The letter from Mr. D. J. Burke is an insult to the intelligence of your readers. Perhaps his principal aim was to demonstrate the truth of the old cliché, that statistics can be used to prove anything. If so, he succeeded. Mr. Burke uses his selected figures to prove that foreign cars depreciate more quickly than British ones. Yet the figures which I have gathered for inclusion in this letter prove that the opposite is true! A comparison of his findings with mine will presumably show just what misleading information can be produced when someone presents a few carefully-chosen figures to substantiate a preconceived notion.
As I am not a member of the exalted brotherhood of British motor dealers, I do not have access to the trade journal. Instead, my comparisons are based on Motorists’ Guide (October, 1970, issue), taking new prices against their “Classification 1” retail quoting. These figures are generally more than one would actually receive for a second-hand car but, as all the information comes from the same source, it is a fair basis for comparison.
To show just how unprejudiced I’m being, I’ll start with one of Mr. B.’s own examples, the Rover 2000. In November, 1968, it cost £1,504; its value in October, 1970, was £1,155: a depreciation of £349 or 23%. Now a BMW 2002, which offers much the same accommodation and better performance, can give the Rover seven months and still beat it. In March, 1968, it cost £1,597, which dropped to £1,335 by October, 1970, giving a depreciation of £262 or 17%. But what if one had stayed in the same price range, but bought BMC? A 3-litre Austin, at £1,592 in November, 1968, was worth £920 in October, 1970, a loss of £672 or 42%: two and a half times worse than that of the BMW.
The Fiat 124 Sport is another foreigner which has held its price well. In November, 1968, it cost £1,438, and in October, 1970, it was worth £1,110, a drop of £328 or 23%. Compare this with the GT6, falling from £1,150 to £800 in the same period, giving a depreciation of £350 or 30%. And the MG-C GT, down from £1,481 to £980, costing £501 at 34%.
Let us assume that we had had the good taste to buy a Volvo 121 in January, 1967. It would have set us back £1,108, of which we could hope to recoup £800 in October, 1970: a loss of £308 or 28%. Over the same period, the Rover 2000 will run it close, dropping from £1,357 to £960, a depreciation of £397 or 29%. The Triumph 2000 does nearly as well, falling from £1,198 to £825, a loss of £373 or 31%. But the Ford buyer would have fared considerably worse, the Zephyr 6 Mk. IV sinking from £1,023 to £550, at a cost of £473 or 47%. But the man stung worst of all is (you guessed!) the BMC buyer. His good old Austin A110 has crashed (metaphorically speaking) from £1,016 to £485, giving a depreciation of £531 or 52%, which is nearly double that of the Volvo.
Taken over a longer period than that which he studies, even comparisons which are as near to Mr. B.’s own as changes in models will allow, show results different from those he finds. An Austin 1100 bought in March, 1965, at £644 was worth £345 in October, 1970: costing £299 or 47%. A VW 1200 from January, 1965, to October, 1970, has lost only £285, from £650 to £365, giving a marginally lower depreciation of 44%.
My figures are, of course, selected and therefore biased like Mr.B.’s. But they are not offered with the intention of making a serious case, but rather in the hope of showing that, while the specious reasoning of the Burkes of this world may fool some people some of the time, readers of Motor Sport aren’t that gullible. Of course there are some British cars which can beat my exemplary foreigners—the MG-B GT devalues marginally more slowly than the Fiat 124 Sport, and the “E”-type’s depreciation is a little gentler than that of the Porsche 912. Mind you, I don’t think that any comparable domestic car would hold the 2002.
Mr. Burke’s other allegation, that foreign cars are more expensive, is based on a certain amount of fact. But this fact results from such things as transport costs and import duties, and therefore reflects no credit on the British manufacturers. Even with this disadvantage some foreign cars are directly competitive. The VW 1200 cost £699, against the Austin 1100’s £801; the 1300 Austin at £855 faces direct competition from the Fiat 128 at £818 and the NSU 1200 C at £848. The NSU 1200 TT at £925 significantly undercuts the £996 Austin 1300 GT, though admittedly you don’t get go-faster stripes thrown in. Further up the scale, the Renault 16 at £1,068 is precisely £12 more than the 1500 Maxi. The Rover 2000 SC can hardly be immune from the competition of the Saab 99 at £1,420 and the Peugeot 504 at £1,594. There are, of course, arguments to be made in the other direction. My main point is that this is no time for smugness and complacency about British cars.
Finally, though I feel no confidence that Mr. B. will understand this, there are some foreign cars which are beautifully made and a joy to drive. All too often there is no British counterpart. Match the BMW 2002’s five-seat convenience and 0-50 in 6.8 sec., the beauty and swiftness of the Alfa 1750 GTV, or the incomparable Porsche 911! Fortunately, the sort of people one finds driving such cars are discerning motorists and people who derive a pleasure from motoring which cannot be measured in cost per mile or per year. Thus they render such surveys as Mr. Burke’s and mine irrelevant—or, at the most generous estimate, of minor importance. They are clearly the sort of people who read your magazine.