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As anyone who’s rescued a hopeless cause will testify, the classic car world has long been characterised by its determination and ingenuity. However, that resilience was considerably ramped up by the pandemic. While many businesses had to close their doors and individuals had to tighten their belts, fears that the classic car market would be stopped in its tracks were met with an incredible ability to beat the odds.

The market has long been one of peaks and troughs. Some may remember the huge market crash of the early 1990s, when the value of classic cars fell apart almost overnight. However, the troughs have lessened in severity over the years. Another significant spike in classic values occurred towards the middle of the last decade, but there was no subsequent implosion this time – more of a subtle softening in values that experts deemed a ‘correction’ rather than a crash. The market has become far more global since the early ‘90s, so there’s almost always a buyer out there somewhere.

Nevertheless, the pandemic was a surprise. Auction houses and dealers found a way to operate behind closed doors, with the process of buying online becoming demystified and widely embraced. And with everyone looking for a hobby, the classic car market prospered. Dealers and auction houses were inundated, while demand from restorers meant parts suppliers working extra hours to cope with demand. For the most part, what could’ve been a crash was anything but. Sales records and estimate-smashing prices became a regular occurrence, with modern classics performing exceptionally well as a new band of affluent enthusiast sought out the cars of their youth. Demand for ‘80s and ‘90s ‘everyman’ classics and hot hatches was particularly high, as was a desire for emerging classics from the early 2000s.

However, we would sound one note of caution. The last two years have seen many people with time on their hands and surprisingly lots of them with extra cash in their pockets thanks to government support schemes etc. Allied to the fact that they have often not been able to visit auctions and so have relied on photographs and descriptions, this has resulted in some very mediocre cars achieving astonishingly high prices. Having inspected several cars prior to sale and then seeing them sell for double our valuation (and often four times the auction house estimate), we do think we are going to see a lot of disappointed owners in the coming months and an increase in the number of unfinished projects coming onto the market. There really is still no substitute for inspecting a car prior to bidding on it because they always, without fail, look better in the pictures than they do in the metal.

Now that restrictions have largely been lifted and people have things like expensive holidays to splash out on once again, such demand has understandably dropped a little. In all sectors, the best quality examples and those with exemplary history and perhaps a touch of provenance will continue to command top money as always. However, we’re now seeing evidence of what we might call a second correction – and that creates an opportunity. The modern classics that have scaled the heights of demand can still be achievable, and there’s also the fun of speculating what might be the next big thing.

The sweet spot, however, could be the traditional classics we’re all familiar with. As shifting nostalgia tied to a new demographic brings ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s cars to the forefront, the older, archetypal classics increasingly emerge as cost effective routes into the scene. That means tempting deals for British icons such as Morris Minors, MGBs, MG Midgets and Triumphs, which have largely stayed static in value. These cars have great specialist backing and excellent club support, as well as being DIY-friendly. What’s more, they’re practical and likely to exempt from road tax and low emission zone charges, making them even better value for money. These older classics still have a huge amount to offer and are a fantastic way for a younger driver to enter the scene.

We’d always advise buying a classic for enjoyment rather than what it does to your bank balance. With some smart thinking though, the market is in a good place right now to allow you to do the former without worrying too much about the latter.

 

Jeff Ruggles

Classics Monthly Magazine

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