A weekly look at all that sucks and blows in the car world, and some good bits
All cars bought new lose money as soon as they leave the showroom. A Ferrari can drop over £40,000 as you uplift the keys from the dealer. In my time of owning second-hand cars, only twice have I managed to sell them for more money than I paid to buy them, and better still, have that profit cover the accumulated total of running costs including servicing. In each case I had the car no longer than two years. These days I try to choose a unique model in a car range and retain it for a long time so that when it comes time to sell it there’s a chance it will attract more buyers than the standard model. Resale is highly colour conscious, so forget owning that VW Golf in lime green!
Open any car magazine and you’ll see veteran and classic cars sold at auctions for millions of pounds sterling or US dollars. A profitable circle of auctioneers exist to dictate prices. At one time you could buy an E-type Jaguar for a few thousand pounds. Today a rust bucket at auction can fetch over £30,000, a well looked after example over £100,000.
Back in the Eighties a bubble burst in the trade of investing in cars. It was considered a fool’s game. From a situation where old cars could not be given away, a market grew almost overnight wherein people payed lunatic sums for anything older than 20 years. Like the Dutch tulip wars the trade went bust in short measure and people with a million pound car in their garage woke up to discover they had lost them millions. ‘Negative value’ was the popular phrase. From the Millennium the business of cars as an investment has since regrown and flourishes. So, it was interesting to see a unique vehicle not sell at auction at all. In fact, it was a massive auction failure.
The biggest blunder in recent auction history, a Nazi owned racing car – don’t mention the war! – that Ferdinand Porsche made didn’t sell. During a highly charged standing-room only auction in downtown Monterey, California, auctioneers at RM Sotheby’s premier sale dimmed the lights and showed a promotional video they had made ahead of the much-anticipated sale of the 1939 Type 64. The controversial silver coupe had been expected to sell for some $20 million before a massive mistake by the auction house upset the crowded room, leaving some collectors to believe it was an attempt at a joke.
“This is the only surviving example personally driven by Ferdinand Porsche,” the evening’s emcee said, then announced that bidding would open at “$30 million,” a figure that was written on the front media screen of the auction theater.
Half of the crowd laughed; the other half cheered. After rapid bidding up to “$70 million,” with the crowd on its feet, iPhones raised, and cheering, the auctioneer announced that he said “$17 million,” rather than “$70 million.” The media screen was quickly changed to reflect the $17 million sum. Boos and shocked yelps and shouts ensued. People walked out.
“What a joke,” said Johnny Shaughnessy, a collector from Southern California. “They just lost reality. My father could have bought the car for $5 million years ago. Been passed around for years; no one wants it.” [Blomberg.]
As bidding opened on the Type 64, increments were incorrectly displayed on the screen behind the auctioneer causing unfortunate confusion in the room. “This was the result of a totally inadvertent and unintentional mistake.” The company said it was an “unfortunate misunderstanding amplified by excitement in the room.” Americans term similar public disasters as a ‘snafu’.
The auction for the Type 64 was terminated in minutes, after no bids above $17 million appeared in the room. “What a scam”, said one collector. Whether or not Sotheby’s car auction wing will recover credibility is another matter, but in general car auctions have seen a significant fall in prices attained. As electric cars take over the world anything that emits gasses is liable to be restricted to garages or driveways.
For a pile of old metal and wood with some rubber bits, parts that rust or perish, or seize up stored in a garage, that can only be a good thing.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
The march to an electric car world goes on with luxury saloon maker Lexus, owned by parent company Toyota, promoting a chunky little city car as its first offering. The as-yet-unnamed concept takes the form of a tall, boxy and city-friendly hatchback that wears a more futuristic design than any model I’ve seen coming from other brands. What’s interesting is the company announcement that they are developing four-wheel drive. Lexus is placing a big research focus on in-wheel electric motors, although Vice President Koji Sato concedes it will take years to make the technology a reality. “We expect four wheels operating independently will offer greater agility, stability and excitement,” he said. It was in the late 1890’s that Ferdinand Porsche, father of Porsche cars, put four electric motors on each wheel of a cart, and here we are eons later just getting around to developing the idea.
We Scots love Vauxhall cars, a sign of our bad taste and keenness to get value for money. You do see a lot of them on our roads, but for some reason we don’t buy a lot of Mercedes’. Volvo and BMWs are both phenomenally popular in Yorkshire and Humber but they’re not fussed about buying a Vauxhall. Boring Ford takes the crown in Wales and the East of England. How do I know this? Every year the Department for Transport puts out registration figures for the distribution of brands and at a glance it broadly follows our national buying tastes in 2018: Ford on top, followed by VW, Vauxhall, Mercedes, BMW and Audi. But If you compare market share nationally with those of the 12 areas of the UK the DfT divides us up into, you get those weird anomalies. Look closer and you see more detail that influences. The reason for some spikes are more arcane. All BMW’s new employee and lease cars are registered in its Thorne preparation centre in Doncaster, hence its seeming popularity in Yorkshire. But I’ll let car nerds look into that.
Pimping my RAV
The pimping of my 22 year-old original Japanese 3-door RAV4 goes on. The seat belts are at the point of giving up, an MOT failure, so there is a mad search on for alternatives. And the cheapo plastic dash pod is about to get enamelled in the same intense blue as the bodywork. But here’s the thing: I had two armrests made by my clever Mexican trimmer friends in Los Angeles. I’ve carried one around in the boot looking for a well-kept similar model. Parked in the city centre, a jobbing joiner pulled up beside me driving the same model, but with new powder coated wheels. At last, an owner proud of his utilitarian runabout. We got talking, both excited about ownership. “This is a keeper” he said, “I’ll no part with it.” I gifted him my spare armrest. “Goad! Great. Pops right intae the cup holder atween the seats. Job done. Smashin’. Ta!” The moment was enough to make both our days until I asked him his name. “Garry Weddell” he said. Still shaking hands, I told him my name. We stood stunned. My stepfather was Weddell. Weird, eh? Stranger than fiction, a trillion to one chance. I need a stiff drink.