Older Car Trends

Rising from the Ashes

Start Date: 3/4/2008

The return of period policeman Gene Hunt, star of the BBC drama Ashes to Ashes, is being hailed by some as good news for modern classics. Filming this latest series of the time-travelling thriller involved the use of many ’80s cars, so some pundits are now predicting a lift in prices for these vehicles. After all, they argue, alongside the big shoulder pads and bigger spectacles, every episode is a slice of automotive nostalgia, which could encourage viewers to put their hands in their pockets, in an attempt to relive those glory days.

The original series, Life on Mars, was a dark and intriguing cocktail of sci-fi and pulp fiction. The cars used in series 1 were distinctive, if almost entirely style-free: a handsome Mark 3 Ford Cortina, various Allegro panda cars and the slow and steady Morris 1300. In the flashier sequel, moody ’70s Manchester has given way to metropolitan ’80s London, and the transport department have had to up their game.

The new series uses a red Audi quattro as its vehicular centrepiece. Episode one saw the quattro skid into shot in a cloud of dust and tyre smoke, with the villains travelling in Mercedes S-Class W116 saloons. The use of a De Lorean in episode two shows the sort of cars we can expect to see as the series unfolds.

There is no doubt that, for car buffs, reliving the glory days of 1980s motoring is going to be entertaining, and Ashes to Ashes will certainly bring back happy memories for most of us. But predictions that the glitzy drama will have a positive impact on prices for the cars featured are overly optimistic. Enthusiasts do not need reminding how interesting the cars of the era were. They already know, and prices have been rising accordingly for some time.

The iconic Audi quattro, with its mellifluous 20v engine and ground breaking four wheel-drive system is an established favourite amongst ’80s supercars, and the best examples have never struggled to find appreciative owners. Similarly the Porsche 911, a car that has always been popular with ’80s aficionados, and for which prices have been on the rise for quite some time. Even seemingly ordinary cars, such as the Mark 2 Ford Escort, have legions of devoted followers chasing the best examples, and prices for special editions such as the Harrier will often surpass good condition quattros and 911 Coupes.

Other notable examples of ’80s cars enjoying rising popularity include the Ford Capri 2.8i and some of the rarer Japanese cars of the era, such as the Toyota Corolla GT Coupe. Prestige cars of the day are also increasing in price, cars like the Ferrari 328, Lotus Esprit and Aston Martin V8 Vantage, the Aston in particular enjoying a huge rise in fortunes over the last few years.

The actual cars which have been used in the making of successful TV dramas, such as Inspector Morse’s Mark II Jaguar for example, will always command a premium. There is no doubt that, should Gene Hunt’s quattro ever make it to eBay, there would be an army of prospective buyers waiting to part with their hard-earned cash for the perceived privilege of sitting in the driver’s seat once occupied by actor Philip Glenister.

TV programmes and magazine features are often expected to raise the profile of particular models and thus have a positive effect on prices, but the reality is that this sort of populist exposure does not usually revolutionise values for a particular model, especially in cases where the car is already accepted amongst the cognoscenti as something rather special. Though Ashes to Ashes is undoubtedly entertaining, and prices for red quattros may enjoy a minor blip while the series airs, the show is unlikely to have a direct and quantifiable long-term impact on quattro prices in the UK.

Support your local Independent

When it comes to handling part-exchanges, there is much to be said for having a range of disposal channels to chose from. In challenging trading conditions, such as those the trade currently faces, every possible revenue stream must be maximised. Auctions, eBay and local traders can form a harmonious and lucrative partnership for dealers who manage these mediums effectively.

Over the past few years, bigger dealer groups have gradually shifted towards purely auction policies, a move partly aimed at reducing the opportunity for little brown envelopes passed under the table. For smaller chains and individual franchises, however, forging links with the local trade community makes sense on many levels.

Firstly, a local trader is local. This important factor encourages networking, which is critical to the success of any business, particularly when times are hard. Friendly dialogue on trading conditions, sharing business ideas and maximising opportunities to combining customer bases, all lead to stronger working relationships between traders and dealers, which ultimately means to better prices paid for part-exchanges.

Secondly, underwrites from local traders eliminate the guesswork inherent in pricing a part-exchange destined for auction, as traders offer their best price there and then. With trading margins as tight as they are in many cases, there is a lot to be said for an instant, independent assessment of part-exchange value, rather than an estimate based solely upon what similar cars might have achieved at auction in the past. A local trader’s bid is what is received in payment, with no transport or valeting costs, no commission and no other fees.

The third advantage of traders is speed. Part-exchanges are off the premises fast, and this is good for motivation of salespeople. Throughput of cars creates energy, and energy is what drives the next deal. Fast and efficient movement of part exchanges is also good for cash flow, as payment is received and banked within a few days.

Whilst auction policies might suit the bigger franchised networks, smaller organisations would be well advised to consider all routes to market for unwanted part-exchanges. As sales leads get scarcer, the usefulness of effective relationships with like-minded local traders should not be overlooked.

Market Trend

Traders reported slow but steady business during February, many describing sales as “bumping along”. Sensible sellers resisted the temptation to react to fewer available buyers by slashing prices, and instead used the additional time they had available to increase the service levels they could offer active buyers, with better communication, enhanced detail in their advertising, better quality control of preparation work and so on.

It cannot be overstated how important it is to get the finer details right in any economic climate, let alone the more challenging times we find ourselves in today. Traders who maximise every lead, fulfil promises made to customers old and new, and keep in contact with past customers to generate repeat business (perhaps via bonus schemes for sales leads) will always massively outperform those who approach the working day as if the motor trade owes them a living.

Sellers report demand across the spectrum, with everything from supermini to sports car capable of finding a home when presented and priced properly. Very low-mileage examples of small cars like the Hyundai Atoz and Daihatsu Move have popped up every now and then, making great bargain buys. The obvious strength of these cars is their fuel and tax efficiency, which dealers now say is the number one concern for customers.

Lower medium continues to be dominated by two giants of the sector: the Ford Focus and VW Golf. Even after ten years both designs still look relatively fresh, and buyers have a strong affinity with these brands. Whether petrol or diesel, three door or five, there never seems to be any shortage of interest for good examples of either.

Upper medium is perhaps the most challenging sector, with four door saloons proving less popular than their five-door siblings. Mondeo is a value-for-money buy, with a good selection of cars available, but upper medium interest continues to be aligned with Japanese cars, particularly diesels. Minicabs are the main intended use for these cars, and some of the UK’s burgeoning immigrant population are ever keen to snap up a diesel automatic of this size.

It is easy to find well used prestige and premium cars at auction, but excellent condition examples appear to be kept by existing owners who are put off by the current cost to change. Prep costs for prestige cars with body damage (cracked lights, torn trim, worn tyres etc) are high, and obvious flaws will cost bids at auction. Interest in convertibles is picking up again now that winter is beginning to fade, with BMW 3-series topping shopping lists.

Prices for MPVs and 4x4s have begun to steady, albeit at quite a low level. However, media reports, such as a recent Daily Telegraph study showing that the average household will have to find an extra £1,300 in 2008 to cover rising food and energy costs, could well impact on this finely-balanced situation, as reduced demand with no obvious prospects for recovery would quickly bring prices for bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles down hard in the coming months.

John Glynn
Car Editor
March 2008