When I have my I’m-the-Business-Owner hat on, my number-one pet peeve has to be the frequently asked question, “Which of these cars is a good investment?”
I can’t bite my lip hard enough to avoid looking a potential client in the face and shouting, loudly, in my local Bostonian colloquialism, “ARE YOU SOFT?”
Thankfully, I have a pat reply that has been finely honed over the years and is simply this: “Cars are either an increasing liability or a depreciating asset. You choose.” It’s a blunt, but honest, answer.
Classic cars and the word investment have been holding hands for only a few decades and, within that time, some of those cars have increased in value and others have decreased. Do not attempt to use your children’s college fund to hedge your passion into a four-wheel risk, for you’ll be sorry. Better to buy silver or gold instead.
My philosophy on classic cars and casually collecting them is that they are for enjoyment and for something I refer to as Live Longer Therapy. Get one, smile, use it, and let it lower your blood pressure as you drive to the beach, track, or club event. Stare at in your garage and admire it if that’s its purpose. Buy it in place of, or as a supplement to, seeing a “shrink.” But please don’t calculate the money you think you might make with it.
Now arguably, when the stock market isn’t performing well and you’re getting a .00005% return on your money in the local savings bank, folks tend to consider and invest in hard assets, classic cars being perceived as one of them. Just be careful. Buying cars as investments is a minefield without the guidance of those professionals in the know – and even we make mistakes.
Of course, philosophies and rules all have exceptions, and since a great many people reading this are going to keep asking about investments I will relent just a bit and tell you what I consider to be the safest car to buy and then get your money out after enjoying it: The Mercedes Benz 300SL Coupe, a.k.a. The Gullwing. With it, you will most likely end up making a decent return on your initial outlay and you’ll certainly be richer with memories.
You’ve heard the countless clichés regarding money, investments, and real estate, among them “Buy low, sell high,” “past performance is no guarantee of future returns,” and the age-old, real estate chestnut, “location, location, location.” All of these clichés work within the classic car world as well, with some modification to the verbiage and topic.
The Gullwing is the automotive answer to “location, location, location” in the real estate world. It is the Nantucket beach house, the co-op on Central Park West or the leasehold in Mayfair. It will never go out of fashion. If we ever run out of fossil fuel, these cars will still be object d’art all over the world for car aficionados and art collectors to covet and admire.
One thousand four hundred Gullwings were manufactured between 1954 and 1957 and even Mercedes produced their own homage to it within the last year with the modern SLS. (As a personal side note, this is like remaking Casablanca. Draw your own conclusions). The Gullwing transcends age groups like no other car. The adage of “you collect what you desired in high school” doesn’t apply to this revolutionary engineering marvel; all age groups seem to want one.
The Gullwing is widely considered to be one of the best cars ever built, dominating its contemporaries in every category and holding its own today on the street, at the track, and at any concours. Right now there is even one sitting on display at the Louvre as part of the Ralph Lauren collection.
So when we consider car collecting in light of that dirty word investment, the exception is the Gullwing, which was never just a trendy “it” car, like many classics. It never spiked in value or became the thing to have one year. There has always been steady, consistent growth from year to year as the fan base grew ever larger and larger. Like any other solid investment, the line on the graph in price guides has always been a slow and steady upward climb.
There’s no guarantee here. But if I had one car in my garage to call a “bullet proof” place to park some discretionary funds, it would be a Gullwing. And for those who are aching to ask, “Well, what’s second place? What’s the silver medal?” That’s easy.
The 300 SL Roadster. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.