Unmolested collectible classic cars worth more

There’s a fine - often big-dollar - line between leaving a classic car as-found and restoring it to better-than-new

Unmolested collectible classic cars worth more

You may have been unaware of the recent rocketing in values of old air-cooled Porsches. Until very recently I was too, which probably says a lot about me, seeing I own one.

Though I’m told that my 1989 Porsche 911 has almost doubled in value in little more than three years, I’m naturally way too stupid to think about cashing it in. Still, I did have a sudden urge to rush out to the garage and wash it. Which it seems might have been the wrong thing to do.

Along with air-cooled Porsches, another phenomenon in the collector car scene right now is the barn-find look. This was glaringly illustrated in January 2014 at a big-ticket Goodings auction in Arizona, where two Mercedes-Benz 300SL ‘gullwing’ coupes went under the hammer.

Both cars were 1956-built, both black over red leather, both had three-owner histories. The big difference was that one was in concours condition, after a guts-out restoration in 2006. The other (pictured below) looked like crap. Beneath dulled paint, its roof lining was sagging, the seats collapsed and dark from mildew, the rubbers crumbling. One report said rats were still nesting in the engine bay.

The rat-infested version fetched $US1,897,500. Plus trailer hire. The mint, restored runner drove away for half a million dollars less.

I know the adage: “It’s only original once.” I’m into it myself. I look admiringly at outlaws or street machines or bosozoku cars and still feel a tiny pang of regret for the 1984 Suzuki Mighty Boy within. But I draw the line at paying a premium for an inch of pigeon poop on a static display.

That’s because one of the aspects of a motor vehicle’s originality that I value is the fact that it was a motor vehicle.

About 15 years ago, I bought a barn-find motorcycle in Italy, with the intention of restoring it for the Motogiro d’Italia, a classic Mille Miglia of bikes. As a rusted (but complete) piece of crap, my 1954 MV Agusta cost about $650. As a beautiful restored classic motorcycle, I sold it eight years later for 10 times that. And it had given me plenty of joy along the way.

Mind you, it wasn’t a Bugatti. The best example of leaving well enough alone is the 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia that had lain for 75 years at the bottom of Lake Maggiore, on the Swiss-Italian border. It was brought to the surface in 2009, quite the worse for wear, and sold at auction for $US360K, equivalent to a collector-quality Type 22. Its new owner displays it exactly as found, its gauges still filled with lake water.

But the Bug and my bike had at least one thing in common. Like so many barn finds, both had been hidden from the tax man. There’s mystery over the Bugatti’s original owner, the more romantic version having the car won in a Paris poker game from Bugatti racer Rene Dreyfus. What’s certain is that the owner didn’t want to pay Swiss import duty, and so tried to suspend the car beneath a pontoon in the lake. Turned out to be more like a ‘bottom of the harbour’ scheme.

Barn finds are also about money. They’re being bought by investors, not enthusiasts. The big question right now is when, or even if, the investment bubble will burst. Assuming it does, the only people who’ll still be interested will be enthusiasts – people who put driving ahead of avarice, and avian excrement.

Classic catches

Do you like the idea of buying a modern classic with price-rise potential?

If I weren’t so wed to my Weissach wunderwagen and were starting out again, I’d be looking closely at: BMW E36 M3s (above), currently around $15-25K; Mazda NA MX-5, around $5-12,000; and – no kidding – an original ’64 Ford Mustang, in left-hand drive from $30K upwards.


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Michael Stahl

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