Question: imagine an acquaintance of yours had a quarter-of-a-million pound car, and they said that they would give you 10% of anything you sold the car for. Would you try and sell it for them?
The classic car industry has evolved into a multi-billion pound leviathan now but not much has changed in terms of the way things are done. Doing things the old way is still a cherished concept and while some of the traditional skills are being lost, the way cars are bought and sold really hasn’t changed. Sure, the internet has opened up the market and made advertising a lot easier, just as it has done in every industry, but by and large selling cars isn’t even one step removed from the activities of the original purveyor of transport – the horse trader.
There is a reason “horsetrading” has found its way into our lexicon. The simple aim is to sell something for more than you bought it for – whether it is yours, or you are selling it for someone else. You never quite know what you are going to get because someone else has been using it before you, and haggling over the unknown element is all part of the process. And if something goes wrong? Well, it’s a horse isn’t it – these things happen….
‘Because of the sums of money now involved, the stakes have never been higher for both buyers and sellers.’
Over the last decade classic car buyers have changed. It used to be the already-enlightened and committed enthusiasts but now there is a whole new breed of buyer who doesn’t necessarily understand classic cars and the joys and pitfalls of owning them. The profit opportunities have also tempted traders, auction houses and people from outside the industry into selling classics because they see it as an easy way to make money. Why do they see it as easy? There’s no doubt that some view the classic car sector as a great place to do business – seemingly free from regulation and, as we all know, old age can be used to excuse a myriad of faults.
Anyway, back to the original question. You decide that you want a piece of the action, so you sell your acquaintance’s expensive car and collect your commission – but there’s a problem. The engine eats itself for lunch, there is a question over the provenance (you name the problem) but the buyer – the one with the wherewithal to buy a £250,000 car – wants their money back and now you have a problem. A big one.
Because of the sums of money now involved, the stakes have never been higher for both buyers and sellers. The one man band who were once selling £25,000 bread-and-butter classics from home will now likely be selling cars in the six figure bracket and, at those prices, people have certain expectations however realistic (or not) they may be. More and more operators in this sector are struggling to meet these expectations, at a time when organisations such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are starting to show growing interest in the activities of classic car dealers. There can be no doubt that we are going to see more enforcement of the existing regulations – not to mention litigation – in the future, and this will force many of those profiting from classic cars to evolve for the better or take forced retirement.
Competition is fierce, stock is expensive and making mistakes will undoubtedly become more so and this is bound to squeeze out some of the cottage industries and unscrupulous operators. Where it will take the industry nobody knows; in theory it will bring positive change but it could just as easily rob us of some of the fun and charm of this vibrant industry.