I’m barrelling along the near-kilometre-long main straight at Portugal’s Estoril circuit behind the wheel of the fantastically be-scooped, be-spoilered and be-winged 208mph automotive rocketship that is the new McLaren Senna. After just six laps I already want one, not least because the Senna brakes and handles like no other road-legal supercar I have ever driven – but two obstacles stand in the way: one is the £750,000 price tag, the other is the fact that all 500 slated to be built were sold well before the official launch at the Geneva International Motor Show in March.
It would not be unreasonable to credit McLaren as the inventor of the modern-day, limited edition supercar following its release in 1992 of the now-legendary F1: 106 were produced, with 64 selling at an initial price of around £600,000. To buy one today, you’ll need a sum in the region of £10m.
The potential to make a killing on limited editions (albeit not necessarily a killing of McLaren F1 proportions) encourages wealthy buyers to rush to secure them and, from the manufacturers’ point of view, the ease with which new ones fly off the shelves makes them such effective cash cows that it seems as though another limited edition is announced by one marque or another every couple of weeks.
But while the F1 was at the vanguard of the limited edition trend, it is only during the past decade that leading manufacturers such as Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Jaguar have made them a key element of their model ranges. According to McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt, there are multiple reasons for the rise in popularity of such cars. “The F1 was a very expensive car when it was launched 26 years ago and it took five years to sell out – but now we are operating in a genuinely global market and supplying cars to countries where we once had no presence at all,” says Flewitt, citing the fact that of the 375 limited edition P1 hybrid supercars made available in 2013, a significant 38 went to buyers in China.
Flewitt admits, however, that the lure of potential profit is also a key factor in sales success. “Even the very wealthy enthusiasts who buy them like the fact that they are probably not going to lose money, and one of the reasons for that is that we pitch volumes conservatively so that the cars will definitely sell out. Even if you use these cars quite extensively, it’s unlikely that they will go down in value.”
But securing a limited edition is rarely a simple matter of being among the first to place an order and handing over a hefty deposit, because some supercar manufacturers offer them on an invitation-only basis to established clients, usually on the understanding that they won’t flip them for a quick profit to “outsiders” who failed to make the original cut.
“We do prioritise people who are close to the brand, but we don’t only choose customers who have already bought a limited edition. We prefer them to own two, three or four from the standard ranges and to be regular participants in McLaren events. That said, we do use the limited edition models as an opportunity to find conquest buyers and, of the 500 Senna road cars and 75 track-only GTR versions being built, 30 to 50 will be sold to customers who are new to us.”
The manufacturer of one of the most coveted of all limited edition supercars is undoubtedly Ferrari, whose founder, Enzo Ferrari, once stated that he would always make “one less car than I can sell”. The modern-day Ferrari is known for its insistence that buyers of limited models should not resell soon after purchase, and at the launch of its 499-unit, €1m F70 LaFerrari hybrid five years ago demanded that owners offer their local dealer first refusal should they decide to part with their cars within 18 months.
Although Ferrari clients who flout these guidelines might not be given priority to buy future collectable models, pre-owned LaFerraris soon became available on the market, some at three-times list price. The 210 open-top Aperta versions of the LaFerrari produced from October 2016 until August of this year, meanwhile, originally cost around £1.6m – but no sooner had the car been announced than one broker claimed to be able to source an unused example for £2.8m. That might have sounded excessive at the time – but veteran Derbyshire-based supercar specialist Tom Hartley sold an as-new Aperta in May for £4.5m having bought it for £4m from its original owner who had been “invited in” by Ferrari. “I don’t think the person we bought it from really cared whether or not Ferrari will invite him to buy future limited editions – he’s probably just happy to have made a substantial profit,” says Hartley, who has been in the business of sourcing and selling the rarest and most-difficult-to-obtain classic and supercars for 45 years.
“Limited edition supercars, particularly from Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren, are attracting very strong premiums at the moment. It’s already necessary to pay £500,000 over list to acquire a Senna, for example. It’s a simple matter of demand outstripping supply, and the customer dictates the market. But I think the fact that certain brands operate a very strict policy about reselling is wrong – it’s not right that free trade isn’t allowed and that the manufacturers try to dictate to buyers what they can do with a car that they have paid a large sum of money for. They are very willing to relieve someone of £2m, but they certainly don’t offer refunds when the value of one of their less exclusive models begins to fall,” opines Hartley.
Currently, he says, one of the hottest supercars on the market is the 991 generation Porsche 911 GT2 RS that made its public debut at last year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. The most powerful 911 ever made, its 3.8-litre, flat-six engine produces 691 brake horsepower and can push the car to 211mph. It’s rumoured, but Porsche won’t confirm it, that just 1,000 examples will be produced (£207,506 for the standard version or £228,548 for the lighter Weissach package). Between May and July of this year, however, Hartley sold five as-new examples for around £500,000 apiece. “They are hugely sought after at the moment, not just in the UK but everywhere,” he explains.
Another popular, limited edition Porsche model is the LaFerrari-rivalling 918 Spyder hybrid that was produced in 918 examples between September 2013 and June 2015. At launch, a 918 cost around £781,155, but the cars now change hands for in excess of £1m, while the 911 Speedster concept – unveiled this summer to mark the manufacturer’s 70th anniversary – has already attracted considerable interest despite the fact that no official announcement has been made regarding when, or if, it will enter production.
Supercar dealer Tom Jaconelli – the head buyer at his long-established family firm Romans International of Banstead, Surrey – says ultra-wealthy buyers are also scrambling to source an example of Aston Martin’s forthcoming 1,130-horsepower Valkyrie hybrid hypercar, which is due to be manufactured in an edition of 150 road versions and 25 for track-use only. “Even though the car won’t enter production until well into 2019 and has a guide price of £2.5m to £3m, we have received enquiries from people saying they will happily pay between £500,000 to £1m premium just to get hold of one. There are billionaires who want a Valkyrie, and they will pay whatever it takes.”
Jaconelli says Romans has also received enquiries about sourcing one of the 275 Mercedes-AMG Project One hypercars that are due to enter production next year with a price tag of £2.4m – a figure that didn’t prevent more than 1,000 people applying to Mercedes to own one. Perhaps surprisingly, adds Jaconelli, the car regarded by many as the “ultimate” – Bugatti’s £2m Chiron – has not yet sold out. “Although only 500 are due to be built, the order book is not actually full. If you want to order one from the factory, you’ll have to wait two or three years for it to be built. If you want one now, you’ll have to pay in the region of £500,000 to £700,000 to have a secondhand one found.”
As well as helping to inject large doses of cash into its coffers, the launch of a limited edition can also help in the renaissance of a marque following a dormant period – as demonstrated with the emergence of the new-generation Maserati in the early 2000s when the radical, Ferrari-based MC12 was launched as a halo car and produced in two editions of 25 for the road, plus 12 for the track. At the time, the road versions cost around £500,000 – but now sell for upwards of £1.5m. “It did a great deal to raise the profile of the brand at a very important time, both because it prompted a very successful international racing programme and because the road cars attracted attention to the marque and increased awareness of the regular model range,” recalls Mike Biscoe, general manager of Maserati GB.
The recently revived Brabham marque is counting on achieving a similar level of success with its 70-unit limited edition, track-only BT62 that was launched in May, and a number have already been sold despite its specialist status and a £1.2m price tag. Jaguar Land Rover, meanwhile, uses its Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) division to create an ongoing series of limited edition, high-performance cars that began with the 2014 launch of the Project 7 roadster, a 250-car edition inspired by the D-Type racers of the 1950s and based on the F-Type convertible.
The Project 7 cars, which cost £135,000 at launch, were followed this year by the 600-horsepower XE SV Project 8 saloon, described by the firm as being “the most extreme performance, track-focused road car in Jaguar’s history”. It will be made in 300 examples for around £149,995, while SVO has also developed an edition of 999 Range Rover SV coupés with a starting price of £240,000. Although there’s no guarantee that such limited editions will rise in value, the investment potential shown by many models has seen a handful of UK lenders focus solely on the high-end car market. “Lending money to finance limited edition supercars is a key part of our business,” says chartered accountant Stephen Halstead of JBR Capital. “Values are generally pretty robust, which helps in terms of asset security, and we often arrange equity release schemes for clients based on the value of cars they already have. Interest rates are typically in the seven to nine per cent range depending on the car, and people often prefer it to property finance as a way of generating funds as there are no surveyors’ fees to consider, the money can be supplied quickly and, if a car is sold for a significant profit, there is no capital gains tax.
“We’re also able to put credit lines in place in advance of rare and valuable cars coming to auction and provide money for staged payments once a limited edition car has been ordered and is in production.
“But,” adds Halstead, with a marked note of caution, “we never advocate buying supercars purely for short-term game. That leads to investment bubbles, and those only ever have one outcome…”