Old car prices

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Sir,

My reaction to Roger Pouluin’s letter on Vintage Values in your August issue is that he understates the case. I agree entirely with the central drift of his argument, but I feel that a comparison with current car prices ignores some important points.

The buyer of a new production model today is not comparable with the owner of some cherished period piece; he buys for quite different reasons. Few owners of vintage vehicles see them as an efficient means of transport on existing motorways or trunk roads. I happen to own a 1938 Austin Cambridge, modest enough as claim to enthusiasm, but sufficient perhaps as a basis for my comments. This car is, to me, a constant opportunity to revisit the thirties, it is, conceptually, light years away from my Fiat 128 which serves a quite different function. The comparison I prefer is with Victorian water colours which I also collect and it is this sort of comparison which, in my view, gives a clearer picture of the value of vintage and veteran cars. As Roger Poulton rightly points out, they are becoming rarer. I would add that they are becoming increasingly interesting as living evidence of the values and aspirations of a quite different society. Historians would refer to them as “prime sources”. The comprehensive .handbook which tells me how to grind in the valves, decarbonise and so On, is addressed to an owner who rolled under his car at weekends with all the zest of a schoolboy adjusting his Stunney Archer three-speed for the first time. The pleasure of experiment and discovery is no longer such a universal aspect of car ownership. I draw no moral from all this. Times change and -contemporary cars have their own appeal, but I would hesitate to claim that the price of an “open Riley” (was Roger Poulton thinking of a Lynx or a March Special?) could he justified by reference to the current price of say a Ford Escort (two-door 1100). The pricing factor is a combination of subtle and varied influences. Rarity is obviously one, but few enthusiasts would pay more for a rare piece of rubbish than for a fine example of a quality vintage car, even though there might be many still around. I paid £35 for my Austin, running and with an MoT, at a local auction. The dealers present were obviously unhappy with this challenge to their wits, and that in itself was rather nice. I was reminded of the character who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.

I would hate to see a Glass’s Guide to Vintage Cars, as Roger Poulton suggests. This would eliminate the distinction I have just pointed to. Let’s continue paying what they are worth to us for our many and varied reasons. No guide could indicate the value to me of a Citroen Clover Leaf, for all sorts of associative reasons which I won’t bother to go into. I would certainly prefer to own one than to go on a world cruise, for example.

The reason I suggest that Roger Poulton understates his case is that no-one would get from me a Riley saloon in class one (immaculate) condition—for £800! If I needed the money that badly the Fiat would have to go. But to end on a more hard-headed note, the investment value of a shrinking number of vintage and veteran cars is obvious. I could cite several examples from your own “for sale” columns which seem grossly undervalued. When I see an irreplaceable fifty years old car for sale for the price of an eminently replaceable modern three-piece suite, I can only wonder at the valuation of the seller. This is a generalisation rather than a reference to a specific advert, but this type of comparison is possible in many instances.

Lastly, your editorial question concerning wages between 1950 and 1976 and the tenfold increase in vintage car prices during the same period looks dramatic. However, when I did the appropriate calculation, I found that the increases were roughly parallel! [In journalism?—Ed.] I think you would find this to be the case across a good many jobs and professions?”

Scarborough V. GORMALLY

[We are perhaps fortunate that the prices of current cars are comparatively low; maybe it is rarity value that shoves up those older ones. But if a car was dull, disinteresting, horrid to drive or simply downright had in the 1930s it will not have improved with 40 years’ wear, so why people trouble to advertise old tin cars at four-figure sums, and who is unintelligent as to buy them for such sums, I fail to comprehend.—Ed.]