The multi-million pound classic cars we can see dicing door-handle-to-doorhandle at the Goodwood Revival
and Silverstone Classic meetings used to be driven by their owners, but, as the value of these machines has gone cosmic, they are mostly entrusted to professional racing drivers to show them off, patinating a huff of provenance on the way. There are exceptions, like Nick Mason, who still relishes a turn at the wheel of one of his vast collection of classic cars. He buys rare and exotic cars because he is passionate, and knowledgeable, about them, and also because he is unspeakably rich. In the 1960s and 1970s, there were a number of ‘gentlemen’ owner-drivers, like Patrick Lyndsey, Keith Schellenberg, Neil Corner, Charles Lucas and Anthony Bamford, who raced their vintage cars out of pure passion. Certainly, they were all wealthy, but that never stopped them from putting their precious cars on the line, and putting on a good show for the spectators, of which there are a growing number, as exemplified by the thousands who attend both Goodwood and Silverstone today.
Knight Frank produce a wealth report every year, informing us in what the rich invest, and at the top of the list, above art, wine and jewellery, are classic cars. Interestingly, they estimate that 63 per cent buy such luxury assets because of a passion rather than to make a return on their money, with 23 per cent doing so, because it is a safe investment.The sale at auction of classic cars exceeded $1billion in the United States alone. Of the sixteen cars that have realised the greatest prices at auction, thirteen were Ferraris, with the top prize going to a 250 GTO from 1962, an absolute beauty, for an astounding £25m. It is said that another 250 GTO went for £32m. In 2013, but that was a private deal between two collectors, and a 1936 Bugatti Type-57 supercharged Atlantic was allegedly sold for anything up to £33m. The only other marques represented in the list were a 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 formula one singer-seater, which fetched £19.5m. The 1956 Le Mans-winning Jaguar D-type for £17m and an elegant Alfa Romeo Lungo Spider two-seater grand tourer for £16m.
The fact that classic cars are not subject to Capital Gains Tax or even UK import duties, if imported from an EU country, will not interest the super-rich enthusiast, nor will the fact that one does not have to pay the few hundred pounds road tax on a ten-million pound motor, if it is 40-years old or more. In their wisdom, HMRC have deemed
classic cars are wasting assets, with a useful life of fifty years or less, and that exclusion bracket includes clocks and watches. The Duc D’Orleans Breguet Sympathique clock was created in 1795 and was sold for $6.8 million. Not bad for a wasting asset and still ticking. One downside to the CGT free status is that one cannot claim a capital loss for
tax purposes if one loses money on the car, so, if it is crashed at Goodwood, whether driven by the owner or a hired hand, a tax loss cannot be claimed. Nick Mason bought the charred remains of a camera car that was burnt out during the filming of Steve McQueen’s turgid film Le Mans, whilst being driven by Derek Bell. As he had the chassis,
engine and gearbox serial numbers, he was able to ‘restore’ the Ferrari 512S to pristine condition. In the past ten years Knight Frank reckon that these automotive ‘wasting assets’ have rocketed by over 450 per cent. Provenance is crucial to the value of the car in question, which involves establishing the precise identity of the car, a complete ownership history of it, and documenting the specific events in which the car participated, with reference tospecific teams or drivers. There are occasions when cars surface with the slenderest of authenticity, in the manner of ‘my grandfather’s axe’, or the ship of Theseus. From the crumpled wreckage will emerge a ‘genuine’ and ‘original’ example of a given classic, merely based on a chassis number, where, around it, everything else has been replaced. There is a thin line between ‘restoration’, ‘reparation’ and ‘conservation’, and there are some unscrupulous
dealers around who do little to respect the integrity of a vehicle’s provenance. Define repair (to make good) as opposed to renovation (to make new).
Before the 1970s, splitting up a racing car’s chassis and creating two or more new vehicles around it was not uncommon. As long as part of the chassis is authentic, a car can generally claim to be the genuine article. One gang that went so far as to source 1920s steel from discarded railroad tracks in India to build the chassis of a fake Bugatti, enabling the car to withstand even the most stringent metallurgical analysis. Celebrity is another factor that will boost the value of a particular car. A Ferrari owned by Steve McQueen, a Range Rover driven by David Beckham or a Rolls Royce once owned by Elton John, will sell for a premium. However, no matter who owned it, an unrestored Gullwing Mercedes-Benz 300 SL went for 35% more than a fully-restored model at a recent auction in the States, so maybe the wheel is turning the other way, and that there will be an increase in ‘fake originality’ and ‘fake patina’, and will there be a specialty business in restoration work that looks like no restoration has been done at all?