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Motoring Contributions

A showcase of independent motoring journalism and automotive travails

Only Worth What Somebody Will Pay

An increasing number of the classifieds I come across on my window-shopping sessions include the phrases "future classic" or "becoming a rare classic" and I can't help but feel sceptical about a few of them. A friend once said "it's only worth what someone will pay for it" and that rings true here. Just because the owner has typed "£3,995" in the price box of the classified, it doesn't mean that's what the vehicle is worth.

Indeed, the reason a lot of supposed classics are rare is that either they break and aren't worth repairing (not a rule I've ever heard applied to an E-Type Jag or '67 Mustang) or, they're rubbish and nobody bought one in the first place.

Maybe part of this is bitterness at having let a few genuine future classics slip by when they were more affordable. I've twice been very close to purchasing tidy Mk1 Golf GTIs for about £2k - whereas now you're looking at twice that just for an average example. Then there are the many German performance-barges I have looked at and decided to go Jap instead. Around 4 years ago I was looking at Merc 190E Cosworths and E34 BMW M5s when they were around the £2-3k mark - before deciding to stick with what I had (which at the time was a UK Rev5 MR2).

My MR2 habit bit again a couple of years ago when I went for my current Turbo instead of an E28 BMW M535i. The guy wanted a little over £2k for it, which at the time I thought was a bit steep (he also took us for a rather enthusiastic demo ride, including the sales line "the engine is really strong - you can redline it all day...not that I do"). If you want a slice of shark-nosed M action these days your budget is more like £5-10k, which makes my balking at a couple of hundred quid look like a rather short sighted decision.

I've got my eye on something I think could genuinely be a future classic at the moment - on previous form, if I don't buy one it will almost certainly see a price increase.

Due to the open-to-interpretation nature of the term "future classic", I have seen it appended to classifieds for anything from Audi 80s to Vauxhall Calibras. Whilst I must have been sufficiently interested in both of those vehicles to look at their respective classified sections, even I wouldn't argue that they're likely to be classics. The term "classic" simply seems to mean that a vehicle has become older and rarer (show me a car that doesn't), rather than being particularly revered or interesting in automotive terms.

This brings me to one of the most optimistic classifieds I have ever seen - having always had a soft spot for MkIV RS1600s, I was browsing the Ford Escort classifieds and came across a 1996 RS2000, priced at £4,475. This car (unsurprisingly still for sale at the time of writing) is described as "Showroom Condition" and "guaranteed to win at any show" - which I must say sets the bar rather low for Ford owner's shows.

This is a car that was widely derided when it was brand new 17 years ago and being "totally original and unmolested" means that you're paying four and a half grand for a car that was rubbish in 1996. Everyone loves a fast Ford - but this one wasn't fast 2 decades ago and 76,000 miles is unlikely to have improved that. I must applaud the seller's ambition - especially in the face of similar RS2000s in the same classifieds section selling for £1500 - and even then it's a niche market.

So the moral of the story, is that the true value of a "future classic" is not decided by the vendor or speculative tagline in a classified - more the amount enthusiasts (if they exist) are willing to pay for it and the relative merits of the vehicle itself.

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