A lingering concern for many in the classic car world in recent years has been the apparent failure of many cars from the ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties to enter the realms of classic-dom. Whether or not you’d brand such cars as ‘classics’ (let’s just stick with that for now, for the sake of simplicity), there is an obvious problem with the fact that cars from the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties are becoming ever more valuable while the cars from subsequent decades, that you would expect to start filling the ranks and bringing in a new generation of owners into the fold, linger as unloved ‘bangers’.
This actually made the national mainstream news last year when it was revealed that many once-popular cars from that era now exist in tiny numbers, with no sign that classic status was around the corner to rescue the survivors from the scrapyard. This is nothing new – most mainstream cars of the definitive classic era also ended up in the crusher – but cars like the Triumph Acclaim, Vauxhall Chevette and Ford Sierra are at risk of extinction while their predecessors (the Dolomite, Viva and Cortina) became bona fide classics when they reached the same age.
It’s been debated if this is to do with something fundamentally different, either with the cars or the people of the era – are cars from the ‘Eighties just not as inherently stylish and desirable going into the future as ones of the ‘Sixties, or was the ‘Baby Boomer Generation’ a cohort of car enthusiasts in the way that the ‘Generation X’ that followed them simply wasn’t?
Fortunately there are signs afoot that it’s been a simple matter of demographics and economics. Currently undisputed classics like the Jaguar Mk2 and the MGB led the major ‘classic car boom’ in the ‘Eighties because the generation that, at that time, had the disposable income to spend on a frivolous old car was the one for whom those cars had previously been desirable.
The existence of the ‘mid-life crisis’ as an actual phenomenon may be up for debate but it’s irrefutable that as each generation reaches middle age it has more money to spend. The mortgage is paid off, the children leave home and the higher-salaried positions at work are reached. What better time to finally indulge that dream held since childhood of an MG or a Jaguar? ‘And aren’t they cheap at the moment?’.
The demand kicks in, the prices climb, people realise there is money to made selling, maintaining and providing spares for these cars, some clubs are formed and, suddenly, what was just an old car is now a classic.
Now there are signs that the same thing is happening with the previously unloved cars of the ‘Eighties, in exactly the same way. Just as MGs, Triumphs and Jaguars led the charge of the last classic car boom, now it’s ‘Eighties supercars like Ferrari 308s, Lotus Esprits and Lamborghini Countachs that are seeing healthy price rises. The annual Price Guide from classic insurance provider Hagerty reports that sound 308s, long seen as the ‘cheap Ferrari’, have tripled in their average values in the past year.
Just as the teenager of the ‘Sixties desired a natty British sports car his (and the ‘mid-life crisis’ is a predominantly male phenomenon) ‘Eighties counterpart aspired to a hot hatchback and values of these cars are also starting to climb. A few years ago a decent Volkswagen Golf GTI or a Vauxhall Astra GTE could be yours for £2000, but now you would need double that to find a trouble-free example of either. The same goes for the MkIII Ford Capri, once thought an incredibly naff and flabby poor relation of the svelte ‘Sixties original. Prices have risen 80 per cent in the past year.
An article in the American business magazine Forbes called this the ‘bedroom wall syndrome’ – the ‘Eighties cars now seeing their values on the rise were the poster material of the age. As the Forbes article points out, a man who is 50 now was born in 1964 and was 16 in 1980, the year Tom Selleck drove a Ferrari 308 in Magnum PI. This is how our tastes and dreams of car ownership are formed and now these 50-year olds have the time and means to live that dream.
The common factor is an element of desirability, and this is why the likes of the Peugeot 305 and the Nissan Bluebird aren’t out of the danger zone yet. In the ‘Eighties an Austin-Healey 3000 was a sure-fire classic because of ‘bedroom wall syndrome’. An Austin 1100 was not – that was what Mr Baby-Boomer’s dad drove, not what he bought issues of Motorsport to read about. The little Austin didn’t enter certain classic status until the ‘Nineties, and the same went for many other more mundane cars of the ‘Sixties.
But what I might call ‘my dad had one of those’ syndrome can still lead to these cars becoming classics. They’re fulfilling a sense of nostalgia, but a very different sort from the wish-fulfilment of the sports and luxury cars, and it does take longer to take hold. So the fact that the likes of the Lotus Esprit and Astra GTE are finally appreciating in value is a good sign as it means that the same effect will eventually kick in for the more ordinary cars – provided they’re still around to save. Time is running out for rare and unexciting scrapyard fodder like the Talbot Horizon and the Morris Ital.
The demographic shift opens up another possibility. If current classics are treated as such because of the sense of wish-fulfilment and nostalgia they provoke in their owners, what happens when the baby boomer generation is no more? Will their children be that touched to inherit dad’s old MGB when it’s stealing garage space from their prized MG Metro Turbo? Could a debate in the classic car scene in the future be not that cars are too new to be considered classics, but that they’re too old?
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Is the rise in ‘Eighties car values down to a new generation’s ‘mid-life crisis’ or is it something else? Whatever your views, drop a comment below and let us know what you think.