What is the first thing you would think if you went to buy a three-year-old supercar and it didn’t have any service history? Second question – if you still wanted to buy it – would you hand over the money on the basis that the seller would dig it out and send it? Some of you will have answered yes to the second question, but I’m pretty sure I know what the general reaction will be to the first one and I would strongly advise against the latter.
The overall quality of the classic cars coming to market in the ‘hot’ segments is definitely evolving as we see more high mileage and lesser quality machines being offered (these two are not mutually inclusive) and one of the key areas buyers should be looking at in detail is the service history. That might sound obvious, but there is an awful lot you can learn about a car from its service history (or lack of it) and, for the feeble-minded like me, investigating a car’s provenance can be both enlightening and fun.
If you are ever presented with a bundle of invoices, MOT’s and service receipts I would recommend sorting them into chronological order and adding the information to a spreadsheet with dates, mileages and locations (if you are afforded that luxury). Googling the registration and chassis numbers of the car can also throw up additional information, as well as doing the same for the existing owner. There’s nothing like being told a car has only ever been sparingly used in the dry by someone who has a YouTube channel consisting exclusively of rolling burnouts and GoPro footage from the Nurburgring. Rest assured that there are plenty of people out there who will be happy to bend the truth – ask any car dealer who has ever taken a part-exchange…
‘I’ve seen it for sale since and the history sounded magnificent in the florid description – but I still knew what was lurking under the dress.’
A few years ago I was offered a very nice looking Ferrari that had been purchased by the then owner from a leading specialist. The owner loved the car, no longer had space for it etc. etc. and even left the car with me to check over with a shoebox of invoices in the boot – and that was his fatal error. The car looked OK, but the shoebox history told a different story. Three-years of franchised servicing and a couple of changes of owner saw the car dive off-piste for servicing; heading deeper and deeper into unknown territory with all manner of grease monkeys working on it and the bills getting smaller and smaller, rather than bigger every time.
Soon enough the annual mileage decreased to a mere trickle, as did the availability of MOTs for that period, and the only real expenditure seemed to be on bodywork from an address underneath an arch in East London. Phrases on invoices such as ‘attend to rust’ and ‘car keyed – repair damage’ should strike fear into the heart of any classic car lover as well as set off a metaphorical (and, on this particular car, physical) aftermarket alarm that just won’t turn off. The piece de resistance was a change of ownership that took the car to the other end of the country, which did not correspond with an increase in the odometer reading and it turned out that a faulty speedometer had not been attended to for many years. The car may have been loved, but for years the numerous owners had systematically neglected it and it would have taken some serious investment, as well as some creative editing of the service history, to get the car ‘right’. It was a shame for the owner that he hadn’t filed a few of those invoices in the bin himself.
Despite the fact the car looked great, it didn’t feel right to gloss over the anomalies and try and sell it – it was a bit like the moment in The Crying Game when Stephen Rea discovers his girlfriend wasn’t quite what he thought – only in this instance it was game over – and the car duly went elsewhere for sale. I’ve seen it for sale since and the history sounded magnificent in the florid description: with phrases such as ‘presented for service’, ‘extensive service history’, ‘believed genuine mileage’ and ‘previous enthusiast owner’ being used with gusto – but I still knew what was lurking under the dress.
What is missing from a service history will tell you as much about a car as what is included, but realistically what you want to see is that no expense has been spared over the last five-years or so. The rest is just maths – good history and provenance adds value and even if that isn’t important to you it will be to the next potential owner. After all would you want to buy a car with no service history? Or from someone that hasn’t bothered to keep that record properly? Because the same will be true of the car.
Edward Legge is Director of Commercial Development at Classic and Sports Finance.