How to buy a su­per­car

The re­wards of in­vest­ing in a hal­lowed set of wheels are ob­vi­ous – you end up with your dream car in the garage and get to watch it ap­pre­ci­ate with age. Here, John Evans tells you about the risks


Po­ten­tial pit­falls re­vealed

My neigh­bour James Roxburgh has a prob­lem: his 42,500mile, 1997-reg Fer­rari F355 Ber­linetta man­ual is now worth so much money, he daren’t drive it. He paid £34,000 for the car five years ago in a pri­vate deal but has just been of­fered £80,000 for it by a spe­cial­ist dealer.

“When I bought it, I as­sumed it would never fall much be­low £35,000,” he says. “Now I daren’t take it out of the garage in case I dam­age it.”

Wel­come to the crazy world of used su­per­cars, where prices for the best ex­am­ples mean en­thu­si­asts like James have cars so valu­able, they’re ter­ri­fied to drive them. Tim Mar­low, head of the pres­tige divi­sion at Mag­ni­tude Fi­nance, a ve­hi­cle fi­nance bro­ker that will do £75 mil­lion of busi­ness this year lend­ing about £70,000 per car, says the ris­ing num­bers of lenders is partly to blame.

He ex­plains: “It’s very com­pet­i­tive and some of them en­cour­age cus­tomers into deals by sell­ing this fan­tasy of all cars go­ing up in value month after month. Some, like the Fer­rari F355, do – al­though they have to be dead right, mileage and prove­nance-wise – but oth­ers, like the Fer­rari Tes­tarossa, peaked a cou­ple of years ago and have ac­tu­ally started to drop back. De­spite what some lenders say, not all su­per­cars are guar­an­teed to make money.”

Mar­low says re­spon­si­ble lenders need to know what’s ris­ing in value and what isn’t be­cause many pur­chases are fi­nanced on a form of hire pur­chase that has a fi­nal pay­ment, called a bal­loon, at the end of the term. The higher the bal­loon, the lower the monthly re­pay­ments.

How­ever, the cus­tomer has to even­tu­ally pay the bal­loon – un­like a per­sonal con­tract pur­chase deal, there’s no hand­ing the car back and walk­ing away. A 60% bal­loon on a Lamborghini Gal­lardo is typ­i­cal but if the car isn’t per­fect in every way, it won’t be worth that. This means that should the owner try to sell it to the trade to set­tle their debt, they may face a large short­fall.

As Clive Wil­son, su­per­car edi­tor at CAP HPI, ex­plains, that would most likely be the case right now. He says that as win­ter ap­proaches, the su­per­car mar­ket is cool­ing down: “The heat’s go­ing out of it, es­pe­cially on some older cars. The Fer­rari and Lamborghini mar­ket has been ex­tremely strong and 18 months ago

you could name your price on a F355 or F550. To­day, prices are sen­si­tive to colour, spec­i­fi­ca­tion and his­tory, with a wide gap open­ing up be­tween the best and worst cars.”

Cars you’re scared to drive, bal­loon pay­ments you can’t af­ford, some cars worth much less than oth­ers – it makes you won­der why any­one would buy a used su­per­car un­til, that is, you sit in a Fer­rari and imag­ine cruis­ing down the high street. One man who spends his days turn­ing that dream into a re­al­ity is Mark Rose. He is head buyer at HR Owen, the su­per­car dealer group. His team feeds the sales force with ev­ery­thing from Lam­bos to Bent­leys, As­tons to Fer­raris. They buy 45 cars a month, 80% of them from pri­vate sell­ers – and there’s no room for er­ror.

“Our ap­prais­ers have a four-page ve­hi­cle in­spec­tion form they must com­plete,” Rose says. “They fol­low

It’s very com­pet­i­tive. De­spite what some lenders say, not all su­per­cars are guar­an­teed to make money

Clock­ing is a grow­ing prob­lem. One in every 16 cars HPI has checked has had a mileage dis­crep­ancy

that with a walk-around video of the car. Me and my fel­low buy­ers then give our opin­ion before any deal is done.”

Nat­u­rally, Rose and his team know their prices but, cru­cially, they also know what it costs to pre­pare a car for sale. The last thing they want is Barry Ebbs, ser­vice ad­vi­sor at HR Owen’s work­shop in north Lon­don, hit­ting them with a huge pre-sale prep bill. I join him as he in­spects the un­der­side of a Huracán.

“I’m look­ing for speed-hump scrapes,” he says. “The lip spoiler suf­fers if the car hasn’t got the lift­ing kit, which can’t be retro-fit­ted to this model. Heat wear on discs and tyres from track days can be an is­sue too.”

Back on all four wheels, he fires up the Lambo’s en­gine before slip­ping a borescope be­tween the cylin­der banks to check the en­gine num­ber against the man­u­fac­turer’s records and what is recorded on the V5. Rose chimes in: “We cross-check ev­ery­thing. For ex­am­ple, who is the owner of the car, as dis­tinct from the keeper? Does a com­pany own it? If so, is the com­pany be­ing wound up and are we about to buy a car that now be­longs to the ad­min­is­tra­tors?”

Signs of clock­ing are high on his team’s radar too. “It’s a grow­ing prob­lem,” says Rose. “But where peo­ple think of it as wind­ing 50,000 miles off a 100,000-mile Mon­deo, we’re talk­ing about wind­ing 8000 miles off a 10,000-mile Aven­ta­dor.” HPI, a ve­hi­cle data com­pany, says that, so far this year, one in every 16 cars (all types and not only su­per­cars) that it has checked has had a ‘mileage dis­crep­ancy’. In 2014, it was one in 20. An HPI spokesman says PCP deals are partly to blame. “Peo­ple choose a lower an­nual mileage to keep them af­ford­able and then over­shoot,” he says. “If their cir­cum­stances have changed and they have to hand the car back to the fi­nance com­pany, they’re hit with an ex­pen­sive penalty. Hav­ing the car clocked is of­ten cheaper.”

And cir­cum­stances do change to the ex­tent that some­one who has a su­per­car on fi­nance may no longer be able to in­sure it. Last year, HPI Crush­watch, the ser­vice that en­ables the police to re­unite unin­sured cars with the fi­nance com­pa­nies that own them, saved two Aven­ta­dors, two Hu­racáns, four Fer­rari 458s and one Mclaren 12C from the police crusher.

But de­spite all the risks, new play­ers are still en­ter­ing the su­per­car mar­ket. One of the lat­est is Re­nais­sance Clas­sics, in Ri­p­ley, Sur­rey. It spe­cialises in Fer­raris and Porsches, and be­gan trad­ing in May. It’s early days – so far the com­pany has sold 20 cars – but founder Keith Sohl has big am­bi­tions.

“We’ve al­most fin­ished build­ing a row of air-con­di­tioned garages at the rear of the main build­ing from where we’ll sell the most ex­pen­sive su­per­cars on be­half of cus­tomers,” he says. “The ser­vice will be se­cure, dis­creet and ex­pert, which is the en­vi­ron­ment these su­per­ex­pen­sive cars need.”

Mean­while, out front, Sohl plans to add to the com­pany’s grow­ing stock of what he calls ‘turnover cars’ (£50,000 911s – the 996 se­ries is pop­u­lar with first-timers – the oc­ca­sional R8 man­ual and Fer­rari F348s, 430s and 360s) plus sub£100,000 ‘in­vest­ment cars’.

Some cus­tomers buy six at a time. Their money’s mak­ing noth­ing in the bank, so if they buy right, why not?

“Some might say we’re en­ter­ing the mar­ket just as it’s plateaued but all mar­kets have their cy­cles, even the cars them­selves,” says Sohl, whose per­sonal col­lec­tion in­cludes a Fer­rari Dino 246. “For ex­am­ple, the Fer­rari Mon­dial may be cheap and un­pop­u­lar but it’ll bounce back. It’s a Fer­rari, it’s not made any more and the num­ber of Mon­di­als is fall­ing, so it’s in­evitable that val­ues for the best will start to rise.”

About 250 miles far­ther north in Knares­bor­ough is a su­per­car dealer that started not last May but 20 years ago. To­day, Red­line Spe­cial­ist Cars is pos­si­bly the UK’S most suc­cess­ful su­per­car dealer, sell­ing 300 a year.

“All things are rel­a­tive but su­per­cars re­ally are much more af­ford­able these days,” says John Graeme, the sales di­rec­tor. “Some cus­tomers buy as many as six at a time for in­vest­ment; their money’s not mak­ing any­thing in the bank, so if they buy right, why not?”

First-timers might be­gin with an older R8, a 911 Turbo, a 430 or a Gal­lardo, he says, before, after a cou­ple of years, mov­ing on to a 458, a Huracán or a 911 Turbo S. After that, it’s 488, Aven­ta­dor S, F12 or Mclaren. “It’s a buoy­ant mar­ket with no signs of Brexit jit­ters,” says Graeme. His tip for fu­ture star­dom is a 2012 911 Turbo S: “It’ll set you back around £105,000 but it’s a spe­cial model that, cru­cially, is in limited sup­ply. Also, the Aven­ta­dor SV – now mak­ing £300,000, up 20% in the past cou­ple of years.”

But what if you cut deal­ers out of the loop by buy­ing at an auc­tion? What kinds of su­per­cars end up here?

BCA Black­bushe hosts what it calls a Top Car sale of pres­tige and per­for­mance cars twice a month. If you’re lucky, there may be a cou­ple of other pres­tige sales run­ning as well. I’m lucky. The day I visit, HR Owen and Porsche Re­tail Group are of­fload­ing be­low-par trade-ins.

There are some tempt­ing pick­ings (see box, be­low left) but, as with all auctions, it pays to go a few times just to get used to the sys­tem, the pace and, of course, the prices. Take a friend or a spe­cial­ist tech­ni­cian who knows their su­per­cars.

Some cars are cov­ered by BCA’S As­sured scheme, a 30-point AA me­chan­i­cal check that costs £40. How­ever, the cars I’m in­ter­ested in are sim­ply de­scribed as hav­ing no ma­jor me­chan­i­cal faults, or sold as seen.

Among the Top Car lots is a 39,000-mile, 2005-reg Fer­rari F430 F1 Spi­der. Fin­ished in red, it has had six ser­vices (the last one at 38,000 miles) and three keep­ers. It’s not in the best condition (the near­side front wing has had paint, the driver’s side mir­ror is taped on and one cor­ner of the hood is slightly dam­aged). If I were buy­ing, I’d go through that ser­vice his­tory care­fully and try to check if the ex­haust man­i­fold is cracked (a prob­lem on the 430). Bids reach £64,600 before it is with­drawn.

It’s not the only one that fails to meet its re­serve. Still, that’s to be ex­pected when you have cars en­tered by in­di­vid­u­als. After the sale, the auc­tion com­pany may act as go-be­tween, en­abling buyer and seller to agree a deal. In group sales, like HR Owen’s, cars tend to sell on the ham­mer be­cause cor­po­rate sell­ers can af­ford to spread their gains and losses across mul­ti­ple lots. Still, buy­ing at auc­tion is not for me. Un­til I can af­ford to run a su­per­car, never mind buy one, I’ll duck out.

I leave with Wil­son’s words of warn­ing ring­ing in my ears: “If a su­per­car goes through the auctions, there’s a usu­ally a rea­son – the wrong one.” Per­haps I’ll just go round to James’s place and we can look at the F355 in his garage, while he tells me how much he’d like to drive it, if only he could af­ford to.

Lambo mar­ket has been strong but win­ter is a good time to buy

HR Owen’s Bent­ley GT (top); ap­prais­ing a Rolls-royce (be­low)

Huracán’s wheels are re­moved to search for speed-hump scrapes

Rose and Ebbs on in­spec­tion at HR Owen’s work­shop

Roxburgh’s Fer­rari is now so valu­able, he is too ner­vous to drive it Value of F355s will only rise if they are “dead right”

En­gine is ex­am­ined to en­sure it matches the of­fi­cial records

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