A look at investing in the cars you once dreamt about and hung on your bedroom walls…
“Thirty to 40 years is roughly the time it takes for a 15-year-old with a poster of a car on his wall to go through school, get a career, maybe start a family, and eventually have enough time and disposable income to buy a collector car — the one he or she lusted after as a teen.” Eric Minoff, a Senior Specialist at Bonhams auction house and Head of Sale at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance is telling us why the “modern classics” of the 1980’s and ’90s have been shooting up in value of late. Savvy investors who aren’t already in on the game are taking note.
The roll call of these dream cars, whose value has been increasing over the past decade or so following (for the most part) years of depreciation and decline, includes the Lamborghini Countach and Diablo, Ferrari Testarossa and F40, Jaguar XJ220, Vector W8, Porsche 959, Bugatti EB 110 and McLaren F1, among others.
And while some are worth more than others according to their rarity, even the value of cars produced in series for several years such as the Testarossa and the Countach — which in fact originally debuted in 1974 yet has become the quintessential ‘80s exotic — are benefiting from the bedroom poster syndrome. Its successor, the Diablo, equally bonkers and mind-blowing, finally appeared in 1990.
In 1992 Jaguar produced the XJ220 which at 220 mph, was, albeit briefly, the fastest production car on Earth, and carried an appropriately hefty price tag. A carpet firm in Cardiff, Wales, were so convinced that buying and holding the supercar was the best investment ever, that they bricked one up under the staircase in their shop in 1993. Unfortunately they went bankrupt ten years later and liquidators auctioned it off for a mere US$190,000. Had they been able to hold on to it until 2019, it would have been worth more like US$439,000 — the price fetched for a Le Mans Blue example at the Silverstone Auctions’ Heythrop Classic Car Sale and Sale of British Marques.
As reported in The New York Times, a recent study done by Hagerty, which specialises in collector vehicle insurance, showed that in 2018, Gen Xers and millennials, for the first time ever, became the predominant generations in the classic car market. The appeal of ’80s and ’90s cars to these younger buyers resulted in a huge surge in values for those modern classics, the study noted.
Of course for some the investment potential is merely a fringe benefit. Many people have historically bought such cars for their beauty, and some for the sheer bravado, while others coveted the purest ecstasy that only breakneck speed could provide. Most then found themselves fighting spiritedly against the back end swinging round, the cops catching them, or in the case of Richard Gere and the Lotus Esprit in Pretty Woman, simply getting the damned thing into gear. Sometimes they succeeded. Sometimes they didn’t.
Somewhere in the 1980s the Vector W8 arrived on the scene; like a supervillain from the planet Giedi Prime. 625 hp of twin turbo charged American V8 muscle catapulted it to 60 mph in less than four seconds. And catapulted one of them to a reported 242 mph down the Bonneville Salt Flats. Brute force and ignorance it may have been in comparison with the refined engineering of the Porsche 959. But by God did it look the Devil’s dangly bits and go like a bat out of hell. So few were made it is unlikely you will ever see one. And little wonder Lamborghini’s parent company bought Vector out and closed them down in the mid-’90s.
Had they not done so, Porsche’s 1986 Group B rally-inspired 959, and Ferrari’s track-inspired F40, would have done in the W8 eventually. Both were the technological wunderkind of their years. The 959 came equipped with with a 444 hp 2.8L biturbo flat-six engine featuring water-cooled 4-valve cylinder heads, an electronically controlled chassis and an all-wheel drive system, as well as an aerodynamically optimised body, not to mention the “G” gear for any off road low gearing requirements.
Tipping the scales at a whopping US$225,000 in 1986, one was sold at auction in Pebble Beach by Gooding & Company in 2015 for a little over US$1.7 million. If you have one of the special Paris-Dakar rally versions sitting in a barn, it could earn you more than three times that. And then Enzo Ferrari’s F40 arrived with a roar in 1987. It was the last car Enzo ever personally supervised, and the first production road car in history to sport composite body work. Initially priced at just under $400,000, after a dip to around half that in the early 2000s, it would set you back not far short of US$1.5 million today.
The crowning cars of the era though have to be two phoenixes which rose from the ashes of their respective marques: the Bugatti EB 110 and McLaren F1. Supercars that Eric Minoff says are perceived as “being more ‘analog’,” as they can provide “viscously fast performance but without all of the electronic nannies that newer cars have,” giving drivers, “a more connected and tactile experience.” These two precious models resurrected their marques and stole the hearts and minds of car fanatics everywhere. And they both raced at Le Mans to prove their mettle.
In 1994 the Bugatti EB 110 SS was the fastest qualifier in its class at Le Mans. And in 1995 the McLaren F1 GTR won outright. Both forewarned of the return to the pinnacle of the automotive hierarchy of Bugatti and McLaren. Had you purchased an EB 110 SS for US$350,000 in the early 1990s, you could have sold it for over US$2 million in 2019. Or better still, had you parted with an eye-watering US$815,000 in 1994 for a McLaren F1, you could have sold it in LM (Le Mans) spec in 2019 for US$19.8 million—which was the highest price paid at auction for a car that year.
Now, where is that barn full of supercars gathering dust again…? ■
TEXT BY DUNCAN QUINN