Investing in Classic Cars

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta, sold in August 2014 for then world-record $38,115,000 (approx.£30,314,000 adjusted for inflation)

The Goodwood Festival of Speed

There’s something inherently thrilling about sitting behind a wall of seemingly flimsy hay bales as a series of ultra-rare, surprisingly quick and undeniably eccentric classic cars rage past you at various speeds. After a weekend of motoring indulgence, the same train of thought usually creeps into the back of your head.

“That 1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato was a beauty”, you say to yourself. “I wonder how much that would set me back? I really should put my money where my mouth is.” The answer to your question is £10,081,500, courtesy of this year’s Bonhams Festival of Speed sale. This pales into comparison when faced by the world’s most expensive car at auction, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta, sold in August 2014 for $38,115,000 (approx. £30,314,000 today). The classic car industry is big business, it seems. How, then, to get your foot in the garage of the motoring elite? Have no fear: Oracle Time is here, and has hounded Richard Stafford, car specialist at international auction house Bonhams, into helping make a handy guide on playing the car game.

1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato

1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato two-seat coupe, sold in 2018 for £10,081,500

Step One: Why?

The classic car market isn’t something to enter half-heartedly and there’s a hell of a lot to consider: “For example, the car will need to be stored undercover,” says Stafford, “so consider the size of your garage. Will you be maintaining it yourself or having a specialist do it? Will it be driven daily, used for a weekend drive or possibly for rallies and tours? Just as importantly, do you want to build a collection, or stop at one car.” Therein lies the crux of car collecting. Do you have your mind set on a particular car, or marque, or style? Do you want to fully enter the world, or just nip in for a single purchase? “Many people will begin with a ‘starter classic’ such as a classic Mini or an MGB for example,” explains Stafford. “On the other hand, if you have the funds available, then why not buy that Jaguar E-Type or Porsche 911 that you have always wanted?”

1954 Mercedez-Benz W196R

1954 Mercedez-Benz W196R Formula 1 racing single-seater, winner of the German and Swiss Grands Prix. Sold in 2013 for £19,601,500

Step Two: Do Your Homework

An auction house isn’t a simple thing to understand. There’s plenty to consider before sticking your paddle in the air, most notably the buyer’s and seller’s premiums – how much the auction house will charge you and the seller for the purchase. Make sure you look at the car of your dreams properly: “Going to the sale will give you the opportunity to look over the car in the saleroom. It’s vital to inspect it as thoroughly as possible, looking through the history file and talking to the specialists – they will always be very happy to help and answer questions.”

1904 Rolls-Royce 10HP Two-Seater

1904 Rolls-Royce 10HP two-seater, the oldest known surviving Rolls-Royce in the world. Sold in 2007 for £3,521,500

Step Three: Keep Your Head

As with any auction, the thrill of the chase can be too much for characters of a certain impulsive disposition. Have a limit in mind before the auction begins, and try to stick to it. However, according to Stafford, it pays to be flexible: “It’s important to consider the rarity of the car. If it’s a mass production car then you will always have another opportunity to get one, so stay firm to your limit. “However, if the car is a unique or very rare prospect, then it may be worth taking into consideration when the opportunity is likely to arise again.” Again, remember the commission the auction house will take, as this can bump the price over any limit you might have. Most houses clearly indicate commission percentages, but there can be other costs, especially for items as big as a car: “The most important additional item to consider is transport and clearance charges. Often a car will need to be cleared very shortly after a sale and if you can’t collect it, it will be taken to store at your expense.” Hesitate at your own risk.

1929-31 4.5 litre supercharged ‘Blower’ Bentley Single-Seater

1929-31 4.5 litre supercharged ‘Blower’ Bentley single-seater, sold in 2012 for £5,041,500

A Final Note: Do It for the Love

Investing in anything always comes with risks. It’s never a certainty that you’ll make money from anything, especially something as intricate, complicated and high maintenance as a classic car. Upkeep costs are high, especially if you’re looking to preserve the car’s value for a future sale. For Stafford, “the most important thing is to buy a car that you want and love, because then you will always have an asset that you can enjoy, use and appreciate, whatever is happening in the market.”

About the author

David Taylor