Simon de Burton

Could a classic car save you money?

Why now's the time to invest in your dream drive

Could a classic car save you money?
VW Beetle (iStock)
Text settings

It's often said that classic cars are one of the best investments around, with some models outstripping the profits to be had in property, art and even gold. The problem is, it's not really true.

Yes, if you were smart enough to buy, for example, a McLaren F1 for £2m a decade ago then you could cash it in today for a tidy profit of at least £8m, and if you happened to snap-up a Ferrari 250GTO in the late 1990s for what might then seemed like an astronomical $7m, it could now be worth something approaching seven times as much.Other blue chip collectable classics have also performed exceptionally well, such as the Porsche 911 2.7 RS, the Ferrari 246 GT 'Dino' and the Aston Martin DB5, as have certain pre-war models by Bugatti, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz - and, in particular, certain cars built during the 1980s and 90s that have come to be regarded as 'modern classics'.There are many more that have certainly risen dramatically in value during recent decades (and, in some cases, within the past 10 years) but look at the bigger picture - taking into account more run-of-the-mill makes and models produced in large quantities such as MGs, Jaguars, VWs, Triumphs and so-on - and it soon becomes apparent that, while most classic cars certainly cost more to buy nowadays than they did a while ago, their investment performance has been feeble at best.Take as an example the ubiquitous MG 'B', regarded by many as the quintessential British sports car, hugely popular (more than half-a-million built across roadster and hard top formats between 1962 and 1980), simple, reliable, easy to fix and entirely usable today.

Back in 1990, a restored roadster could have been bought for around £5,000 and if well maintained, kept garaged and used regularly (which classic cars should be, to avoid deterioration) it would now be worth - on a good day - £7,000 - £10,000. But factor in 30 years worth of routine maintenance, inevitable MOT test repairs and possibly the odd £2,000 re-paint to keep it looking smart, and the chances are the owner will find themselves reversing into negative equity.

Add in the fact that a classic car market that generally sky-rocketed between 2014 and 2019 has now cooled dramatically, and suddenly those copper-bottomed 'investments' of a few years ago now don't look so clever. But, paradoxically, there has perhaps never been a better time than now to buy a classic car.

Not only are there thousands for sale at usually very negotiable prices but, for big city dwellers who cover relatively few miles, they are emerging as a smart buy due to the fact that all models of 40 years plus are now road tax and MOT exempt as 'historic vehicles' and, generally, cost peanuts to insure.

The other bonus for owners in London (and in many other European cities) is that 'historics' have also been declared exempt from low emission zone charges - so while a car built between 1981 and 2005 will likely land you with a £12.50 ULEZ bill on top of the regular £15 London congestion charge, owning a 40-plus-year-old car means the former doesn't apply.

And, with the ULEZ zone being extended in 12 months time to cover everywhere inside the north and south circular roads, the appeal of a classic is only likely to become greater, since anyone commuting into central London five days a week for, say, 45 weeks of the year would save themselves a useful £2,812.50 in charges.

The situation is, of course, totally illogical - but while the powers-that-be are happy for it to continue, why not make the most of it?

Classic cars can be found in abundance on sites such as eBay, AutoTrader, Pistonheads and Car and Classic, and hundreds of others cross the block each month with specialist auction houses such as Bonhams, Historics, H & H, CCA and Silverstone Auctions.

Buy a good one, look after it properly, use it often and, while it won't be a match for a more modern car in terms of comfort, conveniences, performance and, let's face it, safety, there is no reason why it shouldn't provide sterling service and a whole lot more fun than 21st century, electronically-controlled box.

And, who knows - you might even get your money back when it's time to sell.....

Here are a eight affordable and (mainly) practical 'daily driver' classics up for auction in the coming weeks.

1980 MG 'B' roadster, H & H , November 18. Estimate £6,000 - 7,000.

This car was extensively restored in 2009 and remains in excellent condition. A comprehensive history file details the maintenance record and expenditure – and it even has its original, factory supplied tool kit in the boot. These ‘rubber bumper’ MGs are considered less desirable than the earlier, prettier chrome-bumper examples – but they are a whole lot more practical for in-town use, both because of those robust bumpers and their slightly higher driving position. The heaters are better, too, and the switchgear more ergonomic.

1979 Rolls-Royce Wraith II. Estimate £6,000 - 7,000

Yes, buying a Rolls-Royce doesn't make sense - but, apparently, we only live once. This one in striking 'Le Mans blue' has an of-the-era 'Everflex' roof (Rolls-Royce speak for 'vinyl' and is said to come from long-term ownership. Check out the history file before jumping in, however - suspension problems and underside rust will be expensive to remedy - and don't expect more than 12 mpg around town. But it will be worth it for the waft...

1977 Porsche 911 SC, Estimate £30,000 - 35,000, November 13 and 14

The 911 SC was once considered the poor man’s 911. Not any more – its three-litre engine is now recognised as being among the most bullet-proof ever made by the marque, and the pure, unadorned lines of the basic coupe chime right in with an increasing appreciation of simplicity of form. Imported from Japan five years ago and and fully restored, the car’s history file details no fewer than 30 factory options. It has clocked a mere 80,000 miles from new.

1978 VW Beetle. Estimate £15,000 - 20,000

Another one to which the term ‘practical classic’ can’t strictly be applied – but who doesn’t’ want to own a Ferrari at least once in their life? This one in Giallo Fly – the official Ferrari colour – spent much of its life in California where it was protected from the rust that has ravaged many European examples. The car’s fuel-injection engine makes for smoother running and greater reliability than a carburettor model, and, being a ‘GTS,’ there’s a lift-out roof panel to make the most of those sunny driving days.

1972 Rover P6 3500S 'Huntsman'. Estimate £9,000 - 14,000

The distinctive Rover P6 was regarded as something of an automotive status symbol during the 1970s – and no model more so than the 3500 S which combines a throaty, 3.5 litre, V8 engine with a manual gearbox for an exhilarating drive. This rare ‘Huntsman’ edition also had ‘Sundym’ tinted glass, a vinyl roof and special seating. It also got the ‘touring kit’ – meaning it was factory fitted with a re-inforced boot lid designed to carry the spare wheel in order to maximise luggage space. Its three previous owners clocked-up just 64,000 miles between them.

1969 Citroen DS Decapotable, November 10th,

To many, Citroen’s svelte and ahead-of-its time ‘DS’ saloon car represents the ultimate classic car dream. The rarest of the rare, however, are the convertible versions ‘converted’ from new by authorised specialist henri Chapron. These now command six-figure sums – but the DS ‘decapotable’ on offer at Barons was adapted in the UK during the 1990s by the Ocford French Car Company in order to demonstrate its abilities. Superbly built, its current owner has used the car to tour the UK, Ireland and Europe, apparently without breakdowns.

1958 Triumph TR3A. £13,000 - 16,000

The TR3’s nimble handling, sprightly performance and mechanical reliability helped it to win some of the toughest rallies in Europe during the 1950s. This example was one of thousands exported to America and lived most of its life in the arid climate of Arizona – hence its original, well-preserved bodywork and chassis. Imported during the 1990s and sympathetically rebuilt by a professional motorsport engineer – who converted it to right-hand-drive – it is up, running and ready to go. And, at the guide price, could be a bargain…