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Classic cars: A head or a heart purchase?

9 minute read

Buying a classic car is an investment decision that can attract scepticism…

Even if it is from well-meaning friends, family members or partners, there are those who are fearful that you might buy a four-wheeled money pit. But as well as classic cars, which are at least 20 years old, vintage cars – those manufactured between 1919 and 1930 – and the pre-WWI veterans, attract loyal buyers across the UK.

“Choosing and then buying a classic car is never a totally sensible, rational process,” says Dale Vinten, head of editorial for niche vehicle marketplace, Car & Classic. “In the life of any individual, cars of the past tend to be connected to specific memories and therefore can be emotionally charged in the recollection – and purchasing selection – process.”

However, Sean Forde, the proud owner of a 1971 Ford Escort Mexico in glorious Le Mans Green (if you’re not sure what that colour looks like, think Kermit the Frog…), describes the rationale behind buying this car as a head-driven purchase: “The car is remarkable for its age, the opportunity to own such a car is extremely rare.”

Roger Twelvetrees, a vintage car enthusiast who owns a 1911 Wolseley, a 1916 Buick and three 1930s Rileys, tries to strike a balance between head and heart, saying, “I have to love a car to buy it, but always at a sensible price.”

But Leona Barr-Jones and Carl Slater are unashamedly heart-driven drivers.

Leona, who owns a 1968 Royal Blue Triumph Spitfire MkIII called Merlyn, says buying a classic car “is always a heart purchase.”

“This one needed a lot of work when I first got it – my brother and my Dad helped me get the engine out and we took it to an engineer to get it rebored, so it’s got some extra va-va-voom,” she recalls. “I then took it for her first respray and kept the original colour and I’ve used her as my main car off and on for three decades.”

Austin-loving Carl Slater – he owns three vintage Austins from the 1930s – says all his cars were “bought with heart not head.”

“The 1933 10/4 had been in films and had a good history, which I was able to research in great detail, tracing all its previous owners, while the Austin 7 Open Road Tourer was bought when I discovered it was one of only 15 remaining in existence,” he explains.

Is a classic car a sound investment?

While automotive love may conquer all, especially for Leona and Carl, Dale says that buying a classic or vintage car can still be a sound investment in the fast-moving UK market.

“A smart investment is a car that not only tugs at your heartstrings, but makes sense to the wallet because it has certain advantages,” he says. “For example, in the current financial climate, the benefits of owning a pre-1983 vehicle are unquestionable: zero cost road fund licence, MOT exemption, though it is advisable to continue testing your vehicle, to avoid safety concerns.”

Dale urges car lovers to look for “cars that are easy to live with [as they] can be forgiving enough to be used as everyday transport and still retain that aura of desirability which ultimately will facilitate a future sale.”

“There's not much point buying the car of your dreams if you can't drive the thing,” he observes. “Good cars with proven history will always attract and retain the best money. Buy the best you can afford, no matter what decade the car belongs to, because originality is highly desirable and sells for the highest price.”

While the cars that are older than most of us are highly prized on the market, especially in good condition, Dale says that “nostalgia is a very powerful emotion”, especially when it comes to cars we have driven in our own lifetimes.

“Evidence of this is the rise in value, as well as demand, of modern classics; cars from the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s,” he says. “They are sought after by a generation now old enough to have money available to invest and are looking into buying cars that are meaningful to them as individuals – models which featured in their childhood, or as posters on their bedroom wall.”

How ‘green’ is my classic car?

As sales of hybrid and electric cars increase, will the classic car market implode simply because of environmental concerns? For those who want to invest, but are concerned about emissions, there are a few ways to convert a classic into a greener dream machine, such as swapping pistons and push-rods for batteries. Dale says that making such modifications is a “personal choice” rather than something that will add value, especially if the car is only driven occasionally.

“It may be interesting to try something new and respond to increasingly stringent regulations but as a rule, whether it's to make the classic more user-friendly in the current climate, or turn it into more of a modified racer, changes such as these will generally negatively affect its value,” he continues. “A car that has retained its originality and has proven history will always be more desirable to collectors and fans alike than one that has been modified, therefore losing some of its identity.”

How hard is it to part with a beloved classic?

For Sean, Roger, Leona and Carl, there is little desire to sell any of their classic cars. Even Sean, who insists his car is a head-led investment, says he cannot think of any reason to sell his car, unless his health deteriorates.

Roger and Carl’s cars, meanwhile, will stay in the family.

“I have not sold a pre-war car and don’t intend to – my son is as enthusiastic as me, so they can all go to him when I die,” says Roger, while Carl says he will bequeath his Austins to his children, with his youngest son already claiming the 10/4.

“I tend to drive them on the weekends as my daily car is used for driving instruction,” says Carl. “I go on local shopping trips but will also just go for a drive, I try to do the school run in them whenever possible as the kids love to see the old cars at the school, I have driven to classic car events countrywide and have used them for weddings, proms and local ‘40s themed weekends.”

Leona’s Triumph is another permanent fixture for family reasons: “My dad used to help me service her before I left home, and he has died now so it’s a strong connection.”

“Not unlike vintage, fine wine, classic cars appreciate in time if left to mature,” says Dale. “Unlike vintage wine, however, they don’t have to be kept locked up in dark cellars and enjoyed just the once.”

Since the creation of this article, sadly one of the interviewees, Roger Twelvetrees, died following an accident whilst competing in a race for Edwardian cars at Mallory Park. His family expressed their absolute approval that this article still go ahead. His son William says, “it is some consolation that he left us doing something that he truly loved.”

In memory of Roger Twelvetrees, 1945-2023

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