It might be difficult to think of a Bugatti Veyron, recently sold at auction during Monterey Car Week by R M Sotheby’s for US$1.8 million (Dh6.6m), as a bargain. But that’s exactly what the new owner of the one in question undoubtedly bagged. It had a couple of things going for it: its colour (a beautiful combination of black over red) and the little build number plate secreted inside it, which confirms the chassis number 001.
That’s right, the very first production example of the car from 2006 that changed everything at the top end of motoring, and one that had, until last week, covered little more than 1,000 kilometres over its decade-long life; that, despite its age, was sold with a full Bugatti manufacturer’s warranty. It was held up as evidence that, perhaps, the market is starting to calm down a bit.
“It’s still too new,” one of Bugatti’s people told me following the sale, and I think she has a point. Ten years from now, when the Veyron is starting to be considered an “old-timer”, whoever bought that very first one will be sitting on a prime investment.
We’ve covered the topic of investing in classic cars within these pages before now, and for good reason: over the past few years, they have seemingly replaced art and property as the place to sink your money. Fuelled by unforeseen demand from Chinese collectors who never had the chance to buy certain cars when they were new, prices leapt like frogs on an Abu Dhabi pavement in August. And, while things are indeed beginning to calm down, those prices haven’t exactly started to head south. And unless thousands of collectors in China start to flood the market with the cars they’ve been snapping up in recent years, to stem some of their recent stock-market losses, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.
So for the likes of me, and perhaps you, is there an alternative strategy that could end up with ownership of something that represents a sound financial move in the future? Will any of the cars currently languishing, unloved, in the bowels of the world’s classifieds, ever be deemed desirable and collectable? I reckon so.
During the Monterey design seminar I mentioned in last week’s issue I’d attended, I posed a question to the panel of experts, made up of the design chiefs from Aston Martin, Bugatti and the Italian coachbuilder Touring Superleggera. What, I asked, could in the future be considered as beautiful, desirable or as collectable as the cars we see populating top 10 lists of all-time design classics?
It was the Touring man, the Belgian Louis de Fabribeckers, who dealt me the surprise answer (a shock in that it wasn’t one of his own creations). “Audi TT,” he offered. “When I first saw that car back in 1999, I think it was, I said to myself that one day I would like to have one in my garage. Nothing has changed – if anything, it is more desirable to me now than it ever has been. It would have to be the first generation, without the rear spoiler. I think that it will be viewed in the future as a classic design and it will become a collector’s item.”
This confirmed my own hunch about the earliest TTs. It’s easy to forget, 16 years after the first examples started bombing around, what a shockingly futuristic shape it was (and still is, to be fair). With the right alloy wheels on it, I’d buy one in a heartbeat, although Mrs H flatly refused me permission, claiming it was “too girlie”. She’s wrong – the old Audi TT is simply a four-wheeled bundle of fun, and despite hysteria in the beginning, relating to its handling at high speeds (the fix being the rear spoiler that De Fabribeckers finds so offensive), the original’s reputation as a fine little sports car has emerged unsullied.
Later that evening, over dinner, my fellow hacks and I started mulling over what might now be deemed future classics – cars that are dirt cheap now (which usually results in the majority being sorely neglected when it comes to upkeep) but will appreciate in value as good examples become more scarce, and the inevitable generation “thing” happens, when middle-aged buyers have enough disposable income to treat themselves to the cars they were interested in during their formative years. Surely the original TT is right up there as a car we should all be snapping up right now, I reasoned. Nobody disagreed.
Right now, on Dubizzle (other classifieds sites are available), there’s a 15-year-old TT for sale. It’s silver, has a manual gearbox, appears to be entirely original (the tasteful blue leather interior looks mint, too) and is being offered for sale by a German expat who wants – wait for it – just Dh12,500 for it. To be honest, at that price, even if it blows up in six months’ time, it’s still money well spent. But that’s unlikely because these little coupés have a well-deserved reputation for being mechanically bombproof. I might just stop writing this now and go buy the thing before you do.
The first examples of any car tend to be the purest, and the diminutive TT is no exception. Over the ensuing decade-and-a-half, the simplistic beauty of the original was gradually lost, with the second generation gaining the now ubiquitous guppy face and front, and lamps that looked more in line with the rest of Audi’s range. When the TT emerged at the end of the 20th century, it looked like nothing else, either in or outside the world of Audi. Nowadays everything looks more or less identical.
So a car’s individual looks undoubtedly affect its chances as a future classic. When Chris Bangle was let loose as BMW’s design chief, he was responsible for some of the most challenging designs ever to turn a wheel, and in all honesty, they haven’t dated well (with the odd exception, such as the Z4) – but the Z3 Coupé, particularly in “M” guise, has future-classic status written all over it.
This car’s physical appearance is unconventional to say the least (it wasn’t even a Bangle design). It’s often referred to as the “breadbox” thanks to its elongated roofline and abrupt, almost “shooting brake” vertical rear end. Stiffer than the Z3 roadster it was based on and with its lusty straight-six engine, the M Coupé was, and still is, a formidable performer with extreme tail-happy handling characteristics, which has resulted in many of them meeting untimely ends, wrapped around lamp posts or upside down in ditches. That thinning of numbers means prices will eventually turn and head north. The market is slowly waking up to this – values are as low as they’re ever likely to be. For white-knuckle thrills in an individual package, look no farther.
Other models from BMW’s past are also safe investments. The first M3 is a motorsport hero, and values started increasing several years ago, but the seemingly forgotten Z1 – a plastic-bodied sports car based on a 3 Series platform – is another sure-fire hit. It’s worth buying for the doors alone, which open by sliding up and inside its rear flanks. Extremely well engineered and pretty to look at, these were always a rare sight, and time has only served to make the Z1 more desirable to collectors.
As with any automobile that goes up in value, future-classics status will usually depend greatly on production numbers. That might not hold true when talking about old Porsche 911s (speaking of which, any of the recent limited-edition models are worth a punt on) because, despite plenty being available, their values have gone ballistic. So when we consider models such as the 1970s and 80s Mercedes-Benz SL, even though it’s one of the most elegant cars on the road, so many were made – and made extremely well – that there’s no shortage of supply. Buy one, enjoy it for all its many virtues, but don’t expect to make a sizeable profit when it comes time to part company.
Ford’s Capri is now becoming highly sought after, and like the lairy M Coupé, few are left in decent condition. Not because they’ve been crashed, but because most have succumbed to the dreaded tin worm thanks to the shoddy build methods of the time. But they represent the desires of a generation’s youth (at least in Europe), and nostalgia is a strong influencer when it comes to choosing an elderly car.
Other contenders worthy of consideration have to be the zeitgeist-defining Peugeot 205 GTI, the original Volkswagen Golf GTI, early Subaru Impreza Turbos, Saab’s 900 Turbo and Porsche’s front-engined 944 and 928 models. And there’s something all of these cars have in common, apart from the fact that values are about as low as they’re ever likely to be right now: they all have just two doors – something else touched on in the seminars I attended in Monterey. Saloons just don’t cut it in the desirability stakes, no matter how good they might be.
But there’s something else in the mix, apart from the two-door aspect, and that’s the undeniable fun factor involved when driving them. Almost all of these cars came with manual transmissions, and many were rear-wheel drive only, endowing them with plenty in the form of driving dynamics. As modern cars become more autonomous with each new model, the driving experience is becoming less of a selling point than things such as internet connectivity and driver “aids” such as brake assist, reversing cameras and night vision. Get behind the wheel of any car designed and made in the 1970s, 80s or even early 90s, and you’ll rediscover what driving used to be all about.
It’s cyclical, this business of fluctuating values. Interest in collecting pre-war and vintage cars is slowly dying out, and unthinkable as it may seem right now, a new group of buyers will soon be queuing up to pay top dollar for cars that can be had now for just a few thousand dirhams. Happy shopping.
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