Our monsoon season brings not only cricket delays but also a flowering of local classic-car shows. Testimony to nostalgic enthusiasm, they prompt the reflection that man is never more innocently engaged than when he values something for what it is, rather than for what he can get out of it. Not that the classic-car world has ever been immune to investors seeking to translate value in the usual way. Indeed, now may be a good time if you’ve a few thousand earning no interest somewhere.
Judging by record auction prices at Brightwells, Leominster, classic cars have held up pretty well during the recession, especially at the top end (though Rolls and Bentley are harder to shift). True, there are fewer good cars at all levels and some auctions struggle for numbers because owners fear they won’t sell, but most of those that are there, do. It may be a sign of healthy demand that classic insurance brokers Footman James reported a 32 per cent rise in thefts in June this year compared with last.
My local show, at Hooe near Bexhill, surpassed itself on its 40th anniversary with a field full of cherished combinations of four and two wheels. Even the visitors’ car park sported a couple of Astons and a fine Jowett Javelin. The show included a replica of a 1902 Manley Steam Carriage, appropriate in the month in which the British Steam Car makes its attempt on the 1906 steam car speed record of 127.66mph. Steam lorries were produced right up until 1935, according to our knowledgeable commentator, who also introduced us to two Edwardian Brush Runabouts (no, neither had I), representing one quarter of all known to exist.
But if you’re looking to buy or sell — and most of these owners weren’t — leap forward to the 1970s and consider elderly Range Rovers, which are going like hot cakes. The older the better, so long as they’re good. There aren’t many because as they rusted most were sold into rough trade or for off-roading, but now well-heeled buyers realise they can get big-car comfort with reliability and easy, computer-free maintenance without attracting envious attention. Early 3.5-carburettor models are the most collectable, but really any of the 3.9 fuel-injected Classics up to about 1994 will do. But it must be good.
I spent an agreeable afternoon recently with a 1965 Jaguar Mk 2 3.4, an unleaded conversion in British Racing Green, with stainless-steel exhaust, new clutch and dynamo, fitted power steering, good oil pressure and overhauled brakes. Its Sussex owner, a retired pilot (who also owns a beautiful Riley RMF which he’s wisely not selling), has motored 70,000 miles in it since 1993 and maintained it as a practical everyday car with loving expertise. Paintwork is crazed on the boot, with some bubbling along the bottom — as also on one of the doors — but nothing structural, with new footwells and plenty of Waxoil underneath. Woodwork and headlining are good, the cream leather front seats are acceptable, the rears have splits and need seeing to. It drives very nicely — that power steering makes a difference — has a full MOT and is looking for offers towards £8,000. Contact Hayden Lawford on email@example.com — unless, like me, you still have an unreasonable hankering for a fourth Daimler Majestic or Majestic Major. Are there really no more out there?
Meanwhile, if you’re hanging on to the Rolls or Bentley you should know that Crewe are selling 7,000,000 parts and accessories for 1955–2002 models on 26/27 September. A shed full of those could be a canny buy for the investor, with no running costs.