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Appreciation society
First Published: The Sydney Morning Herald
Friday, July 23, 1999

For the classic car collector, the right purchase will earn more than money in the bankand be much more fun. But, BOB JENNINGS writes, there are abundant pitfalls for the unwary.

Car collectors love to fuel their passion with stories along the lines of "found it in a farm shed, bought it for a song and now it's worth more than my house". But it is all too easy for intending and unseasoned collectors to let the heart rule the head. Vogue vehicles come and go, and enthusiast magazines are full of cars whose asking price is much less than the cost of their restoration.

"The rule of thumb," one enthusiast admitted ruefully, "is to get as good an idea as you can of how much a restoration is going to cost - and double it!"

Despite the traps, there is a good chance that a smart buying decision could see an enthusiast with a vehicle appreciating in value around 10 per cent a year, not to mention providing the sheer enjoyment of owning and driving it. To join the collectors' club, it isn't necessary to stake hundreds of thousands of dollars for a classic Ferrari or a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Plenty of affordable cars will reward the caring owner with a better-than-bank-rate return on his or her investment.

Robert Shannon, head of one of Australia's leading classic car auction houses and insurance companies - and an enthusiast to boot - says collector cars are no different in investment terms to the stock market or gold.

"The simple rule is to buy at the right price; there's no point in buying a car which is either too expensive or requires too much money to be spent on it," he says.

His tip as a car whose value will continue to climb is the MGA Twin Cam. "I reckon this is an absolute rocket, even though you will pay $50,000 to $60,000 for one now. But consider, 10 years ago it would have been $20,000."

An absolute bargain in terms of the amount of money needed, says Shannon, is a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, a model which first appeared in 1966; he says one can be picked up for as little as $15,000 to $20,000, and will appreciate considerably in the next five years.

Other cars worth considering include both the Mk I and Mk II Ford Escort Twin Cam models.

Sydney Volkswagen enthusiast, restorer and repairer Stephen Muller (of Muller and Muller) says the astute collector buyer will look at modern trends and relate them to older vehicles.

"For instance, the Audi TT is attracting enormous attention at the moment; it's a stunning car. So it would be a good time to try to find one of the classic five-cylinder, two-door Audi Quattros," he reckons. "They're fairly rare, but an S2 or the later short-wheelbase S4 can be picked up for $25,000 to $45,000, and would be good buying."

According to Muller, the right sorts of VWs and Audis are appreciating at the rate of about five to 10 per cent a year.

Today's hot property, he says, is the early VW Kombi with the "split" (two-piece) windscreen -expect to pay $10,000 for a good unrestored example. With the popularity of the '60s retro-look just about everywhere, the Kombi's price is appreciating faster than that of the Beetle.

Nevertheless, the imminent arrival of the VW New Beetle is likely to stimulate interest in original models.

Good VW Karmann Ghia coupes and convertibles cost $15,000 to $25,000 - although there are plenty with too much rust to make them worthwhile. Karmann-built VW Beetle convertibles, for between $12,000 and $20,000, are worth seeking.

Retired Ford executive and classic Ford enthusiast Adrian Ryan says the Ford for collectors at the moment is the rare Falcon XL Squire wagon of 1962.

"Back then the Ford marketing men tried to cash in on the US woody-wagon look with fake timber panels on the side," Ryan recalls.

"It was a move that was Australia's equivalent of the disastrous Edsel. Because of this, there weren't a lot sold."

A Falcon Squire wagon in above-average condition is worth about $4,000, or $1,000 more than the standard wagon.

The other collectable Falcons are the two-door XM and XP coupes, from 1964 until 1966. Expect an outlay of $6,500 to $7,000 - and a consistent rate of appreciation.

Among other consistent performers, according to Ryan, are early Ford Mustangs - he owns one - with the most desirable models being convertibles, from 1965 until 1968. One in good condition will cost about $35,000, although the coupe can be obtained for as little as $20,000. Obviously, the better the condition, the higher the price.

"They just used ordinary Falcon engines and transmissions, and they're a bit like an early Falcon to drive," Ryan says. "But they're easy to use on a day-to-day basis, and most garages don't have a problem working on them.".

John Blanden, Dutton's Grand Prix rally organiser and a well-known collector, has an eclectic array of vehicles. He has an original AC Cobra and a C-Type Jaguar with a stand-out history, but has just bought an FJ Holden with 40,000 miles (64,000 km) on the clock.

"You don't pay a lot of money for either the FJ or the earlier 48-215, and I think they've just got to go up in value," he says. "And also in the Holden range I reckon both the 327 and 350 GTS Monaros are well worth buying."

An HK GTS Monaro with a Chevrolet 327 cubic inch (5.4-litre) engine, the most valuable, is worth about $15,000; the later HT with Chev 350 (5.7-litre) engine is worth about $9,000.

Blanden sees a "sleeper" in the Walkinshaw Commodore - more correctly known as the VL Commodore SS Group A, developed by Holden Special Vehicles with wind-tunnel development by Tom Walkinshaw Racing in the UK.

A total of 750 was built, using a 185kW 5.0-litre fuel-injected V8.

"Many other HSV and Brock Commodores were fairly easy to imitate," says Blanden, "[but] the Walkinshaw Commodore with its unique body kit and engine development didn't attract so many imitations.

"In many ways it is quite an historic car in Australian racing, and it's well worth considering."

It's not in the bargain-basement category, though, and a good example is worth about $35,000.

Another Holden performance car, the two-door Torana GTR XU-1, is priced much lower - unfortunately there are probably as many imitations on the road as there are genuine articles. A genuine XU-1, manufactured from the 1970 Torana LC model to the early-1974 LJ with a triple-carburettor six-cylinder motor, should cost $7,000-$8,000.

Even the ugly duckling Leyland P76, especially the V8, is worth a punt as a collector piece -provided it is in good shape and doesn't cost much.

And there are a few examples of the prototype, never-in-production Force 7 two-door coupes, which have scarcity value.

But fashion trends are as much a part of car collecting as anything else and, instead of appreciating as expected, one year's hot property can easily and quickly depreciate the next.

Robert Shannon says once-collectable Austin-Healeys and MGBs are now on the slide.

"Loads [were] brought in from the US and restored to a greater or lesser degree," he says, "but the market became flooded with them and the values have come down."

According to Blanden, the Jaguar E-Type is another classic whose prices became overheated and dropped back.

And, he says, the "bottom has dropped out" of the vintage and veteran car scene, causing significant falls in the prices of such previously popular vehicles as A Model Fords and 1928 Dodges.

"The cars people want are the ones they remember as kids," he says, "and the people who remembered cars of the '20s and '30s are no longer buying them."

Blanden nominates the early 356 model Porsches as consistent performers on the classic car market - but the sleeker, early 911 Porsches from the mid-'60s onwards potentially can be bought cheaper and still appreciate consistently.

The common theme of the experts in the field is to make the hip-pocket prevail over the head -establish what a model is worth, be patient and don't pay too much for it.

Remember, if an owner has gone to the trouble of putting a car on the market, he is probably as keen to sell as you are to buy. And, almost always, there will be more than one car available.

Classic tips

Tick all the following boxes and you'll have the best investment in collector cars.Try to buy:

* Excellence, a car that was outstanding (not necessarily expensive) in its day.

* Rarity, such as small-volume quality models.

* History, with records of previous owners or events.

* Honesty, a car that is true to its original specifications.

* To your own restoration capacity. For many people it is a better investment to buy a fully restored car than it is to attempt a restoration. However, restoration as a hobby can bring enjoyment and profit.

* When a car is beginning to gain in value.

* Carefully. Spend wisely on restoration, or the return on your money won't necessarily reflect what you've spent.

* Longevity. The car must be garaged; don't skimp on preventative maintenance.

* Quality. Winners of concours d'elegance are worth having but are usually very expensive.

 

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