The provenance of a car
Is a car worth more simply because it’s been owned by someone famous or does it all depend on exactly who that famous owner was, what they did with the car in question, and what it really meant to them?
Traditionally, people look for originality, superb condition, matching numbers, faultless mechanicals, and perfect running order, but as the classic car market in New Zealand becomes more sophisticated, people are also starting to become concerned with who has been in the driver’s seat.
By their very nature, classic cars were owned by people of means. The prices that many classic cars sold for new were the equivalent of a fine home. As a kid, I remember that a Mercedes-benz was the price of one of the nicest houses in the city in which I lived. In some countries in Europe, a Mercedes-benz could even be used as collateral.
When these cars are displayed today, it’s not unusual for an inquiring spectator to ask if the owner knows who might have purchased the car new. It’s also not unusual for the inquiring individual to ask if someone famous owned the car when it was new, assuming that a film or television star or an equally well-known person must have once owned every classic automobile.
The reality is, someone important probably did own most of these classic automobiles when they were new; the problem is, these individuals may not necessarily be well known today, but usually these cars were owned by the captains of industry, by people who had some money to spend.
Unfortunately for those of us who consider ourselves car historians more than collectors, it can be difficult, and sometimes impossible, to trace the history of a classic automobile — especially with Privacy Act laws now in force.
Further, the paper trail doesn’t always exist; NZTA records can be incorrect when it comes to classic and vintage automobiles; and, in most cases, the family members of the original owners are no longer with us.
But it seems quite likely that the people who first bought these marvellous machines were very appreciative of what they were, and many of them may have kept these cars well for the rest of their lives.
We collectors are an eclectic lot. Collecting cars starts with an interest, turns into a passion, then migrates to an obsession, with collectors in New Zealand investing and supporting the classic car market.
One thing worth noting — in the past in New Zealand, buyers never bothered much about a car’s provenance, or, at least, we Kiwis were never too keen on paying money for provenance. This, too, is changing. It is encouraging to see collectors in New Zealand seeking and willing to pay for provenance on their cars.
Today, with stock markets in the doldrums, more and more investors are seeking hard assets. Thus, important cars keep making the right money.
Baby boomers still have all the money to invest in the right cars, and that includes on important cars or cars that were once owned by important owners — so provenance is now important, and it’s good to see Kiwis embracing that.
Collectible cars have outperformed stocks, at least in the past four years. We’re seeing more and more people who are going for the cars they dreamed of as kids. Now, because their portfolios afford it, they’re parking their money in something that has value and that they can also touch. The challenge for collectors is determining the value of classic cars in a market in which pricing is hard to find. One should also consider price swings when investing in cars, but there remains a huge satisfaction in collecting and owning classic vehicles. nowadays see people paying good premiums for these cars and for their provenance, but with higher prices comes the need for more awareness.
This is what we aim to create with these columns. We hope to sow the seed, while creating some of the initial infrastructure for a more sophisticated classic and vintage car market in New Zealand — one that includes and goes beyond the personal joy shared by the traditional club members and the bodies that represent them.
For this to happen, we need enthusiasts, collectors, and investors to think about classic and vintage cars as they do about art, watches, whisky, and stamps — not just as cars. I am not suggesting that we should stop using them; far from it — we should always enjoy our investments and have fun. That is what life is all about!
Safe driving — until next month.