How the mighty have fallen. And risen

| 11 Oct 2011

Idly flicking through a 1982 issue of C&SC (or Classic and Sportscar as it was then), I was naturally drawn to the Ads and the Price Guide.

Now, it must we said that we hacks have a rather annoying, often irrelevant habit of taking age-old prices out of context to make classics that were always pricey appear once-cheap.

But, if you add some context (ie compare the then-price of one classic to the then-price of another and then rate them alongside today's relative values) you at least get an idea of what has taken off in a big way and, at the other end of the scale, all the classics I have bought!

Back then – almost 30 years ago – the Price Guide simply offered average prices based on known sales over the previous year, therefore allowing you to track trends.

I was rather pleased to see that an Elan Sprint in 1982 would have cost a meaty £3500 so was still a pretty well valued car back then. Or so you would think.

But whereas a tip-top Sprint now is going to cost you upwards of £20k, if you bought one in 1982 for that kind of money and are currently trying to sell, you would be well advised to steer clear of checking out some other classic prices from the period.

Or not to read on.

Too late...

You know that Lancia Aurelia B20 Coupé I've always wanted? Yup, cheaper than an Elan Sprint back in 1982. Or I could have had a BMW 3.0 CSL for the same money, a Porsche 911S or one and a half Porsche 356s. How the fortunes for all these cars have varied.

Ironically, the Elan was pretty much the same value as another of my classics, the Interceptor, and that has probably risen even less against its rivals.

A bit above the Jensen you get the Gordon-Keeble (I haven't actually got one, or ever had one – though I have come close a few times – but I like to think of myself as a sort of owner by proxy just because I like them so much).

Always a desirable, labour-of-love car and one that I am sure no one ever bought as an investment.

Good thing, too, because the £5k that a G-K would have cost you in 1982, could instead have secured an Aston DB4 or DB5, a Bentley R-type, two-thirds of a 246 Dino, an Iso Grifo, any E-type except, ironically, an S3 or an S2 2+2 (the cheapest ones now, but "nearly new" back then!) or, amazingly, five-sixths of a Lamborghini Miura, which, equally astonishingly is the same amount of Aston DBS V8 that £5000 would have secured.

You'll be hard-pressed in that old price guide to find much above £10k and once you get up to the £20k mark you are messing with the big boys: AC Cobra, Ferrari 275GTB and the like.

Even allowing for inflation – the UK average salary in 1982 was roughly £10k – these are prices that conjure up those horrible born-too-late pangs that I am so susceptible to.

Luckily, because I buy cars to drive and keep (sure, I've sold things, but I have never handed over the cash thinking I would), I am largely spared the feeling of "look what I could have made, that would pay off my mortgage", but I still suffer the "look what I could have had" sensation.

On reflection, this is a lie, of course.

I have never regretted buying my S2 Elan, and I doubt I would have have bought any of those other classics instead of it if I had been in the market for one in 1982 – at that time all I was in the market for was a packet of Space Dust and Panini sticker books – but, if and when the need to sell becomes irresistible, the money one of those would garner now would be rather useful.

Having a 911S in the garage right now would mean that I could do all the mundane, life things that one day selling the Elan will allow me to do... and then spend a load of cash on a Lotus Elan!