In the minds of most, the definition of a classic car is that it’s old. The term was first coined in October 1973 with the launch of Classic Car magazine, featuring the then-new MGB GT and a 1946 MG TC (the classic) on its cover. But old age is no longer a prerequisite of classic status, and the label is increasingly being used to describe standout models produced this side of the millennium’s turn. These cars have given rise to a new automotive category: the modern classic.
For Geneva-based entrepreneur Daniel Spadini, both traditional and modern classics appeal. He has driven his 1970s Citroën DS and 1959 Jaguar Mk 1 in long-distance rallies all around the globe, but when he wants to head off on holiday or go for a blast in the mountains, he jumps into his 2005 Ford GT.
The GT was launched in 2003 to mark Ford’s centenary, and its low-slung looks recall the celebrated GT40s that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans no fewer than four times in the 1960s. But while the original was a raw, seat-of-the-pants racing machine that champed at the bit at low speeds and offered no concessions to comfort, the 21st-century incarnation combines 200mph performance with a docile low-speed demeanour and a welcoming – if not luxurious – interior.
“I think the GT is quite amazing,” says Spadini. “It looks fabulous and is totally reliable, yet it is still a true driver’s car. There’s little in the way of electronics – no GPS, no onboard computer, there isn’t even a clock. But, since buying it in 2008 for $120,000, I have driven it 35,000 miles without a single problem. It is the sort of car that younger buyers regard as a classic, just as I might have viewed a prewar car when I was in my 20s.”
Spadini’s GT has more than doubled in value since he bought it (RM Sotheby’s sold one for $296,500 last August) – a typical indicator of a modern car achieving classic status. When Bonhams held a charity auction at Switzerland’s Bonmont Golf and Country Club last autumn, the 25 modern supercars that crossed the block raised a double-estimate total of $23.6m. The sale highlight was a 2014 Lamborghini Veneno, one of nine made to celebrate the marque’s 50th anniversary; it cost $4.5m new, but was hammered down for $8.6m. Meanwhile, a 2014 Koenigsegg One:1 (one of six made) drew $4.8m; a 2011 Aston Martin One-77 fetched $1.6m; and a Ferrari LaFerrari sold for $2.1m – all considerably more than the cars cost new.
For enthusiast George Bamford, founder of Bamford Watch Department, 21st-century classics are all about drivability. “When two drivers of old classic cars pass each other and wave, you know the other person is sharing your anxiety about breaking down,” says Bamford – the son of JCB tycoon and classic car collector Lord Bamford – adding that he has no such worries when behind the wheel of his 2016 Jaguar F-Type Project 7, a limited-edition, V8-engined roadster based on the production F-Type sports car.
“The Project 7 is already regarded as a classic, although values have yet to start rising significantly above the original purchase price of £135,000,” says Bamford. “But it has all the ingredients for a sound investment. It was named after Jaguar’s seven Le Mans wins, and just 250 were made. I love the historic details, such as the hump behind the driver that echoes the fins of the D-Type racers of the 1950s. It’s an uncompromising driver’s car; it doesn’t even have a roof.”
Another modern classic with unabashed focus on performance is the Audi R8 GT – just 33 of which were imported into the UK following the 2010 launch of the lightened, track-focused model. For those looking for value, however, Bamford recommends Bentley’s two-door Continental T and R models produced until the early 2000s. Auction house Coys recently sold a pristine R with racing-green paintwork and ivory-leather interior for £24,150, slightly short of the low estimate.
“I only attended the sale to have a look at what was on offer; I had no intention of buying anything,” says the Bentley’s new owner, Formula One journalist Adam Hay-Nicholls. “It was a mad buy, but it runs beautifully and I’m in love with it. A 6.3-litre, turbocharged Bentley with 88,000 miles on the clock… Who could resist?”
While all the major specialist car auction houses (notably Artcurial, Bonhams, Gooding & Company and RM Sotheby’s) now include rarefied modern classics in their sales, last year Bonhams launched its MPH series of auctions to focus on cars costing less than £50,000 from the 1980s onwards. “There is huge interest in this area of the market right now,” says MPH specialist Rob Hubbard. “The sector offers all the pleasures of classic motoring in terms of looks, driver appeal and eligibility for events, but combined with reliability, speed and a resistance to the rust that has always been a problem with older cars. Plus non-limited-edition cars can be extremely affordable; a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG, for example, can be had for £15,000, against £100,000 when new in the early 2000s. And the Jaguar XK8 coupes and convertibles built until 2006 are also remarkable value for money at less than £20,000.”
In recent years, Porsche has also addressed demand for limited-edition versions of celebrated models. The 911, for instance, was rethought as the 911R, which went on sale in 2016 with a price tag of £137,000. With the engine from the high-performance GT3 RS, a purist’s manual gearbox and the houndstooth interior found in 1960s models, just 991 were made, all of which were instantly snapped up. One is currently back on the market, however, at London dealer International Collectables – for £295,000. A modern classic? Undoubtedly.
This story was originally posted on 22 April 2020.