Too good to use? A discourse on the classic car market

Updated: Feb 3

With classic car values on a steep upward trajectory, the industry is booming, but are the cars themselves losing out on the deal?


Jimi Hendrix once sang that "a rolling stone gathers no moss", and while this proverb can no doubt be interpreted in a number of ways, it can also be applied to the preservation of classic vehicles. If there's one thing from which a car can really suffer, it's neglect and as classics become increasingly valuable, they are seeing the light of day far less frequently.



The latest classics to succumb to this trend and command an eye watering premium, are those from the 1980s and this can largely be attributed to the current crop of affluent 50-60 year-olds. Many an 80s bedroom wall was adorned with a poster of a Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa or an Audi Quattro. Some were even fortunate enough to have have had a Peugeot 205 GTI or perhaps an E21 BMW at the time. The common denominator is that these people now want to relive their youths, or own the car of their childhood dreams. Correspondingly, pre-war cars are proving increasingly hard to sell as their follower base disappears. If you're in the market for a rare, properly built classic and not worried about investments, now is a great time to get into a pre-war vehicle. That said, the extent to which they are useable, is really dependent on your lifestyle and what you're prepared to put up with.



As a result, the nostalgia-led classic car market is booming, it's a straight-forward case of supply and demand. However, many of these desirable cars are now finding their way into the hands of wealthy collectors, being locked away in private museums, wrapped up in cotton wool. At the end of the day,each to their own, and this isn't the place to tell people how to enjoy their classic cars. Yet the fact remains that these cars are becoming so valuable, that every mile on their odometer can be so seriously detrimental to their value, that their owners are fearful of using them.

 

It is all about striking a balance. Highly valued cars seldom leave the garage, but at the other end of the spectrum, undervalued cars don't warrant the investment of time or money and so they fall into disrepair. Arguably a car that is consigned to a collection is better off than a car that eventually ends up languishing under a tarpaulin in somebody's front garden, with the hope that they'll "get round to it someday". There are of course times when it is perhaps best to keep our precious cars under wraps. Salty roads and adverse weather can cause a multitude of problems. My approach is to pick your days and generally be prepared. Those who have seen our most recent video, will know that I use my Land Rover all year round, but it isn't my daily driver. I ensure the underside is kept pickled and it goes back in a garage most nights. The one winter when I didn't drive it, it developed all manner of small problems which over time add up to serious deterioration. My TW colleague Will has daily driven his Volkswagen Beetle, for the past couple of years. This means that while he has to complete running repairs, it is always working and is all the better for it.

Fortunately, there is hope. Recent years have witnessed the creation of a variety of new events and organisations, encouraging owners to coax their pride and joy out of the garage and hit the open road. There have never been more opportunities to share your classic car with likeminded enthusiasts and we are just beginning to see market trends beginning to favour so-called 'useable classics'. Many owners are beginning to resent the term 'collector' and putting miles on classic cars is becoming something of a badge of honour amongst petrolheads.


Back in the summer of 2021, Talk Wrench took part in several of such events, but the one that ensured our cars really got to stretch their legs was the Maharaja's Tour, organised by the Craven Motor Club.



In a non-competitive rally across much of Oxfordshire, the Maharaja's Tour sends an eclectic group of classic cars out on a variety of roads, following Tulip diagrams and most importantly, raising money for charity. The wonderful thing about these sorts of rallies, is that they attract everything from a 1930s Alfa Romeo Grand Prix car to 1990s fast Fords. Since it is a non-competitive event, custom-built rally cars are not a requirement, which meant Will and I were able to take our two cars without undertaking any rally preparation. After 120 miles on a 30 degree day, I think my TW colleague brought the better car for the job. If you think a Series Land Rover is an unlikely rally car, you'd be right, but I finished the event (eventually) and earned the respect of the marshals along the route.

 

What mattered, is that we were driving the cars, which is what they are for after all. Since I spend a lot of my time being overtaken, I'd rather it were by AC Cobras and Jaguar Etypes, rather than a disgruntled commuter in a Toyota Auris.



For those fortunate enough to be classic car owners, sky-high values can be reassuring when buying parts or embarking on major restoration work. However, many enthusiasts are being priced out of the market and some cars are arguably becoming 'too good to use'. Here at TW, we will continue to be out and about in old cars, whatever they are worth. For us, its about the driving, not keeping a low number on the odometer.


 

We look forward to seeing you out on the open roads and at events this year.



JP



 

NB. All photographs featured are our own and depict cars at the 2021 Maharaja's Tour organised by the Craven Motor Club.

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