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CLASSICAL GAS* June 26, 2009

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

Classic cars are a passion of mine, perhaps even a ‘blind passion’ inasmuch as I currently own a car only a few dozen examples of which remain roadworthy in the UK – which is therefore almost impossible to get spares for – namely a Lancia Gamma Coupe. It is, however, subtly gorgeous to the eye and stirring to the soul that drives it.

Gamma Gamma Hey

Gamma Gamma Hey*

Curiously, the first Gamma I drove was being sold by one James Dennison who is quite literally the driving force behind the regular classic car sales I usually attend at Brightwells, an auctioneers in nearby Leominster. The latest of these, last Wednesday, proved as interesting as ever but not just for the huge variety of vehicles James had assembled for the sale, but also as a barometer of what might be happening in the classic car world during a major recession.

The last significant economic downturn in the early ‘90s, saw much speculation in classic vehicles as financial investments, a process whereby quite mundane Ferraris and Jaguars rapidly achieved insane prices which of course plummeted shortly afterwards as chancers who neither knew nor cared about precious metal got their fingers rightly burnt.

Of course reflecting the fact that buyers must beware, the hammer prices at auctions where there are no opportunities to drive the goods tend to be lower than both private and dealer values, but Dennison’s catalogue pretty assiduously describes his wares realistically and of course half the fun of an auction is poring over the vehicles beforehand, especially if there’s something that takes one’s fancy.

At Brightwells there are always lots of lots that take my fancy, albeit cruelly tempered by my financial realities. But this time there was one car that looked like it might be as affordable as it was desirable… a shocking yellow BMW 2002 Cabriolet.



Normally of course German cars leave me cold, but like many classicists, perverse nostalgia rocks the boat of reason and in this case just such a BM was the first, and I hasten to say, only car I ever crashed. The Cabriolet in question belonged to my then American girlfriend who bought it – brand new – in 1974 and whilst she briefly returned to Kentucky that summer I was tanking back to Wales when a tight corner got the better of me and suddenly the car was traveling along on its roof or rather, and thank gawd, the substantial roll-bar that held its targa top in place. Well it was 1.30am, the road was damp and I was stoned (and it was 1974).

As I said, nostalgia for a car which I nearly killed myself in may be perverse, but it was some kind of testimony to BMW’s engineering integrity that I didn’t die. The 2002 was also an eager performer and amusing to drive and so the one offered by Brightwells, which had been lovingly and properly maintained rather than restored in the hands of just three owners looked attractive, in every sense of the word, at a guide price of £3250 – 4750.

Obviously I don’t need another car – classic or otherwise – but with less than 90 of these once very expensive machines imported into the UK, I also rationalised that it might gradually increase in value should I ever need to flog it. Similar thinking was clearly at work elsewhere because oddities like a 1953 Healey Abbot sold for close to its top estimate at £13,500 and a ratty Jowett Jupiter drop-top beat its £7,750 upper guide price..

But several rather more iconic Jag E-types all went for relatively low prices, the best, a 1970 Series 2 model hammered down for £30,000 which is about £20k less than its normal retail value, whereas vendors of a several Austin Healey 3000s clearly had inflated ideas of their worth as they remained unsold having failed to reach their £29-37,000 reserves.

Exaggerated notions of value were also attached to a clutch of Yank tanks, including a rather saucy 1964 Chevvy Impala convertible, but none of them sold, possibly because Brightwells tends to appeal to a more trad. British vendor and therefore buyer, and so last week ten pre-war Rileys and MGs from the Ivor Halbert Collection attracted a huge attendance. The rarest of these, a 1934 MPH fetched way above its top (£130k estimate), namely £195,000, and even a relatively common Kestrel saloon won £23,000 more than its estimated ceiling of £15k.

Mean while vendors of two Lotus Excels perhaps wisely accepted below estimated prices at £2400 and £3300, the same applying to a couple of Jensen Interceptors, including a pristine four wheel-drive FF at £2,000 shy of its lower £20k estimate. But these are all generally unloved cars that would probably never reward speculation and like several ‘unfinished restoration projects’ offered would only find homes with mad enthusiasts.

Interestingly, there wasn’t a single MGB or Triumph Spitfire – the bread and butter of the classic car world –  in the sale, perhaps because their not-so-well-heeled owners are hanging onto their cars simply because they provide fun and solace in miserable times, especially as the market for them is flat. Conversely, only top condition and/or rarity command high prices that will only get higher as the economy continues to descend down the toilet.

Which bring me back to ‘my’ BMW Cabriolet. Having not had the conviction to actually bid for it, I was secretly pleased when it failed to sell at £2400, its reserve being £3250. But then lo and behold, the next day it was offered for sale on Brightwells’ website at £3500, including buyer’s premium and VAT. So will I weaken? Watch this space… but do I really want to consign my delectable, ultra-rare Gamma Coupe to Brightwells next hammer-fest with an optimistic five grand guide price?

* No prize whatsoever for guessing the relevant if deeply cliche’d musical origins.

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1. Baz "The Groper" O'Connor - July 12, 2009

Dude! That is sooo cool.
My Dad once owned a sweet 1929 Morris Oxford Saloon.
He told me one of the Cowley plants assembly lines was accidently built down a major ley line which goes out through Uffington and Dragons Hill, which made for some weird after sales problems.

Driving alone one stormy night and turning off the A40 for Pontypool he saw Joan Bakewell and Harold Pinter in the exact same model, only totally blazing and on fire, going in the other direction pass him doing 5mph.
Thats not the end it gets worse!
He drives on to Pontypool the wipers not doing dick, black as pitch and still pissing down and being near closing time he was just pulling up to the Globe to have a last pint when from the back seat a cracked old aristocratic womans voice said,
“Young Man! Drivah! Would you mind driving my companion Miss Ponsonby and me on up to LLangollen?

The Lesbians of LLangollen Dude!

2. Martin Craig - July 13, 2009

All I can add is what you already know, that classic cars, bikes and girls are all heartbreakers. Listen to Emmylou and Gram singing ‘Love Hurts’ AT LEAST ten times before making any decisions about Signora Lancia and this jaundiced fraulein who only reminds you of a voiture fatale you once knew.

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