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DAVID BURGESS-WISE on why he loves golden oldie classics and gives an insight into their pleasures and prices to pay

Those of you who remember the turbulent old car market at the end of the 1980s will recall how prices of the most highly valued post-war classics tumbled dramatically virtually overnight. A friend of mine who had just sold his Ferrari – a 1962 Dino 196 SP with a second place in the Targa Florio to its credit – for £1.6 million in the weeks before the crash took advantage of the slump in values to scoop up a 1958 ex-works Ferrari Testa Rossa and a D-Type Jaguar out of the proceeds of the sale of the Dino and still have change out of the deal!

Yet while the prices paid for those iconic postwar classics suffered such an alarming reversal, at the time the prices paid for veteran and vintage vehicles were hardly affected at all.

And while it’s certain that the prices of most veteran and vintage cars – ie, cars built before the end of 1930 – are never going to hit the stratospheric levels achieved by classic Ferraris and Aston Martins, you can be sure that, unlike zillion pound classics, they are going to hold their value in difficult times.

Not only that, but the price range of V&V cars is such that there is literally something available for every pocket, from the low thousands upwards. And there are many makes to choose from.

THOSE WERE THE DAYS…

There was a time when V&V cars were extraordinarily cheap by today’s standards, though you have to remember that the pound was worth a lot more back then.

I well remember a breaker’s yard-cumsecondhand car dealership in Kent around 1960 where I could have had my pick of three Bugattis for £200 each; at much the same time my former maths master offered me his 1928 Sunbeam for only a fiver (I turned down the offer as I remembered how he had crudely shortened the chassis with a hacksaw…).

When I bought my first roadworthy vintage car – a 1927 Clyno Royal Tourer – at the beginning of the 1960s, it cost me a whole month’s salary (£40). Last year a similar car sold for £12,650 at a Bonhams auction. That’s more than 300 times as much, and you’d have to be earning over £150,000 for it to represent a month’s salary! And that is typical of the V&V car market – values have seen a steady climb over the past 50 years rather than a spectacular rise (and the occasional equally spectacular fall…).

A CASE OF A DIFFERENT DRIVING AMBITION

One reason, I think, is that pre-1930 cars are bought by dedicated enthusiasts who aren’t afraid of their very different driving characteristics. This was an era when only a very few – mostly American – cars had synchromesh gears, so you needed to double-declutch on what were known to the unwary as “crash boxes”, and there was no standardised layout of the gear gate. Also gear levers were usually on the right of the driver and throttle pedals were often in the centre.

Before the mid-1920s, most cars braked on the rear wheels only and the most powerful brake was the handbrake, usually positioned on the right and sometimes outside the body.

And that is only part of the story, for the most popular car in the world in V&V days was the Model T Ford, whose controls were so different from today’s vehicles that the only common factor was that the steering wheel controlled the direction of travel!

But if you aren’t deterred by all those idiosyncrasies, you’ll get more fun per mile at the wheel of a pre-1930 car than with most cars made since. And they are easy to maintain: mechanical brakes and simple oiling systems are within the reach of the simplest home workshop (top tip: if you can find one, buy yourself a Tapley brake tester – most MoT garages had one, and will probably sell them now pre-1960 cars no longer need an MoT).

TO GET YOU GOING

Here’s an example to set you off in the right direction. An ideal “beginner’s car” in the pre-30 world of motoring is the Ford Model T: out of some 16 million made worldwide between 1908 and 1927, maybe 100,000 survive, mostly in the USA, and “new” cars occasionally emerge from long-term barn storage. That means that there’s a plentiful supply of spares, and there is a very active and friendly club catering exclusively for the T.

Though prices have hardened of late, Model Ts are still affordable: Model T specialist Neil Tuckett recently advertised a 1915 barn find T for a princely £8500; you’ll not find a cheaper “Edwardian” car (yes, I know King Edward VII died in 1910, but that’s what 1905-18 cars are called). Though the control layout may seem odd, once you’re used to it, a Model T is one of the easiest oldies to drive, for its epicyclic transmission means there’s no need for double-declutching, and in emergency whichever of its three pedals (clutch/low gear, reverse and brake) you stamp on will slow the car to some extent!

The price spread for Model Ts is wide: a restoration project could be around £5000, while an average black radiator tourer would be in the £12-14,000 price range. Brass radiator cars will be costlier – say up to £20,000, and possibly more for a rare or coachbuilt example.

Incidentally, one is being stripped down and rebuilt at the forthcoming Beaulieu Autojumbles starting on 21-22nd May to mark 50 years of this superb summer event. Why not pop down and have a look – you’ll be hooked!

Here’s an idea of what to look for in the V & V field – Veterans were built before the end of 1904, Edwardians from 1905-18 and Vintage from 1919-1930… Under £10,000: Austin Sevens are king in this field, though prices have been hardening, and rare body styles, like the ‘Doctor’s Coupé’, can cost considerably more than £10,000. The smaller Renaults like the NN fall into this category, too, and their Gallic charm makes up for their leisurely performance.

Under £20,000: There are plenty of British light cars of around the 1.5-litre mark in this price bracket, like the Bullnose Morris- Cowley and the 10.8hp Clyno. Simple to work on and charming to drive, these are ideal family cars. The Austin Heavy Twelve has a slightly larger engine and again is full of vintage charm. And an ideal go-anywhere car is the Model A Ford; its “Little Lincoln” styling was a gamechanger for Ford.

Over £20,000: Here, the sky’s the limit. Cars in this class can cost well into six – and sometimes seven – figures, but if you buy wisely and avoid the overhyped marques, the choice is infinite. Saloons tend to be cheaper than open cars, but vintage makes to consider would include Talbot and Sunbeam for offering first class engineering, while lesser-known marques like Star were always well-built. But the best advice is study the advertisement pages and see which makes (a) attract you and (b) you can afford, then investigate the history of the company and, when you’ve made your selection, go for a test drive with a knowledgeable friend.

LONDON-BRIGHTON BELLES

I haven’t mentioned pre-1918 cars in the foregoing text and that’s because there is such a wide variety, but in the majority of cases, the number of cars of a given marque that survive is very few; it’s only makes like De Dion-Bouton and Oldsmobile that survive in real quantity. Edwardian cars are often surprisingly modestly priced, though how long that situation will persist is anybody’s guess, and they are certainly not going to get any cheaper for sure.

When it comes to the pre-1905 cars that are eligible for the Brighton Run, there’s a substantial premium attached, and you’re unlikely to find much worth owning under the £40,000 mark – De Dion- Boutons, supported by an active club, now sell from £50,000 upwards and big Mercedes regularly top the million pound mark; here, the most affordable model is probably the Curved Dash Oldsmobile, a surprisingly lusty single-cylinder runabout; its tiller steering is amazingly direct, epicyclic transmission makes gear shifting easy and noiseless, while the slow-running engine was said to give one beat per telegraph pole! In this special supplement you’ll find best buying tips and advice along with a delightful dozen of diverse vehicles to show you what’s around.

 



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