In just 10 minutes, two separate enthusiasts come in to the showroom on Old Brompton Road and ask about the red car in the window. They are both clearly spellbound by it. How many miles? How much? How much! ‘I remember when you could have bought one of those for…’
In the case of the gleaming Ferrari 288 GTO its list price in 1985 was £73,000. Thirty years on the sticker reads £2.4m.
No news there – and we all have our own stories of cars we could or should have bought but didn’t – so what’s all the fuss? The interesting thing is where we are: the ever-so-smart Kensington new-car showroom of H R Owen Ferrari.
Selling new cars and supercar classics prepared to new-car standard from the same showroom – and servicing LaFerraris alongside 250 Lussos in the same North London workshops – is the idea behind the old-car world’s newest venture. H R Owen Classic Cars was launched at the Classic & Sports Car London Show held at Alexandra Palace last November.
It might have had its official launch at the show but this side of the business is nothing new for the UK’s premier luxury dealer group, representing as it does not just Ferrari but also Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Bentley and Maserati, not to mention Bugatti and Rolls-Royce. The group has been restoring and selling old cars for years, it’s just that now it has put it all together under the H R Owen Classic Cars umbrella and turbocharged it.
The premise is, hand-picked supercars from the 1970s to the ‘90s, restored/prepared using the group’s extensive facilities and knowledge base, and sold with all the advantages of buying a new car from a main dealer. That includes finance and insurance, 24-7 backup and fixed-price servicing.
Where the Ferraris are concerned, it’s not just any main dealer either but, as of a couple of months ago, the ‘Global Ferrari Dealer of the Year’, the first time the accolade has been won by a UK Ferrari dealership. To make sure no one misses the fact H R Owen will soon be displaying its prize: a 2015 F1 car (minus the engine).
H R Owen’s programme is, unsurprisingly, largely being driven by the booming business in classic Ferraris. It is one reason why H R Owen’s North London workshops become a ‘factory-standard’ Ferrari-only facility from January 2016, with capabilities from nut and bolt restorations to service and repair.
When GRR called in at Brompton Road, alongside the new California Ts and 488s were the 288 GTO and an equally pristine F40. An F50 and another F40 were elsewhere. It is poster cars like these – plus other supercar icons like the Lamborghini Countach and Aston V8 Vantage – that are the new scheme’s focus, according to Shawn Thom, H R Owen Ferrari’s used car sales manager. But why start this service now?
‘The simple answer is because our clients are asking for it,’ Shawn tells us. ‘In the past six years in London things have gone crazy, everyone wants to invest in something. Our clients who used to have one Ferrari might now have three. They also have the second home, the art and wine collections, and they have money in the bank. Where to invest it and get a tax-free return? Any financial adviser will say, “classic cars”.
‘There is no reason why someone who comes in here to buy a new F12 shouldn’t also be looking at a classic Ferrari. They can tell us what model they want, we can source it from anywhere in the world, put it through the Ferrari Classiche authentication programme, and restore it to H R Owen standards. The buyer will know we have been over the car with a fine-tooth comb.
‘Last year we did four F40s for customers. The people who bought them had never had that sort of car before but wanted a toe in the classic car world. These people have already seen a return on their investment and had the pleasure of enjoying the car and the wow factor of owning an F40.’
Certainly that ‘fine-tooth comb’ approach shows. But do not expect the patina of age here; these cars are not what Shawn Thom calls ‘glass box cars’ – where originality is all. These are old cars restored with no expense spared so they can be used. That 288 GTO, for example, had a £100k, seven-month refettling which included going back to the factory for new paint, leather, trim, air vents and even knobs, among other things. The nearest thing to a new 288 GTO? It would have to be close. ‘The factory uses the original glue so it even has the same new-car smell from 1985,’ says Shawn.
But isn’t the classic Ferrari market crowded enough already?
‘There are only two or three firms that restore to a really good standard, and they do only classics with a focus on the big ticket cars, at £15-£20m, and competition cars that we wouldn’t get involved with. As a main Ferrari dealer, we think we are ahead of the game in the market we are going for.’
Apart from the 288 and the F40 (£850k if you want to know), what other Ferraris would Shawn and team want to get involved with? He says an entry-level H R Owen Classic Ferrari might be a one-owner F355 at £70-£100k. At the other end of their market are models like the 275 GTB/4 at around the £3m mark.
In between cars on Shawn’s wishlist include another 288 GTO – ‘I’d buy one tomorrow if I could find one’ – Ferrari Enzo and more ‘F’ cars – the once-every-10-year specials that Shawn rates very highly in terms of investment potential.
‘Like wine or art, it’s the limited numbers cars that you have to look out for,’ he says. That’s not just cars like the 288 GTO (272 made) but also models like the 430 Scuderia Spider 16M, the 599 GTO and the very rare 599 Aperta.
More tips for tomorrow’s Ferrari high flyers? He cites the 512 Berlinetta Boxer (£250-£350k), 512 Testarossa (from £180k and ‘really good news at the moment’), the 456 (‘at £60-£80k’) and maybe the 330 GTC (‘unloved but desirable’).
He says there’s little prospect, investment wise, for the Mondial, the 400 has peaked and there are too many 430s on the market. ‘Nine months ago there were three for sale, today there are 22. A lot of choice brings the price down. That car has now hit its peak and will take a while to go back up,’ he adds.
Away from Ferrari, H R Owen Classics has for sale a 1989 Aston Martin V8 Zagato Volante and a Bentley S2 Continental. Recent sales include a Bugatti EB110 and Lamborghini Murcielago; Shawn is on the look out for more Lamborghinis, especially the Countach. H R Owen is unusual, he says, in that it buys the majority of its classic stock. ’It’s a big investment but does mean we have complete control over the quality of our cars.’
Does he have an open chequebook to tour the world snapping up bargains? ‘It’s not completely open but we are allowed to buy what we want. We are looking for the right cars all the time, but we reject more than we buy – that’s a sign of the times. People do however tend to take note when we come calling and say we are H R Owen Ferrari London…’
And the future for, especially, Ferrari values?
‘No bubble has burst or is about to burst. Anything Ferrari that’s over half a million now will continue to increase in value, historically that’s happened. Our clients will always have the money they have invested, but won’t see a meteoric rise in the next 18 months. But in two years values will climb again.’
Two years? Plenty of time for some lucky owner to start driving that 288 GTO then…
Photography by Bob Murray