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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 11:41 GMT
Making money from classic cars
Julian Knight
BBC News Online personal finance reporter

1937 Alfa Romeo 8c 2900b Cabriolet
Some cars are undoubted classics
A classic car can prove to be a sensible choice or a money pit. BBC News Online's fun investment guide shows you how to make a mint from a motor.

Most car owners are resigned to losing money on their pride and joy. Depreciation, garage bills, road tax and punishing high car insurance costs hit most motorists hard.

However, for the band of classic car enthusiasts motoring holds no such horrors.

"Classic cars are unlikely to lose money as long as you keep it in good condition. Pay 1,500 for a Morris Minor and it will be worth the same in a year's time," says Will Holman, the editor of Practical Classics magazine.

Famous badges

Whether a car is a classic is very much in the eye of the beholder.

It is a market that anyone can subscribe to - from the multi millionaire wanting a vintage racer to the man or woman in the street
Rupert Banner, Christie's
Most would agree that a vintage Jaguar, Aston Martin or Bugatti are classics.

But what about a Morris Marina, Hillman Imp or Austin Maxi?

However, they all have thriving owners clubs, and pristine examples can raise good prices.

"It is a market that anyone can subscribe to from the multi-millionaire wanting a vintage racer to the man or woman in the street," says Rupert Banner, a classic car auction expert at Christie's.

Having a famous name associated with a particular car can add value, but star quality is not a one-way ticket to a fortune.

"Be wary of cars with famous previous owners. It can raise a car above its contemporaries but rarely sells the vehicle on its own," Mr Banner pointed out.

However there are exceptions.

In 2001 Christie's sold Sir Elton John's vast collection of sports cars - and most lots achieved double their original estimate.

Owning a classic can save a fortune on insurance, particularly in cities
Will Holman, Practical Classics magazine

In total the sale grossed more than a million pounds, enough to keep Sir Elton in flowers for quite some time.

Shifting sands

The classic car market has had its own version of the dotcom boom and bust.

In the 1980's once sedate car auction rooms became a hangout for yuppies.

Price records fell like confetti as investors bought at auction, then shifted the car straight to storage intending to scoop a profit at a later date.

However, the market was built on shifting sands.

"High prices drove enthusiasts from the market and as a result investors ended up selling on to other investors, it couldn't last," Mr Banner said.

The 1980s boom was followed by a 1990s bust, and as a result only at the top end of the market are classic cars more expensive than new models.

Fortune saved

For many, owning a classic car is the thrifty choice.

All cars registered before 1973 are exempt from road tax - currently 165 a year.
Join an owners club - they will have experts who can give the car your looking to buy the once over
Will Holman Practical Classics magazine

In addition, thieves prefer modern cars and drivers of classics tend to be more careful.

"Owning a classic can save a fortune on insurance, particularly in cities," Mr Holman said.

However, as British roads are regularly salted, this can be particularly harsh on pre-1980 cars which rust far more easily than modern vehicles.

Avoiding a lemon

As a result, rust proofing and a course of car body waxing is a must or the investment could literally crumble away.

Horror stories abound of first-time owners splashing out on what is known in motoring parlance as a 'lemon' - a car of poor quality or dubious history.

Mr Holman advises would-be owners to call on the help of fellow car enthusiasts.

"Join an owners club (literally all makes have one), and they will have experts who can give the car you are looking to buy the once-over," he says.

Owners clubs are also full of people whose hobby is buying what appears at first glance a wreck of car and doing it up to a condition where it can be displayed at an owners club fair.

The good news for canny investors is that these projects are undertaken for joy rather than profit, and when the enthusiast is finished the car is sometimes sold at a fraction of the sum spent.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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