Should you invest in a Classic?

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Invest_in_a_Classic Series I and late Defender models are in high demand : credit: © Alisdair Cusick
How do you go about buying a nice, affordable classic Land Rover that may give you a lot of pleasure as well as a return on your investment? Gary Pusey shares his thoughts and experiences…

What is it they say at the end of every advertisement exhorting you to buy a financial services product? ‘‘The value of your investment can go down as well as up’’, or something like that. And then there’s the thing you always hear from specialist dealers and advisers about whatever it is you collect. Whether you’re a petrolhead or a pocillovist, they tell you to buy only because you like it and not because you think it’s an investment. And since you ask, a pocillovist is an egg cup collector. How do I know that? I live with one.

What always fascinates me is that all these advisers offer such sage and sensible words of caution to us, but completely ignore it themselves. I haven’t yet met a Land Rover dealer, or any kind of classic car dealer for that matter, who hasn’t got an eye on which way the market is going, and what vehicles make sense to tuck away for a few years. I presume that dealers in pocillovy are the same, although I have to confess I don’t know any.

The question for us as Land Rover enthusiasts is whether we can also make a bit of a profit by buying wisely, while at the same time owning a vehicle we can enjoy. I learned a long time ago that I derive a great deal of satisfaction from parting with a vehicle for more than I paid for it, and I have a visceral dislike of depreciation. I have never understood why so many people make a headlong dash to buy a new car that loses a third of its value the minute you put a shiny new tyre outside the polished showroom floor. The current obsession with Personal Contract Plans probably makes it worse, by hiding the depreciation behind convenient monthly payments that encourage people to take on a vehicle they might otherwise not be able to afford, but then I’m not an expert on PCPs. I prefer to buy and own my cars. You may see it differently, and that’s fine.

So what follows is very much my personal perspective on buying Land Rovers with a view to them delivering a profit when you come to sell them. I’ll share with you some of my own experiences and thoughts and explore some of the recent happenings in the marketplace. And now for the disclaimer: I am not offering you investment advice, and the value of the Land Rover you buy may go down as well as up. It may even stay the same!

I'll also give you my six rules for investing, learned from the painful experience of getting my own fingers singed, or seeing people I know get theirs burnt!

 

WHAT HAS ALREADY GONE UP IN VALUE?

Pre-production Land Rover L11

Series I pre-production vehicles

Only 48 were built and 21 are known to have survived. Others may still be out there waiting to be discovered: JLR Classic’s Pre-pro L07 was found in a Birmingham garden as recently as 2006. Any pre-pro is hugely desirable and very valuable, perhaps even more so now, given what has happened to production Series I values over the past few years. Track down a missing one and you’ll have your pension sorted, but don’t spend too much time looking for the fabled Centre Steer! Most historians agree that it no longer exists.

North American Dollar Area Series Is are popular​​​​​​

Series I

Any Series I is now valuable, but the early lights through the grille 80in model are generally more highly prized, although a later model with 86 or 88in wheelbase is more practical. 107s are very desirable, and bespoke models such as the coach-built Tickford station wagon command a premium. JLR Classic has been offering Reborn Series Is for a number of years now, and the attraction of a factory build has meant some collectors have been willing to pay big money. The market was astonished when Reborn Car Zero sold at auction in October last year for an inclusive price of $240,800 (around £172,000). No one is saying what JLR charged its first owner for it, but rumours are that it was around £100,000. Not a bad return for two and a half years of ownership!

Tickford station wagon

Velar

The pre-production Range Rovers are as desirable as the pre-pro Land Rovers, and for similar reasons. Both are the pioneers of their respective breeds, and all did interesting things during Rover’s vehicle engineering development and testing activities. Values started to climb in 2010 around the time of the 40th anniversary, as they did for all classic Range Rovers, although a Velar is always going to be more highly prized than even the earliest production two-door Range Rover. Amazingly, most of the Velars have survived although there are still a few missing. Rumours of survivors come up from time to time, and I heard one only a few weeks ago, concerning a Velar that was buried in a landfill site in Australia… allegedly.

Velars have gone up in value dramatically over the past ten years

CSK and Suffix A are hugely desirable and command strong money

Late production Defenders have been selling for considerably more than they cost new

Defender

We all know that real Defenders remain in huge demand, and there is no sign of this slackening off. Maybe values still have a way to go? There are many examples of late production Defenders changing hands for prices significantly higher than their retail price just five years ago, especially those that have barely turned a wheel in the intervening years. There are plenty to choose from, and anything with a factory fitted V8 will be a good buy, as are limited editions like the Defender 50th. Genuine NAS 90s and 110s are gold-plated investments. There are many specialist conversion companies fighting for the wallets of buyers who want something individual and bespoke, and typically a lot faster than the factory original.

Plenty of ultra-expensive, bespoke Defenders available

Works V8

JLR Classic continues to offer its own reimagined Defenders, which began with the Works V8 and continues with the latest V8 Trophy model, all of which are positioned as factory built alternatives to the independents that have been offering tweaked Defenders for years. JLR’s Gerry McGovern famously commented that the company wanted to put all of the independents out of business, but despite the company’s best efforts there are still plenty of these to choose from: there seems to be an insatiable demand for ultra-expensive bespoke Defenders, whoever builds them. There are recent examples of privately-owned Works V8s changing hands for £60,000 to £80,000 above the JLR sale price, and JLR themselves had a used Works V8 for sale recently at £10,000 more than they sold it for.

 

WHAT MIGHT GO UP IN VALUE?

Series II now following the upward trajectory of the Series I

Series II

The Series II is in many ways a far more practical Land Rover than a Series I, and many think it is more attractive as well. Values have been increasing for some time, probably driven by the fact that Series Is are now too rich for many people’s pockets. My guess is they still have a way to go.

Series III perhaps the one to watch

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Series III

The one to watch, with values starting to increase but with the potential for real growth. A very practical and usable Land Rover with all the charm of a Series vehicle but with greater usability and relatively more comfort. A Series III is probably still the cheapest way to get into Land Rover ownership.

Huge rise in interest in the early coil-sprung Stage 2 vehicles

Early coilers

Interest in the early coil-sprung vehicles is a relatively recent but probably inevitable phenomenon, and there is a thriving social media community that not only owns these vehicles but is also very actively engaged in new research, which all adds to the interest. It is fascinating to see how much is coming out about a period of Land Rover history that saw the traditional leaf-sprung Land Rover transitioning to the coil-sprung Ninety and One Ten, and the Defender. It’s an era that is rich in prototype and development vehicles that are still reasonably accessible in terms of price, and lots of potential for restoration work and projects are making these vehicles increasingly popular.

What’s not to like?​​​​​​

Stage I V8

With their hybrid appearance of Stage III body with a revised, flush front with clunky mesh grille, these have always been popular vehicles, but interest is undoubtedly increasing. Ongoing research is turning up new aspects regarding the development of these vehicles, including things like the ultra-rare 88in short wheelbase models. The Stage 1 was in production for only a relatively short period of time, and many were sold abroad. A good Stage 1 is a lovely thing to own and I think values will increase.

Finding Discovery I and IIs in sound, original condition is increasingly difficult

Discovery I and II

I’d say these are a sound buy now and will only continue to go up in value. Finding a good, rot-free example is getting harder by the day, but if you find one, then go for it! The fabled G-WAC development and press launch vehicles are always going to be interesting, in the same way the Velars are, but it is wise to remember that not every Land Rover with a factory registration number is an historically important vehicle. It might just have been somebody’s company car!

Will the P38A increase in value? We think so

Range Rover P38A

I remain convinced that the second-generation Range Rover will go up in value. The gremlins that laid them low back in the day have been tamed over the intervening years, and the P38A is looking more and more like a sound bet. They are far better protected against corrosion than their predecessors and have a much higher level of comfort. And the on-board tech that gave problems way back is now seen as nothing compared with what the later L322 might throw at you! P38A production was notable for the many special editions that were offered, and some of these like the Holland & Holland are increasingly popular. P38A production also included the fabled Linley, which remains the rarest production Range Rover with only six made, five of which are believed to survive.

 

Investment Lemons

They’re all excellent vehicles, but will they make good investments?

I’m not sure I’d be putting my money into any Range Rover later than a P38A, and that includes the Sport and Evoque. The same applies to the D3 and D4 and all variants of the Freelander. That’s not to say they are bad cars. They’re not, and many of them can provide you with something that is exceptionally accomplished and enjoyable for not a lot of money. It’s simply that I don’t see them as a purchase that you can expect to provide you with a decent return over time. But I may be wrong, and your crystal ball may be better than mine!

 

Six rules for investing

Defender or Series I: Buy the Land Rover you like the most

1. Jumping on the bandwagon: This can be a dangerous thing after it’s already started rolling. Savvy investors get in early. The people that make the biggest returns are the ones that buy before the rest of us have even seen it coming. Once the rest of us cotton on, you can still jump on as the market rises. But leave it too late and you may pay top dollar for something just as the values level out.

2. There is a big difference between tactical flipping and strategic buying: Spotting something you can buy today and sell for a quick profit tomorrow is one thing; investing in a vehicle because you think it will increase in value over the coming years is another matter entirely. I’ve never been any good at flipping, mainly because I only ever buy cars that pluck at my heartstrings, cars that I want to keep. That’s probably why I’m not a dealer. In fact, I’d be a lousy dealer because I’d never want to sell anything.

3. Buying because you think a model is going to increase in value: This means that once you’ve bought it you need to hang on to it for a while. Sometimes quite a few years. This might mean you need to think about where you’re going to keep it. Obviously, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to buy a Range Rover classic or an early Discovery in good condition and leave it outside for several years.

4. Don’t put all you eggs in the same basket: Spread your bets as far as your means will allow you to. It might be better to have your cash tied up in two or three vehicles rather than place your bet on just one becoming the new high-flyer.

5. Only invest within your means: It should be blindingly obvious, but my view is that you should never borrow to invest. Well, not unless you’re a pro and prepared to take the risk and can afford the potential loss. I’m not. I once knew a man who re-mortgaged his house to raise cash to invest in steam locomotive nameplates. You know the sort of thing. A huge chunk of cast brass that was once bolted on the side of 130 tonnes of engine. The only problem was that he failed to spot the fact that the people buying this stuff were of a certain age and were reliving their youth in the 1930s, when they stood on the end of the platform at King's Cross as the steam-hauled Flying Scotsman departed for Edinburgh. As they died off, there was no new generation of buyers to step in. He lost a lot of money.

6. Buy what you like: Whichever Land Rover you buy, it is still just another vehicle, and it will benefit from being used, even if only relatively sparingly. If you don’t really like it, you’re unlikely to use it. Land Rovers are no different from other vehicles – they don’t like sitting in a shed for years on end. It’s also worth saying that originality is the new buzzword, whether unrestored originality complete with priceless patina, or restored to original factory spec. But if its restored, make sure it isn’t shot full of pattern and non-genuine parts. Whatever you buy needs to tick these boxes and, if it has been modified, make sure everything can be readily reversed. This includes thinking about the parts you might need in order to return something back to factory spec, and whether those parts are readily available. It’s amazing how much is now unobtanium for many classic Land Rovers models.

All the normal things that apply to any other old car are relevant to classic Land Rovers as well: originality, history and provenance, old documents and photographs, records of work carried out and invoices, MoT certificates, old tax discs, original handbooks and dealer pack, toolkit… You get the picture.

 

Find more of our helpful buying advice here.