TA that we test in the latest issue of Classic Cars magazine demonstrates a well-judged blend of restoration and upgrades that make it one of the best that we’ve ever driven. Engine, gearbox, suspension and brakes have all been specified to make the car fun, predictable and dependable to drive, without compromising its period charm. The history file confirms two previous restorations and the period of 1983-2000 alone accounts for £63k of expenditure. The dealer is asking £28.5k. Want to know more? Check out the Ads on Test report in Classic Cars, February 2017.

 

Market Watch, December 2016

VW Karmann Ghia
While much of the Le Mans/Nürburgring/Brands Hatch-obsessed classic car market chases up values of hardcore performance models, cars like the VW Karmann Ghia look increasingly good value. Of course they’re not going to impress anyone with vivid acceleration, big horsepower boasts and heroic handling, but there really is more to classic motoring than driving a car like you stole it. This, coming from someone with a history of TVR and Porsche ownership.

What the Karmann Ghia does do very well is look pretty and cruise along with carefree ease. Lovely examples can be found for around £10k, which wouldn’t buy you much of a Triumph TR6 these days.

Peugeot 205 GTI
It doesn’t seem long ago that we were tipping these sharp-looking road terriers as undervalued smart buys. It couldn’t last long. First it was the perfect, ultra-low mileage examples that made the headlines – one sold recently for £30k – while inevitably cars with high mileage or needing work were left alone, but we’ve just seen a well-used 1.6 example make £2.4k.

So it seems the market is becoming hungry for them in any condition, in the way that sporting Ford Escort MkIs were chased upwards a decade ago. As history repeats itself, the generation that grew up aspiring to these, or owning them as disposable transport when they were secondhand bargains has the money to buy the best, or restore one to top condition. Faced with the realization that supplies of perfect, unmodified examples are scarce, they’re prepared to spend ever more on chasing the dream.

But aside from headline-grabbing auction examples, good cars with normal mileages can be bought for a third of the price of a Ford Escort Mexico. For now.

 

Price guide winners and losers
To illustrate how nuanced the classic car market is right now, the monthly roundup of the top 72 price guide winners and losers in Classic Cars magazine includes everything from the Blower Bentley to the BMW M535i, and late-model Porsches appear at the top of the charts of both winners and losers, depending on model.

Sharing the winner’s top slot are the Bentley Speed Six, Blower Bentley and BMW M535i (E12 generation) with a weighty 99% growth. They’re followed by Porsche 911 Carrera (964 generation) at 70% and its Turbo brother rounding out the top five at 50%.

The losers show much less spectacular figures with even the biggest only managing a 13% fall, meaning that you can now buy a mint Porsche Boxster 2.5 for just £5k. The newer and much more powerful 3.2S has dropped 10%, making mint examples a £9k bargain. If you’ve never tried one of these tactile and practical little gems, now’s the time. While their 911 big brother boasts all of the big numbers, the Boxster is much more fun at sane and legal speeds.

The Lamborghini 400GT, Porsche 911 Turbo 4 and Carrera (both 993 generation) wound out the top five fallers, losing 6.3, 6.0 and 5.3% respectively. Hardly drastic losses considering how 2016 buyers have shunned the meteoric rises in the classic Porsche market of previous years.

They may have a way to fall yet but long term, special examples of these later Porsches will surely return to growth as a younger generation of enthusiasts seeks excitement in post-chrome-era classics.

Honda CR-X
Honda’s sharp-looking and sharp-handling CR-X coupé is a reminder that there was more to fun Eighties motoring than the much-celebrated hot hatch. And with buyers clamouring for all of the predictable Peugeots, VWs, Renaults and Fords, the now scarce Honda makes a very appealing alternative, with good examples staring around £4k and the very best topping £12k.

Spec ranges from the early 60bhp, twin-carburettor-fed 1.5-litre model through to the sizzling 1.6i V-T (SiR in Japan) with its 150bhp VTEC (variable valve timing) engine, all driving the front wheels.

The challenge is finding the right car and keeping it in top condition thanks to scarcity of survivors and patchy parts supply, so the in-depth buying guide in the latest issue of Classic Cars magazine is a must-read for advice on where to source cars and how to check them for the sort of problems that might taint your ownership.

So a CR-X might not be as easy to own as a Ford or VW, but life would be dull without challenges, right?

Range Rovers rocket
You’d think my friend who sold his early Range Rover last year for a few hundred pounds would suffer a head-in-the-hands moment at the news that an early example has just sold for £93k. But the big number was for the first production car, built of course in 1970 and with an A-suffix to the chassis number. It was also restored to original condition.

My friend’s car was at the other end of the spectrum with a shortened chassis, hybrid Series 3/Defender bodywork and countless DIY shed-quality modifications that together transformed it into an off-road special. It was one of very many similar conversions that contributed to the rarity of the untouched originals that are so prized today. Without such attrition, I doubt that two door Range Rovers would be attracting anything like the attention and values that they are now.

It also underlines how, as a car matures from loved old classic to collectible piece of significant motoring history, buyers will put ever higher premiums on original specification, fittings and finishes. Conversely, the more that you personalise a car, the more you narrow its market until it only appeals to one person – you.

We want this
With just 23k miles on the odometer this 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS had to be worth a look, even though it’s lefthand drive. That’s the price you pay for a car that’s spent its life in California avoiding rain, salt and the everyday scrapes and dings that prompt a respray or three during a car’s life. So this one still wears its original paint, as evidenced by microcrazing caused by that relentless sunshine. It would be a crime to refinish it in the pursuit of perfection, as with the gently used red leather which sets off the silver body colour nicely.
Our love of time-worn patina doesn’t extend to driving around on the 23-year-old tyres however, which will no doubt be age-hardened and lethal in wet conditions.
The GTS is one of four cars for sale that we try out in the Ads on Test section of the latest issue of Classic Cars magazine.

 

Market watch August 2016

Jaguar E-types still hot

The latest sale by Silverstone Auctions at the Silverstone Classic weekend demonstrated that there’s a ready market for Jaguar E-types, regardless of condition and model. The caveat is that seller expectations need to be well matched to condition. So an excellent Series 2 fixedhead coupé (Jaguar speak for the two seater) made £118k with buyer’s premium, while another in driver condition sold for just £39k. In an educated market, buyers are well aware that restoring a condition 2 car is a more expensive route to perfection than buying the best car in the first place.

Prices ranged from £19k for a 1971 S3 2+2 coupé with poor bonnet fit, tired chrome and various paint defects, to £141k for a 1961 Series 1 roadster that really needed re-restoring to meet modern expectations of perfection. Chassis number 62 explained the price.

That all nine cars sold defied the usual principle that offering too much choice kills the sale of the lesser examples as buyers hold out for the best. A hungry market indeed.

Why buy the best?

With spiralling standards of perfection seen at everything from the local car shows to the top concours, it’s easy to be drawn in. But as one dealer said to me, it’s vital to be realistic about what you want the car for. If you want a better-than-new gem, so flawless that you’ll never want to drive it for fear of stone chips, rain drops or even some road grime, perfection is the only way to go. You’ll have something lovely to admire in your garage or maybe at a show.

If you want to use it for drives to favourite country pubs, continental holidays and on sunny Friday commutes to the office, that perfect classic could be more of a source of stress than pleasure. Top price Triumph Stags are now in the high teens, but we’ve seen decent examples for less than £10k and a 64,000-miler in original condition for £10.5k. For that you still get a car that drives well, draws admiring glances and is something to be proud of, once you’ve accepted its imperfections as patina. The trick is distinguishing those cars from urgent restoration projects, held together by the last respray and trip to the filler and underseal shop.

The alternative GT

If we all had £500k to spend on a Sixties GT, there’d be an Aston Martin DB5 on every street. I know they didn’t make that many, but stay with me. My point is that the classic world would be a bit boring if the most special cars stopped being special. A bit like affording to put Lagavulin on your morning cornflakes instead of milk.

Whether your budget is limited to £5k or £50k creates a fun challenge – how to find the most exciting car within your budget. For a £50k Sixties GT we’d choose a Jensen CV-8, which offers all of the refinement, performance and curvaceous panelwork of the Aston, but without the lottery price tag and ownership costs. Admittedly its styling has more singular appeal, as does the extreme peatiness of Lagavulin, as it happens. It would be a dull old world if we all liked and chose the same things.

Top 5 market climbers

The latest issue of Classic Cars magazine reveals the top climbers and fallers. Of the 62 models that have gone up in value in our latest price guide update, five have soared by 25% or more, from the Ford Escort RS Turbo at £10k to the Jensen FF, up 77% to £100k for the best.

Just ten models have shown a drop, led by the the Lotus Elan SE Turbo, falling 7.7% to £8k. Encouraging news for anyone who lusted after one when they were more expensive.

Anyone who tells you that classic cars are a one-way investment, or that they’re all too expensive for true enthusiasts hasn’t studied the real numbers.


Exotic spec, humble price

Crisp, Sixties Italian styling, sweet six cylinder engines, twin carburettors or fuel injection, all-independent suspension – sounds like a recipe for something exotic and expensive to own, doesn’t it. But the Triumph 2000/2500 offers all that in smart condition from just £3k.

As our in-depth buying guide in the latest issue explains, you can pay double that for a perfect example, the fuel-injected 2.5 PI MkI commands a 30 per cent premium and estate versions ad a 10 per cent premium. The guide also reveals how well supported these cars are through a small but helpful network of specialists and club enthusiasts dedicated to make ownership as easy as possible.

Buying advice and market analysis is part of 16 pages of buying information in every issue of Classic Cars magazine, including Quentin Willson’s Smart Buys, Russ Smith’s Market Watch, in-depth buying guides and Ads on Test.

We want this: Bentley S3 Continental

The ideal collection should include a car for every occasion, and when that occasion calls for swift, stylish travel with a bunch of friends or family, this Mulliner Park Ward-bodied Bentley Continental S3 would be perfect. Its controversial headlamp arrangement is more than compensated for by flowing, elegant lines that successfully disguise the volume of this heavyweight express. When we tested it for the October issue, we found that this 1963 example drives as well as it looks. Can anyone lend me £137k?

Date for your diary: Round Britain Coastal Run

The E-type Club kicks off its Round Britain Coastal Drive on September 12, returning on the 29th after a 3600-mile relay composed of 18 stages. The aim is to raise £50k for charity and well-known names have already signed up, including Ross Brawn, Martin Brundle, and, er, me. Whether you want to take part, spectate or donate, you’ll find all the details you need on e-typeclub.com