Older Car Trends

Classics steal the show

Start Date: 30/4/2007

The 2006 report by the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA) was the first Europe-wide study aimed at discovering just how big the classic car movement was becoming. 750,000 questionnaires were distributed to FIVA members throughout the historic vehicle community, taking in 11 European countries, 9 languages and 5 currencies.

The key findings of the report were very interesting indeed.

  • Historic vehicle related activity is worth 16.6 billion euros to the EU annually.
  • Exports from the EU are worth 3.35 billion euros.
  • Over 55,000 people in the EU earn some or all of their living serving the historic vehicle community.
  • There are approximately 1.5 million historic vehicles in the EU that are registered and road legal, with total classic vehicles owned by club members approaching 2 million.

    These are very impressive numbers, but perhaps the most impressive statistics in the report are that 78 per cent of historic vehicles are valued at under 15,000 euros (£10,000). Furthermore, private sales by FIVA members amount to almost 760 million euros (£517 million). This is therefore a very active market, packing a serious economic punch. The survey rejected the perception that enjoying classic cars was the preserve of the wealthy: almost thirty per cent of those surveyed earned less than !30,000 a year.

    The research did not include trading by companies whose main activity is in other fields, or by those organisations that have no need to advertise, common throughout the industry so the true total value would be far higher. Whilst the report noted that FIVA members spent approximately 2.6 million nights a year away from home attending events, including some 265,000 events outside their own countries, it could only allude to the significant financial contribution made by enthusiasts to the travel, hospitality and event industries, in the EU and beyond.

    One of the most popular European events for enthusiasts is the Techno Classica in Essen, possibly the biggest classic car show in the world. For three days, the show takes over the vast Essen Messe, with 1,000 exhibitors and 2,500 cars for sale. This year 155,000 enthusiasts attended from all over the world, and their efforts were rewarded with an outstanding event, which genuinely takes at least two days to see.

    The commitment bestowed upon the Techno Classica by the manufacturers present was quite staggering. This was a show all about older cars, but most manufacturers had their respective design, engineering and motorsport heritages on show on a grand scale.

    Amidst a landmark line-up of wonderful classic convertibles, Mercedes displayed the Ocean Drive S-Class based design study. This is a pointer to future designs, and a sea of admirers surrounded the modern concept all weekend. BMW’s classic division, Mobile Tradition, had a stunning display of classic racers, F1 cars and very rare road cars, all arranged around an impressive multi-storey replica of their ‘four-cylinder’ Munich HQ.

    Volkswagen had an enormous presence at the show. The parent company had a vast collection of beautifully restored cars on show and Lamborghini, Seat, Skoda and Audi were not to be outdone, Audi in particular bringing some flawless race cars. Porsche, who recently increased its stake in VW to the minimum legal level for a takeover bid, had a more subdued presence. The company’s excellent technically focused stand was substantially bolstered by some of the most famous Porsche dealers bringing large numbers of superb cars along.

    Though all using a slightly different approach, each manufacturer embraced their respective enthusiasts in a non-patronising, non-exploitative way. Clubs exhibited alongside manufacturers in a completely inclusive manner. The manufacturer representatives on hand were suitably informed about what was on show and keen to make people welcome - there were very few cars roped off as unavailable for close inspection.

    Speaking as someone who attended the show as an enthusiast on holiday rather than an industry professional, Essen was a PR tour de force from the car manufacturers on site. The carmakers reminded enthusiasts that their respective histories, past sales and the passion that is still out there for their products both old and new, remain important in the great scheme of things. The genuine enthusiasm plainly evident on the manufacturers’ stands was doubly refreshing when one considers that the law now requires these same manufacturers to build new cars to strict recyclable percentage targets.

    I’m sure I speak for all those who attended when I say that the presence of such a great range of manufacturers was very much appreciated. We would all hope that they felt the investment in time energy and money was justified.

    Market Trend

    Folding hard top convertibles are all the rage these days. It seems that every time a new one is released, it is touted as a proper all-weather car, which will lead to the seasonal nature of cabriolet sales becoming less accentuated than it is today. Folding hard tops are not available to the older end of the market, so demand remains inextricably tied to the weather. The same seasonal traits are evident in other sectors too, most notably 4x4s.

    Off-roaders are hugely capable vehicles, great for muddy roads and ideal for towing caravans and trailers. But once the mud has dried up and the holiday season kicks in, 4x4 sales slow down noticeably. Smaller ‘soft roaders’ are a slightly different matter, as they are not quite as capable and have a different appeal.

    This pattern is not set in stone, and a 95N Frontera 2.4 estate in immaculate condition with just 25,000 miles on the clock recently sold at auction for almost twice Guide disposal, but the big 4x4s are definitely not flavour of the month. Suggestions that the recent hike in VED for the newest ‘Chelsea Tractors’ has had a negative effect on demand for older off-roaders is unlikely to be accurate, it’s just that tastes change when the sun comes out. Neither should we forget that, with the passing of another year, the market is supplied with an increasing number of 4x4s as a result of steadily rising registrations throughout the 90’s.

    Elsewhere in the market, demand is steady. It doesn’t take a huge audience at auction to have a good sale, just the right audience, and the right people have been turning up to bid on (and buy) some very nice cars in the last few weeks. An increasing number of franchised dealers operate an auction disposal policy, and there has been a large influx of unwanted part exchanges from the business done on the new March registration plate arriving in the auction halls. The rich pickings include some very nice, low-mile examples of everything from Corsa to Alhambra, and these retail gems for independent traders have been selling for excellent prices.

    It cannot be overstated that, these days, any bodywork damage other than a Smart Repair is a major deterrent for trade buyers, and they will just not bid on cars that require paint if they can help it. As a result, the price differential between the tidiest and the scruffiest cars continues to grow. The recent shake-up in paint laws is probably not helping, with some dealers reporting difficulties in paint matches with water-based paints.

    As far as small cars are concerned, the aforementioned Corsa has been doing very well when presented in good condition and in a nice metallic colour. 98R and later cars seem to do particularly well; earlier cars seem to struggle. Polo and Fiesta Zetec have also been doing well, thanks to two words: power steering. Factory-fitted sunroofs are also a popular option on smaller cars.

    In the medium sector, strong prices await good condition Japanese favourites like the Mazda 323F in a decent metallic, especially when below average miles and with air conditioning. The Toyota Corolla also remains in demand, good levels of equipment and excellent build quality helping it to the top of its class.

    As for upper medium cars, there has never been less interest in rough examples of Vectra and Mondeo, especially the basic Envoy and Aspen versions. Well-presented cars with painted bumpers, alloy wheels and air conditioning attract decent bids, and a car in good low-mileage condition in a nice colour, will often sell for three times what the basic model on the same year would go for. In pound note terms that would put a 97P 1.6 Aspen 5 door at £200 or less and a well-kept 97P 1.8 Ghia 5 door well into book at £600 or more.

    Large cars share some of the same pain as the big 4x4s, insofar as their strongest demand happens early on in the year, when caravanners and the like are out there looking for strong towcars before the season starts. The expectation of higher running costs for larger cars hurts sales when the weather improves and buyers’ eyes turn to lighter-duty vehicles.

    Luxury vehicles will usually sell well at the right price when in good condition. There has been a steady trickle of luxury car buyers at auction, but some people remain wary of the technically complex larger models later on in life. Nevertheless, older Audi A8 and S-Class continue to appeal to enthusiasts looking for a luxury bargain and, particularly in the case of the S-Class, fuel bills no higher than a Vauxhall Omega are a welcome surprise.

    Prospects for the coming months are encouraging. Demand has remained steady for the first few months of this year, and there is a healthy market out there for older cars in good condition, wherever they are advertised. Convertibles and roadsters are into their season now and are a popular feature on most forecourts, hopefully the summer will be a story of successful sales, for all of our trade subscribers.

    John Glynn
    Car Editor May 2007