style=”flat” size=”4″]The rise and rise of the classic car market can easily send your next choice out of reach. We quizzed five experts about how to get ahead of the market, then took the five tastiest of their 30 choices for a blockbuster test session. Words Ross Alkureishi. Photography Laurens Parsons.
JUSTIN BANKS (JUSTIN BANKS LTD) Banks started out at Hexagon before setting up as an independent dealer 15 years ago. He specialises in an eclectic mix of cars at realistic prices. His personal taste is for Sixties grand tourers.
£10,000 In the lowest price bracket Banks goes for the Porsche 928. ‘It needs to be an S1, a 1978 or 1979 car; those early ones are really pure, straight from the design pen to the showroom.’ That’s evident from Philip Hughes’ elegant silver car with its telephone-dial alloy wheels and wraparound body- coloured bumpers. Even today that shape, while simple and free from clutter, still looks decidedly space age, with its great white shark-faced front end and semi-octagonal rear. It’s no wonder Porsche aficionados, previously brought up on a diet of mild aesthetic evolution, found it so difficult to switch allegiance from the 911. And that’s before we get to the engine…
Look for a Seventies 928 – they’re getting scarce. Front-mounted 4474cc V8 helps optimal 50-50 weight distribution. Like most German cars of the period, inside it’s a study in the colour black but spectacularly broken up in this case by a wonderfully psychedelic checked Pasha cloth and leather interior.
It’s strictly a two-plus-two – the latter pairing will have to be decidedly undersized – but according to Banks that’s one of its key strengths as a classic. ‘As well as being really well engineered they’re practical – you can put the kids in the back, stow plenty of luggage and go on holiday. The automatic gearbox cars are great, but a manual is even more fun.’
Luckily, that’s what we have here. S1s are now scarce on the ground, and a manual example even more so. The gearbox sits in the rear on a transaxle, with the 4474cc V8 up front – this necessitates extricating yourself from a traditional Porsche mindset, more so because it’s water-cooled too. Performance is delivered in an effortlessly smooth flow of torque, and the dogleg-pattern gearbox is meaty and rewarding to use. The brakes are similarly substantial.
Under heavy load the V8 sounds good but thanks to a well-insulated cabin most of that is enjoyed by passers-by, unless youwhip open the windows or are lucky enough to have a sunroof. With a power output of 240bhp these early cars don’t have the outright oomph of later iterations but like all 928s the surprise to the newcomer is the fact that they handle – there’s no 911 skittishness here. The ride’s firm but a double-wishbone front suspension arrangement and Weissach system at the rear, allied to a 50-50 weight distribution, ensures a reassuring predictability when cornering hard.
As a driving experience it’s ruthlessly efficient – but it’s less involving than I expected. The 928 doesn’t quite have the same level of character as some of the other cars gathered here today, but that’s only because it’s so bloody good. What’s for certain is that if you want to devour mile after endless mile of tarmac rapidly and in supreme comfort, then a Porsche 928 should be towards the top of your list; and if you fancy yourself as Tom Cruise in Risky Business – which Philip cites as the prime reason why he bought one – then it can only be an early example.
Like other classics before it, the current 928 market favours the more powerful and technologically sorted later versions. This is something that the Jaguar E-type and Lamborghini Countach both experienced before the earlier, purer cars rose to the top. Could the same thing be about to happen again?
Banks certainly thinks so but suggests that finding one might be the most difficult part. ‘Ten years ago S1s were £2k, so the attrition rate was huge – people don’t realise how rare they are. You can still get one for £6k-£10k. Today is the day for that car, and I see it doubling within three years.’
£25,000 ‘Leave the CSL to the collectors – buy a BMW CSA E9 and use it. That car is free motoring for the next ten years,’ says Banks. ‘Even a Billy-basic CSA is a great choice. They’re really together and tight, and belie their years; you can go from a modern 3 Series to a 3.0-litre CSA and you don’t have to make any adjustments – plus, they’re cool as hell. If you’re scared of old cars, this is one you don’t have to make any allowances for. Pay £15k-£20k for an amazing one, or £25k for the best in the world. That’s cheap in relation to the quality you get.’
£50,000 ‘A Lamborghini Miura is an Alfa Romeo Montreal that’s been squashed and stood on,’ Banks suggests. ‘Gandini designed both around the same time and they share a lot of styling cues. Allied to that is that race-derived V8, which makes an incredible noise.’ He believes that out of all the classic cars to buy today, this is the one to go for. ‘They were nothing for years, so the survival rate is low but they’re incredibly undervalued. With that combination of engine, styling and rarity it should be double what you can buy one for today.
‘Pay £40k for a really sorted car and I can see it doubling in the next five years.’
£75,000 ‘A front-engined V12 Ferrari is an end-of-days car, and a Ferrari 550 Maranello ticks every box. It’s still stunning in the flesh, very usable, has all mod cons and starts every morning,’ says Banks. ‘With a Ferrari it’s all about the numbers, so forget left-hookers and go for a right-hand-drive car as just 457 were made. They’re going up as we speak but still aren’t where they should be. Okay, they’ve doubled in the past few years but there’s no way a F355 Spider should be more expensive. Buy one for £70k and expect gradual increases year on year’
£105,000 Lancia Flaminia It was a direct competitor to the Aston Martin DB4 Convertible. Touring also bodied it, and if anything it’s the more interesting car. The engineering of Sixties Lancias was incredible – head and shoulders above anything else.’ He calls it the connoisseur’s choice. ‘It looks amazing, drives great, it’s super-rare and is less than half the price of a DB4.
‘If you see yourself as more Marcello Mastroianni than David Niven, then it’s the one for you. It’s undervalued because of the brand; no one gives a hoot about Lancia, but raves about Aston Martin. Now, if that changes…’
£100,000+ The Facel Vega Facel II has bulletproof mechanicals, combined with the sexiest grand touring body – I still believe it’s an exclusive club,’ Banks explains. ‘If it weren’t for that US powerplant it would be above Aston and Ferrari and would be a million-pound car. In the UK, Joe on the street has never heard of it but in Germany, Holland and France it’s already known.’ With just 26 right-hand-drive cars built, he believes there is still an opportunity to buy one in a market where people are relatively unaware of them. ‘That may not always be the case. Pay £200k for a nice example and it will rise steadily.’
SIMON KIDSTON (KIDSTON SA) Kidston is founder of the Geneva-based advisory firm bearing his surname, and a Classic Cars magazine columnist. He’s a regular commentator at top events and recently completed the Mille Miglia in a Jaguar D-type.
£25,000 ‘If it’s good enough for the polizia in The Italian Job do you need another reason to buy an Alfa Romeo Giulia Super Berlina?’ asks Kidston. For men of a certain age the ubiquitous Giulia Super is forever associated with the inept attempts of the Italian police force as it’s led a merry dance around Turin by Charlie Croker’s trio of gold-laden Mini Coopers. Imagine movie action as real life, and how would the reality have played out?
‘It’s a real intuitive pleasure to whizz around in’
Look past the cops’ drab olive-coloured livery and multitude of Parma ham-fisted endings, and underneath sits a sophisticated little saloon. The 105-series cars had an all-alloy twin-cam engine driving the rear wheels, five-speed synchromesh gearbox and, in this later example, four-wheel disc brakes. In the hands of more capable pilots, one imagines things could have been a tad different.
Back to reality and today, just as then, the asking prices for the high-performance stars – including Lamborghini Miura, Jaguar E-type and Aston Martin DB4 – in the film are out of reach for most. ‘Italian exotica of the Sixties and Seventies has become impossibly sought-after, but four-door saloons haven’t caught on… yet,’ says Kidston. ‘£20k buys a nice one, but pay over the odds for the best – it costs as much to restore properly as a GTA – and you’ll save in the longer term.’
Stuart Taylor’s 1600 is just such a cherished example. Visually, its three-box design – never a more apt description than here – initially looks a little awkward; there’s definitely a hint of Herman Munster to that upright cabin. Yet look closer and those straight edges dissipate to reveal a real concoction of delicate scallops, restrained panel undulations and a Kamm tail. It’s a car that rewards time spent studying it, and looks particularly glorious in this colour. Those design elements weren’t just for show either, resulting in an impressive drag coefficient of 0.33.
The cabin is enormous – with similar Tardis-like properties to its Mini Cooper nemesis – and its elegant ambience demonstrates just why generation after generation of Italian car enthusiasts continue to be seduced. There’s just the right combination of wood and vinyl, allied to clean Veglia Borletti instrumentation. A large three-spoke wooden steering wheel dominates the interior, and it’s this that forces you to adopt the traditional Italian legs akimbo driving position.
On the road that 112bhp twin-cam engine is a revelation, free-revving and satisfyingly torquey. It breathes through a pair of twin-choke Weber 40 DCOE carburettors but the intake noise remains relatively unobtrusive. That said, the valve gear gets a bit thrashy between 4000rpm and the 6250rpm redline, but no red-blooded driver would greet that with anything but relish.
Gearshifts are dispatched with quick snicks of the canted lever, and the steering is both light and responsive. Push it hard and the skinny rubber will show up shortcomings long before the chassis.
It’s a real intuitive pleasure to whizz around in and it’s easy to see why it was such a top seller for Alfa Romeo. The only real downside is the size of the shadows that its sibling 105-series Coupe and Spider cast upon it.
Yet the Super Berlina is surely the one to have if you’re interested in bringing the family along with you for the ride. It has the same underpinnings as both of the above, yet an incredibly airy cabin and a truly gargantuan boot.
Just as I’ve experienced today, Kidston reckons, ‘the revvy twin-cam four and synchro five-speed box make this a delight to pedal fast – just avoid Turin rooftops or swollen rivers,’ and that it will appreciate steadily, ‘like your Italian telecom shares’.
£10,000 Up to £10k Simon tips the Autobianchi Bianchina Cabriolet. ‘Ever seen The Pink Panther? It’ll apparently outrun a Ferrari 250 Cabriolet for 1/100th of the price (gorilla attire optional.).’ It’s undervalued because ‘the speculators don’t fit in it’, he believes. ‘Expect to pay around £10k if you have the right contacts in Italy, the more southern the car, the better. Performance? Er, yes, if measured by sundial. It probably won’t grow by much but isn’t the smile on your wife’s face priceless when she receives it?’
£50,000 Ever seen the footage of the rally version in action? ‘Contemporary mags called the Lancia Delta Integrale a pocket Porsche 959,’ says Kidston. ‘Its combination of great brand, racing pedigree (five World Rally Championships) and iconic looks, combined with being a laugh to drive fast, ensures that it’s a modern classic. Expect to pay a premium for a Verde York-liveried one or another limited-series colour, and allow £50k for the best. Then wait until those spotty Nineties teens are tech zillionaires and if you’re lucky the value acceleration will match its performance.’
£75,000 Tipped last year by Paul Michaels of Hexagon, Kidston believes the Jaguar E-type 3.8 fixed-head coupé is still a top buy. ‘Enzo Ferrari called it “the most beautiful car in the world” and it beat rivals on the racetrack and in the showroom. Anything Italian or German with equivalent pace and style costs a multiple of the E-type, but high production numbers limit its outright value. ‘Allow £75k to get a decent driver – mine would have to be in a handsome period colour. Prices have probably cooled off since their anniversary, so now may be a good time to buy. But don’t expect rocketing values – just enjoy it.’
£100,000 The Mercedes-Benz 600 SWB was the most expensive car in the world when new and one of the most high-tech. ‘Performance rivalled the best GTs, with luxury to shame a Rolls-Royce. Its presence matched its size,’ says Kidston. ‘From the top of the Sixties and Seventies MB price list when new to somewhere in the middle of Classic Cars’ price guide today, it’s a bargain if you can afford to maintain it. Use every penny of your £100k budget to buy the best. A bargain 600 is like a hole into which you shovel money. A deep hole.’ In terms of investment he suggests taking a long view ‘like its (probably) German industrialist first owner’ and you won’t be disappointed.
£100,000+ ‘The Seventies are all the rage and what could be more period than the winged Batmobile, the fourwheeled equivalent of flared trousers with the equipment to back it up…?’ asks Kidston.
‘Porsche Carrera RSs, Ferrari Dinos and Daytonas, and Maserati Ghiblis of the same period are all now in the stratosphere. The BMW CSL is as rare, as fast and has equal pedigree.’
In terms of buying he says, ‘Beware of fakes and check numbers carefully, but you could pay £200k for the best. As always, do your homework and go the extra mile for the right car.’
For Kidston it’s a sound investment and one that’s sure to follow ‘that Carrera RS disappearing into the distance’.
PIERRE NOVIKOFF (ARTCURIAL) Motor cars specialist Pierre is one half of the team that discovered the Baillon collection and was in charge of the Rétromobile auction where it was sold. He currently owns a Peugeot 205 T16, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider Veloce and a Lotus Elite.
£50,000 ‘I’ve noticed that people in the UK are really keen to buy Ferraris from the Nineties but in France and Italy that’s not the case, because we have a lot of cars in left-hand drive,’ says Novikoff. ‘I love 308s and for me the Ferrari F355 is the last of this design. However, you have to take into account that it is not really a rare car, with large production numbers. Yet the Ferrari market is moving quickly, so I chose one of the last cars that you can buy at yesterday’s prices.’
Aesthetically, the 355 doesn’t possess a bad angle. It retains the sensuous flowing lines of Leonardo Fioravanti’s 308, yet succeeds in bringing a fresh modernity to its profile; and after the over-fussy rear of the 348, a return to quad-lamp simplicity results in one of the fi nest back ends known to man.
Joe Sacco’s example is also in its best colour, Giallo Fly. This accentuates the other styling cues it shares with some of the prettiest of cars from Maranello’s back catalogue, including a lip spoiler – if not a full Kamm-tail, it’s 75 per cent of the way there – and the Dino 246-shaped rear windscreen.
Although beautifully finished, 355 cabins can lack character in a single-colour presentation – as seen here. However, this car’s dark blue hides and carpets provide the perfect contrast to that hyperzingy exterior finish. It also ensures that the red-and-white embroidered F1 badge just below the glovebox stands out like a beacon. Released in 1997, the F1-derived gearbox management system uses electro-hydraulics to control the conventional six-speed gearbox via paddleshift levers either side of the steering wheel. They’re a little less desirable than manual cars but having never sampled one, I’m intrigued to see what this – now old-school technology – is like.
Foot on the brake, flip both paddles to put it into neutral and allow that 40-valve 3.5-litre V8 to bark stridently into life. You’re immediately reminded just how easy a 355 is to drive, even more so here because gearshifts are dispatched with a mere flick of your index finger. Throttle response is instantaneous, and that glorious power plant spins freely towards the redline in every gear; Joe’s car has a sports exhaust system too, and that only serves to heighten the majestic aural frenzy.
There’s a lot of hyperbole used in describing how a Ferrari drives but a sorted 355 is a car that truly lives up to the employment of elevated vocabulary. Some cars’ engines have particular sweet spots but seldom do you find it to be throughout the whole rev range. Allied to this is a level of grip that borders on the sublime, ensuring it’s not only a fine straight-line blaster but a car where you’re able to explore its superbly engineered chassis to the full.
Yet, if you want to, you can easily pop down to the supermarket. The 355 took its 348 predecessor’s already potent performance and propelled it into the supercar league; at the same time its TRW power steering system had a civilizing effect. ‘It’s great to drive, powerful enough for today’s use and is not too expensive to service,’ says Pierre. ‘You can still snap one up on the European mainland for £50k, but it’ll soon be £70k-£75k.’
As something of a Luddite I expected to hate the flappy-paddle arrangement but – while it’s slow by comparison to today’s lighting- quick units – actually found it made the performance even more accessible. The good news is that you can pick one up even cheaper than a manual variant, and who’s to say how long that will last? This marque is particularly fickle. Numbers are important, as is history, but quite often – as the 308 Vetroresina has proven – so too are production firsts. Either way, the 355 will provide you with a truly adrenaline-pumping drive.
£10,000 ‘The Williams touch is an extra that collectors will look at more closely in the coming years,’ Pierre believes. ‘The Renault Clio Williams is a fantastic car to drive, with stunning handling. It’s front-wheel drive but so well balanced. You’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of it straight away and you’ll also have a real collectors’ car. For modern cars with high production numbers it’s the low-mileage, well looked-after ones that will be valuable. Over the next few years I think it will reach £20k but you can still get a very nice one for £10k today. I also think that this is the last moment to do so.’
£25,000 Novikoff believes that even today the Porsche 928 is not really understood. ‘It was never loved but I can’t understand why. It’s a very impressive car, beautiful, very well-engineered and built, and it has a fantastic engine.’ He’d go for a last-of-the-line GTS with a manual gearbox, if you can find one. ‘For all these grand tourers it’s difficult to find a low-mileage car, so if you do then buy it. Pay £22k-£25k and I think it’ll be worth £50k pretty soon.’
£75,000 Most of Novikoff’s choices are what he terms Youngtimers – cars from the Eighties and Nineties – which he puts down to the strong market prices for those from previous decades. His £100k pick – the Alfa Romeo 8C – is even newer. ‘You can compare this car a little bit with the BMW Z8; new retro. They’re really easy to use and the shape is a very beautiful one. It had only a very short period of falling value – I see it not like a modern car, but a collectors’ car. I think today is a good time to buy one Pay £100k and it will soon be more than £130k.’
£75,000 ‘The Venturi 400GT is one of my latest driving experiences and I was astonished by its performance,’ explains Novikoff. ‘It really is a very interesting car and people tend to forget that the chassis is really well-honed and superbly built.’ He thinks it’s underrated and believes all Venturis will start to become sought after – particularly in mainland Europe – thanks to its competition pedigree. ‘Venturis raced at Le Mans and all the other big GT races back in the Nineties, so for just £75k you can tave a car that raced with a McLaren F1.’
£100,000 ‘The Lancia Delta S4 Stradale is more of reflection of a Group B streetcar; it’s really hard to use but beautiful because of its brutal efficiency. A generation grew up dreaming of Group B and this was the last time of liberty for rally cars,’ he says. In this case, because the racers were eventually outlawed, Novikoff thinks the streetcar is probably the better buy. ‘The price is beginning to move very quickly, it’s very rare. Pay £200k now, but I won’t be surprised if it goes to £400k. Collectors are getting younger, and they all dream of this car.’
‘If you want the thunderous go to match that exterior show, upgrade to the V8’
PHILIP KANTOR (BONHAMS) Philip has 16 years’ experience as a director at motoring auction houses and his expertise embraces pre-war cars as well as Fifties and Sixties sports cars. He is still the custodian of the family Jaguar XK150 3.8 SE coup6 delivered new in 1960.
Like the Porsche 928, the Aston Martin DBS experienced a number of decades where it became a relatively unloved member of the wider Newport Pagnell marque family. Worse, it suffered the indignity of being nothing more than a donor car for its more illustrious predecessors – if you had a DB4, DB5 or DB6 it was often cheaper to buy a DBS and whip out the engine than have your existing one rebuilt.
Thankfully, those days have long gone. Philip Kantor also likes early Oscar India V8s but says their time hasn’t really come yet, so it’s the DBS he tips as an excellent buy. ‘They are very stylish cars, handbuilt and very affordable compared to anything with an Aston Martin DB badge that went before it.’ Therein lies the crux – check out the classifieds and see how examples of those classic collectors’ cars command suitably lofty asking prices.
Although the DBS is slowly beginning to catch up, he believes bargains are still out there. ‘It’s so much more difficult to price an Aston compared to a Porsche because every car is different, but pay £75,000 for a decent example.’
For substantially less than that at the moment you can still pick up an example like Keith Clements’ red Vantage-spec car, which he’s about to start restoring himself.
After the delicious sweeping bodywork of the earlier cars, the DBS is a lesson in design brutality. William Towns’ promotion from seat designer resulted in a form that must have appeared to be the very cutting edge of modernity on release. It’s wide, with a fresh, squarer-cut take on the famous Aston Martin grille. The quad quartz headlights give it a look of focused determination, while the rear’s fastback styling apes Ford Mustangs of the period.
Does it work? It depends on your sensibilities – if you want Seventies presence but still some semblance of a link to the cars that went before, then this is the Aston for you. Visually, just the DB6’s chrome wire wheels remain. Pop the bonnet, though, and you’ll find the same venerable Tadek Marek-designed all-alloy, double overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine. That’s because the new V8 intended to power the car wasn’t ready in time.
Inside there’s a familiarity in terms of styling and finish but with a leather-rimmed steering wheel now replacing the earlier wooden item. The main difference is that it’s vast – it loses some of the intimacy but gains in terms of visibility – as is the view over a bonnet that’s almost square in its dimensions.
Initially, it feels like you’re piloting a super tanker – an apt analogy, because this is a thirsty beast – but that impression soon fades as you familiarise yourself with its width.
Where those extra 4 ½ in added to the Harold Beach chassis make themselves felt is in the car’s handling. The power unit is familiarly flexible and the ZF gearbox still as much of a notchy pleasure to use, but thanks to that wider chassis and a de Dion rear suspension set-up the DBS is so much more stable than its predecessors, and accordingly you’re able to power out of a bend significantly harder. It lends this grand tourer an extra element of sporting essence that the others don’t have.
With this model you also have an element of choice that no other classic Aston gives – you can go six-cylinder DBS, or if you want the thunderous go to match that exterior show, upgrade to the DBS V8. Kantor is in no doubt that a manual Vantage is the one to have. ‘As an elegant tourer at 70-80mph the DBS will go all day, and if it follows the trend of the earlier cars there will be high demand as people seek to get on the Aston Martin ladder.’
£10,000 His choice in this price bracket is the long-time relatively unloved Porsche 944. ‘It’s highly undervalued,’ he says, and cites Porsche engineering, excellent roadholding and a very strong four-cylinder engine as its strengths. ‘It’s also a very practical car that you can pick up for not very much money. Better to have the Turbo, which is a very fast car, and convertibles are cheap too. It’s an entry-level Porsche – but find a good one for £10k and you’ll have a car that drives really well. I can’t see them going down in value, they can only go up.’
£25,000 The Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 W201 and 2.3-litre Cosworth has great racing history – on its launch it was used by F1 luminaries in a race at the Nurburgring that was won by Ayrton Senna. It’s a sporty Mercedes, which is something you don’t have very often. There’s lots of heritage in the details, starting with that Cosworth engine and 16 valves – which was a pretty cool thing to have. And there’s also the dogleg gearbox, spoilers, factory timer and dashboard stopwatch.’ Kantor believes it’s incredibly good value compared to a BMW M3 but there aren’t many original ones about, and with most in average condition. ‘Pay £20k-plus for a very good example, with low mileage – 60k to 70k – and I think it’ll double within 12 months.’
£25,000 ‘The Porsche 964 is the last model with the upright headlights for that classic 911 look. It’s also the penultimate water-cooled model. Go for a second-series example – 1992-onwards – because they’re a vast improvement on earlier ones, and a Carrera 2 for that classic rear-wheel drive layout,’ says Kantor. ‘They have simple bodywork and the performance is very, very good with 0-60mph in five seconds and a 160mph top speed – quite impressive for a 911 that’s not a Turbo. I’d preferably have a sunroof coupe, one with a limited-slip differential. ‘Pay £40k-£45k, and it should prove to be a good and enjoyable long-term investment.’
£100,000 Kantor doesn’t think are particularly undervalued at this price but for the right example they have a way to go. ‘A lot have been abused on track days or fallen into the wrong hands. It’s a very rare car but a low-mileage example with full service history and continuous ownership will be a great machine to own, and an excellent investment over the medium-to-long term.’
This he puts down to it being the competition saloon that dominated touring car racing in period. ‘You’ll get BMW engineering and an incredibly fun-to-drive, well-mannered car.’
£105,000+ ‘The Ferrari 575M is a car that has huge potential. It’s a front-engined, 500bhp V12 Ferrari with a manual gearbox. A rare thing indeed – 170 built, I believe – and importantly for a Ferrari it has two seats and the model was used in competition,’ he explains. ‘It has good simple looks without being over-styled and it’s an absolute rocketship. Go for a dark colour, as it’ll make it appear smaller. At £100k to £130k it’s undervalued because of its rarity; pay £130k to £150k for a very nice example, if you can find one. I expect it to hit the £200,000 mark within a year To get the feelmg of a more classic Ferrari, there aren’t many better options at that price – it’s a modern-day Daytona.’
BRIAN PAGE (CLASSIC ASSESSMENTS) Brian has run classic car inspection company Classic Assessments for the past 21 years. He pulled his first classic car, a 1954 Standard 8, out of a field when he was still at school, fixed it and used it for his driving test.
‘This is dream time,’ says Page. ‘To pick any car more than £100k, for me it would have to be a Bentley 4 ½-Litre Tourer – preferably supercharged – with a Vanden Plas body. It’s the iconic British bulldog, isn’t it?
‘Presence, power, pace, something to be proud of, and you’re not just buying a car – you’re purchasing something historic. It’s traditional, classic and will never be unwanted.’
It is indeed dream time but there’s something of a disparity between a ‘Blower’ and a standard 4 ½ – Litre – the small matter of about £4 million. That’s what you’ll need to bring to the party if you want to upgrade to one of the 55 genuine examples of the former and, having consulted my online banking service, I’ll sensibly settle for the latter.
It’s a December 1928 example and a spiffy older restoration currently for sale at Watford-based vintage Bentley specialist NDR for just north of £500,000. It announces its arrival at our private test track while still approximately a quarter of a mile away, with its deep bass exhaust sonata (to call it a note would be to do injustice to its thunderous musicality) reverberating through the surrounding woods.
Visually it’s everything you want it to be, with a Le Mans-style body full of pre-war presence allied to an overdose of stiff upper lip character – exemplified by the Union Flag proudly displayed against the British Racing Green fabric body. If I’m honest it’s also a wee bit intimidating. Images of Boy’s Own heroes booming around Brooklands flash through my mind – will I be up to the challenge?
There’s no door, just a step up on to the footplate to hoist myself over into the cabin. The steering wheel is gargantuan and there’s a plethora of instruments running the breadth of the cockpit. Turn on the magnetos, retard the ignition via the steering wheel-mounted lever and fire it up on the button. Cue a portentous rumbling that seems to transmit directly from the ladder-frame chassis to your spine. It’s almost as if it’s alive.
Progress is initially achingly slow, as I accustom myself to the transmission’s workings; there’s no synchromesh, so on the way down it’s clutch, into neutral, followed by a smaller clutch depress and a throttle blip to match gearbox speed to engine revs before slotting the next gear home. It’s complicated further by my brain’s initial refusal to remember that the accelerator pedal is in the middle – thank your chosen deity I’m not on the Queen’s highway.
Amazingly, after ten minutes or so – and with crunchy changes fast becoming a distant memory – I find a level of intuitiveness starting to creep in and, my word, is that feeling of mastery satisfying. Now I can start fully using the loud pedal to dial in some speed as under load the flat exhaust tailpipe emits an addictive, ship’s-horn-like blaaart. The steering is heavy but with nowhere near the level of play I was expecting, while the brakes are proving the opposite. The cumulative effect is to downplay my earlier expectations of the need for significant forethought.
I agree fully with Brian Page when he says, ‘Every time you take one out on the road it’s a challenge and to drive one well you’ve got to become one with that car.’
Yes, it does take a degree of learning, but it’s not as difficult to pilot as I thought it would be. As a driving experience it’s an exhilarating mechanical tour de force, offering a rarefied level of involvement I’ve seldom experienced before. And that’s the key reason why Page believes that ‘the classic car market might go up or down but there will always be a market for a Bentley 4 ½-Litre Tourer’.
£10,000 Here Page goes for something a little bit different, an Austin 3-litre Landcrab. ‘Despite all the bad things that were happening at British Leyland at the time, I still think it’s a good car and underrated,’ he says. ‘People don’t really understand it, seeing it as an oversized Austin Maxi. ‘Its real strength is the seven-bearing engine, which has lots of torque and is virtually indestructible. You can still pick them up for £6k but finding one in the first place is the biggest problem. This model is something of a sleeper and won’t make fantastic money, but when people wake up to the fact that these cars are better than they think they are I can see values increasing.’
£25,000 ‘The Citroen DS is chic, stylish and characterful. It’s full of innovation and has amazing ride comfort,’ says Page. He would go for the more luxurious DS over the budget ID version, with the rare Familiale estate standing out in particular. ‘If you can find the right people to look after the hydraulics, they’re very reliable and rugged classic cars. Pay £20k-£22k for a decent car. You can get them cheaper but it will cost you a lot more in the long run unless you can do the work yourself. In France prices have already moved – over here I can see a 20 per cent shift in the next five years.’
£50,000 ‘More practical than either an Aceca or Ace, the AC Greyhound is a nicely built four-seater with attractive lines and a good sporting heritage,’ says Page. ‘It’s quite rare, which can be a downpoint as well as a plus; it’s nice to have something a bit different, but it can be more difficult to maintain or get spare parts for. Three straight-six engines – from AC, Bristol and Ford – were used. The Ford unit is highly tunable. Pay £45k-plus for a good one. It’s not a pure sports car, which is perhaps why it’s not as sought after, but it does everything an Aceca can and is a more practical car.’
£75,000 At this level, Page goes for a Gordon-Keeble. ‘Around 100 were produced, so it’s rare. It’s a great mixture of Italian flair, American muscle and British taste. You can still get most mechanical parts – a phone call to the US and they’ll be with you in ten days – and it does everything an Aston Martin does but is so much more affordable.’ It’s great for fast touring but also to be a passenger in, he adds. ‘If I were driving to Italy I’d like to go in a Gordon-Keeble. As enthusiasts get more knowledgeable about these cars there won’t be enough to go around. Pay £70k for a really good example.’
£100,000 ‘Go for a later Maseratl Mistral with a 4.0-litre engine,’ Page advises. ‘Anything with a three-prong logo is a work of art – I prefer the closed version to the spiders. Neither will go up as much as some of the lower-priced cars but I still think they’ll rise by 15 per cent in the near future. Currently £90k buys you a reasonable car but the cost to improve it won’t be cheap, so spend a bit more. It’s a fantastic car to drive.’
It’s easy to be ambiguous about the seemingly ever rising classic car market. If you’re already the owner of your dream car, then happy days – unless of course that mental shift from driving what used to be a £30k car and is now worth £150k is too much to make. Sell, though, and will you ever get back on the ladder again?
It’s even more of a conundrum if the car of your unfulfilled dreams has already left the financial launch pad, while there’s also the worry that many classics will disappear from our roads into investors’ climate-controlled bubbles.
The good news? Higher prices mean it’s now economically viable to save and restore classics, where once the price of restoration vastly outweighed a car’s residual value. That should ensure remaining examples of previously unloved models are conserved. Another positive is that strong prices for Sixties and Seventies cars, coupled with a new generation of buyers, mean there’s an inevitable shift to Pierre Novikoff’s Youngtimers – and more cars under the classic umbrella can only be good.
Each of our cars provides a stunning driving experience, plus that key ingredient of being alluring enough to coax you down to your garage last thing at night for one last look. Our experts have identified them as being either under-appreciated or a sound driving investment, or both. ‘The market may be taking a breath,’ says Simon Kidston, ‘but in the meantime go out and enjoy driving it – there’s more to life than the price of your car.’
Thanks to: Classic Assessments (classicassessments.com), Justin Banks Ltd (justinbanks.com), Kidston SA (kidston.com), Bonhams (bonhams.com), Artcurial (artcurial.com), Porsche Club GB (porscheclubgb.com), 928.org.uk,Philip Hughes, Claire Hughes, Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club (aroc-uk.com), Stuart Taylor, The Ferrari Owners’ Club (ferrariownersclub.co.uk), Joe Sacco, Aston Martin Owners’ Club (amoc.org), Keith Clements, Dave Canham, NDR Limited (ndr.ltd.uk).
‘Go out and enjoy driving it – there’s more to life than the price of your car’