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Write What You Drive

A showcase of independent motoring journalism and automotive travails

Modernclass - In it for the Money

1997 saw the Ford Puma crowned Top Gear Car of the Year (I don't know if I'd mentioned that before?), Tony Blair's New Labour grinning their way into Downing Street and the release of Supergrass' In it for the Money. Also, somewhere in Japan, my MR2 Turbo was swanning around as a brand new car having just been bought for 3,000,000 Yen by its first owner.

In 2016 - and as a direct result of New Labour's loose grip on the nation's purse strings, if you listen to the Tories at least, interest rates have been on their arse for the last 8 years. From that turn of phrase, it's clear that I'm no economist but even I understand that means there's been little reward for leaving your money sitting in a bank for some time now.

People have been forced to look elsewhere for investment opportunities offering more than half a percent's return and one of the areas that has seen more exploitation than most is the "classic" car market. JTurn expressed its indignation almost 3 years ago at the proliferation of "future classics" in the classified ads and in the meantime, the situation has reached fever-pitch.

It was inevitable, therefore, that this upwardly mobile sector would spawn its own enthusiast's magazine - the imaginatively (and arguably oxymoronically) named Modern Classics, "Driving, Buying & Enjoying Hero Cars of the '80s, '90s and '00s". An enjoyable and easily digested affair, hitting most of the major bases of its prescribed time period - German luxo-barges, Japanese performance and French hot hatches all got some column inches in the opening issue.

Having lived through 23 of the 30 years covered and as a self-professed '90s car fanatic, I was moderately excited to read this new magazine aimed squarely at the period from which I find cars most interesting and most attractive as used buys. What did begin to grate around half way through however, was the constant reference to values and their purported upward trajectories.

Indeed the cover story of the first magazine was "10 Future Icons" - a piece aiming to identify modern classics that are likely to appreciate in value and offering an estimate of their 2020 values. Aside from the obvious financial futility of a car going up £2k in value in 5 years (I've spent nearly that on repairs, both essential and non-essential, on my MR2 Turbo just in the last year - never mind the last 5), I can't help but think that anybody buying an interesting (seemingly a synonym for "classic" these days) '80s, '90s or '00s car in the hope of making money is in it for the wrong reasons.

The '80s and '90s are home to some of the most remarkable, influential and accessible cars in history. There's something that I (but clearly not I alone) find irresistible about the big, brash excess of the '80s and its transition into understated cool today, the Gran Turismo generation of the '90s - still alive and well and, as a Powertrain Engineer, the progression from carburettors through to supercharged direct injection via almost every conceivable technology in between.

If you're lucky enough to own one of the increasing number of modern classics you owe it to the car and to yourself not to make something so vulgar as money your primary objective. Take it from somebody who knows, unusual 20 year old cars don't make money, they eat it. The only way to offset the expense is to use the car as it was intended - to be driven and enjoyed, not as some stuffy investment.

To give Modern Classics its due, there is reasonable coverage of what the cars are actually like to drive, and it is quite difficult to write anything new about cars that are already 20-30 years old and unlikely to be accurate representations of what they were like new, no matter how hard owners have tried to keep them original.

The publication has really found its stride in subsequent issues and I eagerly thumb every new issue more keenly than I have with any car magazine since I was a 14 year old. The references to values being "sure to go up soon" persist but are small flies in an otherwise enjoyable and well-constructed ointment.

Perhaps they are giving their audience what they want, enthusiasts revelling in their supposedly appreciating assets. And maybe I'm a little bitter as the MR2 Turbo is seemingly not yet privy to any of these alleged price hikes; and that it almost certainly will be within weeks of me selling mine.

The other reason I have to be bitter is that many of the cars that have seen price increases are ones I have long coveted. I thought they would always be there, languishing for a couple of £k in the classifieds, waiting for me to decide the time is right and take the plunge. Suddenly, most of them are looking like cars I will never be able to afford (or justify even if I could) - all because of a bit of one-upmanship from owners on classified prices and a few journalists telling them what they want to hear.

Another possible reason for the increased value being placed upon cars from before (or those that straddle) the digital age, is the perception that the new cars of 2016 don't involve the driver as they used to. I could find a page on every internet car forum where owners bemoan the fact that new cars have placed safety/technology/emissions (delete as applicable) over the fun and involvement he or she used to get from their old British sports car/hot hatch/(clearly crap, even at the time) family runabout.

I have to say I agree with this on most levels; with the proviso that cars that were shit in 1984 will probably feel even like even more of a dog's breakfast in 2016 and don't deserve to have bleary eyed nostalgia turn them into a revered drivers' car.

Like so many, I'm a huge fan of simple, pedal under foot driving without the necessary inclusion of any electronic middle-men. Man, pedal, road. Fin. But isn't part of the joy of that simple, unadulterated pleasure the simple, unadulterated fashion in which you obtained the car? Paying a modest man a modest amount of cash rather than a 5 figure sum for a car that, by all objective measures, doesn't justify it and whose original popularity was probably at least in part due to a its accessible price when new.

Caution must be urged, before this particular bubble begins to exclude true enthusiasts, who love the cars, in favour of investors who have only returns on their mind.

Regular Features
20th January

Just when you think everything is going well...

7th October

Puma passes MOT despite struggle

28th June

MR2 Turbo in France

31st March

Further money "invested"

6th January 2013

'90s reigns as the current JT Fleet is introduced