'There has been an outbreak of Group B rally car fever in historic car auctions'

Tristan Judge
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Competition cars are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Why? Because they’re so difficult to value. The market for each car is not wide, and there’s a barrowload of variables to consider before you can determine actual worth; the process is not dissimilar to that for a heavily modified or customised car, or a one-of-a-kind build. And often, unlike thousands of MGBs, there’s no precedent.

How do we as auctioneers work with one? Normally, by giving it a wide estimate. Call it hedging your bets or utilising sense.

The reason for these musings is the outbreak of Group B rally car fever, caused by the sale of the Manoir de l’Automobile museum collection, which resulted in a world record price for a rally car at auction (£1,771,434 for an Audi Sport Quattro S1) and two further marque records (£876,300 for a Peugeot 205 T16 Evolution 2 and £486,400 for a Renault 5 Maxi Turbo). But before we consider the Audi, come with me down the competition car rabbit hole.

The first thing to consider is: ‘What am I actually looking at?’ From that starting point, the variables just increase. Consider these scenarios:

1. A car driven successfully for years – fighting-fit with trophies; battle-worn but ageing gracefully.

2. A fresh-out-of-the-box fully rebuilt car that’s not seen any track action yet (but it’s shiny and, possibly, has the right bits).

3. As per 2, but has been set up and run at the track (remember, a test weekend and possibly a race or two equates to serious financial outlay).

4. As per 3, but has won a race at Goodwood or elsewhere (with a good driver behind the wheel, but of course it’s all about the car…).

“Was it a historic competition car raced in period? Excellent!”

In all four circumstances the car, be it E-type, 911 or Escort or other, can ostensibly be much the same, while paradoxically being totally different. The enthusiast running the first car at the front of the grid will always disagree, but there’s an indisputable ladder of significantly increasing value there.

Then there is the real gamechanger: provenance. Was it a historic competition car raced in period? Excellent! And it won? Kudos and victory photos will see an entirely different type of fish inhabiting your kettle. It may not be capable of winning a Goodwood race or the Monte-Carlo Rally today (though strangely, many current racers are conspicuously faster than back in their day), but period success trumps all.

Our final consideration is matching numbers; limited records and frequent period engine changes, especially 1950s through to the 1970s, can make this difficult. Once or twice, they match and that results in an upward surge in value.

We recently had an ‘ex-works’ Triumph Dolomite Sprint, which subsequently led a life in the hands of a privateer. The builder confirmed it a kosher car and that it had a race engine, which helped. But it’s always tricky and can keep historians and lawyers extremely busy.

To the Audi. On the minus side, it never saw Group B action – constructed, as it was, after its cessation for the Race of Champions. On the plus side, unlike many which saw abuse in rallycross, it only competed in that single event. The amount achieved was a surprise, but with these cars it’s worth what someone else pays. An auction is a great way to determine that value. Overvalued in a showroom you risk it gathering dust, while undervalued and you risk giving it away.

Instead, let the people decide, and wait to see if it’s a riddle, a mystery or an enigma – or, as in the case of the Audi, all three, with spectacular results.