Vintage rules at auto fair

Many visitors at the Goodwood Revival are dressed in period costumes to match the vintage cars on display.
Many visitors at the Goodwood Revival are dressed in period costumes to match the vintage cars on display. PHOTOS: REUTERS
Many visitors at the Goodwood Revival are dressed in period costumes to match the vintage cars on display.
Many visitors at the Goodwood Revival are dressed in period costumes to match the vintage cars on display.

Old race cars return to the tracks at England's Goodwood Revival every September, drawing enthusiasts and investors

Goodwood Revival is a nostalgia- drenched festival held every September on the Earl of March's estate outside Chichester, England. The event, which memorialises the heyday of Goodwood's motor circuit, where races were held from 1948 to 1966, draws thousands of classic auto enthusiasts, dressed in period costume, who go to gawk at old race cars and watch them thunder once more around the speedway.

For classic car broker and consultant Simon Kidston, the nostalgia is often personal, even though, at 48, he is too young to have seen these cars in their prime. Strolling through Goodwood's paddocks, where cars are displayed and prepped for the track, he gazes at a row of 1960s-era Ferraris with the wistful look of a man who has spied an ex-lover in a crowd. He points to a canary yellow 1965 Ferrari 250 LM. "That was the first valuable car I sold," he says. "I drove all over London in that car when I was 24."

Of course, "valuable" back then - in 1992 - meant the car was worth US$1.8 million. Today, that Ferrari is worth US$15 million (S$21 million).

And while Ferrari prices have been especially turbocharged, the entire classic car market has been hotter than the exhaust pipes of a Shelby Daytona after a run on the Bonneville Salt Flats. This year, vintage cars were the best-performing alternative asset class tracked by Bloomberg, returning 13 per cent through June 30 and an average of more than 25 per cent a year for the past three years, according to London-based Historic Automobile Group International.

It has pretty much been that way since the 2008 financial crisis, as investors have piled into the market looking for hard assets with reliable returns. Indexes that track classic car values have recorded double-digit returns every year for seven years.

Mr Kidston has had a pit-row seat for this race towards ever-higher valuations. "He is a key figure in the industry," says Mr Mick Walsh, editor-in-chief of Classic & Sports Car magazine. "His contacts among collectors with the best cars in the world and his knowledge of the subject are really second to none."

Now, Mr Kidston says he is on a mission to bring greater transparency to a market rife with misinformation and shady practices - including dealers who trade the same car among themselves to inflate its value or who try to pass cars off as similar, more valuable models. In November last year, to give collectors what he says is a better gauge of value than a dealer's word, he launched the K500, an index compiled from public auction sales data for 500 valuable vintage models. His K500 website also offers a "collectibility rating" and price guidelines.

The project is not without its detractors - competing indexes use different methodologies - but he sees the K500 becoming a tool for collectors in much the same way wine critic Robert Parker's ratings have become essential for oenophiles.

The Geneva-based Mr Kidston headed the motoring department at auction house Brooks and then at Bonhams, which Brooks acquired, for almost a decade before striking out on his own in 2006. Over the past decade, he has brokered sales of some of the most expensive vintage cars, including two 1963 Ferrari 250 GTOs (worth US$40 million to US$50 million each), a 1937 Mercedes-Benz W125 Grand Prix car (US$30 million), three 1964 Ferrari 250 LMs ($16 million each), three 1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagatos (US$12 million each), and three early-1960s Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyders (US$17 million each).

His personal collection includes a McLaren F1 supercar, a Mercedes- Benz 300SL Gullwing, a Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS, a 1992 Bentley Continental and a 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Cabriolet.

There are signs car collectors may be starting to take their foot off the accelerator: This year, the percentage of cars selling at auction has fallen. At Bonhams' auction at this year's Goodwood Revival, several multi-million-pound Ferraris and Jaguars failed to find buyers.

Mr Kidston partly blames the auction houses for this state of affairs, saying that they saturate the market by scheduling too many auctions over the same few weeks in September and promise owners unrealistic estimates to win consignments. The quality of the cars on offer suffers as a result, he says.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline 'Vintage rules at auto fair'. Print Edition | Subscribe