“One of only [insert lowish number here] ” – a phrase I wish could be applied to the number of classic car classifieds which start with the same opening gambit. We’ve become obsessed with numbers in the classic car game – bigger is generally better when it comes to speed, engines and price sold at auction, lower wins when related to production numbers, weight and price paid by you.
Last week, an important Morris Minor – chassis number 1,000,000 – was sold at auction, tellingly just a number of weeks after chassis 1,000,001 sold in the States for a sum that most Moggies can only dream of achieving. In the interests of keeping things simple, BMC decided to manufacture more than one “millionth” Minor and produced a limited edition of 350 cars (or 349 – details are sketchy) called the Minor Million.
Finished in an unappealing shade of lilac, 20 or so made it to the USA, one of which was chassis 1,000,001, the first left hand drive model for the North American market. Now that would make it a pretty rare car – one of only 20 – and therefore valuable, wouldn’t it? Not really, the US car sold for around £20,000 and chassis 1,000,000 for a few thousand more.
We rarely see a classic sports car advertised now without the supporting numbers – a recent favourite description being “the 460th of only 508 H-Series ROW Carreras”. Assuming there are 509 desperate buyers for an H-Series ROW Carrera, then we can all agree that it’s a rare and desirable beast – if not, it’s just one of a sizeable batch that aren’t all sold.
‘These small numbers were and still are used for marketing purposes – nothing more, nothing less.‘
Consider the guy at the pub who is trying to sell us his early Aston Martin DBS V12 manual (the new one)? Should we be impressed by the fact that it was an early car (chassis number 50, for argument’s sake) or do we tell him his car is worth less because it is a manual and it doesn’t have the all-important Bang & Olufsen sound system that the later cars got and everyone wants.
Now, imagine he is trying to sell us another car – his 50th off the production line, series 1 flat floor, external bonnet latch, welded louvre E-type and that you are telling him it’s worth less than the later, and in most ways better, Series1 4.2. He’ll think you are mad because the chassis number is low and there are less of them and less is good, right?
With modern cars, everyone will tell you the ‘first of the line’ cars have teething problems and are less well developed and that the ‘last of the line’ cars are run out specials to shift the final, outdated batch. When it comes to classics, the opposite becomes true – the first are the purest and most desirable, the last the final precious examples of a much loved breed.
When selling classic cars, just like the Minor Million and the Jaguar E-Type Commemorative, these small numbers were and still are used for marketing purposes – nothing more, nothing less. In terms of value and importance on the production line there is only one number that really means anything – number 1.
Edward Legge is Director of Commercial Development at Classic and Sports Finance.