11th June 2010

Are classic cars too dear?

posted in Car News Articles |

Are classic cars too dear?

Not at all. If you’ve been following the exciting world of stamp collecting, you’ll realise every rare and unusual car ever built is a bargain.

Why? Because some flip – sorry, person – recently paid millions for an old, badly printed postage stamp.

The price was actually confidential, presumably in case the collector’s wife found out.

However, the auctioneer confirmed that it exceeded the $US2.3 million paid when the same old, misprinted postage stamp was last resold in 1996.

The so-called Treskilling Yellow was printed in Sweden in 1855. It has a face value of three skillings but was issued in error in a print run of eight-skilling stamps.

As we all know, the eight-skilling Swedish stamp of that era was normally yellow, while the three-skilling was a fetching shade of aqua. And my goodness, in this case they reversed it.

Why wouldn’t it be worth a record price?

Well, for a start, because if you put your pathetic little Treskilling Yellow (weight 0.03 grams) on a big, white machine and hit the button that says “copy” then you have, for all intents and purposes, the same thing.

A colour photocopy of a rare old stamp will do everything the original will do. That is, absolutely bloody nothing. You can’t even post a letter with it.

Let’s consider, by contrast, the sort of classic car you could buy for $US2.3 million. A good-condition, low-kilometre McLaren F1, for example.

What can a 1990s McLaren F1 do that an 1850s Treskilling Yellow can’t?

Win Le Mans, for a start. Accelerate to 100 km/h in a bit more than three seconds. Seat three people in leather-lined luxury.

Scream its mechanical head off in a symphonic howl to produce 468kW at 7400rpm. Corner so hard your brain is sent quivering to a dark recess of your skull. And it can also look beautiful in any colour (no printing snafus here).

If you put a McLaren on a photocopier, the photocopier will be squashed. Creating a perfect replica would be a vastly expensive and uncertain business.

And let’s look at comparative values. If they sold McLaren F1s at Woolworths at $2.3 million, the unit pricing sign would say $2017 a kilo. That’s dearer than out-of-season blueberries but hardly obscene.

The Treskilling Yellow would be $76.7 billion a kilo. That is entirely and inarguably obnoxious.

Now I don’t want to be unkind about stamp collectors. It’s not their fault that they are sad, sad people. But it seems particularly bizarre that they will pay even more than normal for something that’s been buggered up. Not just them.

There are vinyl record collectors who have spent years tracking down that “priceless” David Bowie album with the incorrect matrix number on the run-out groove or, better still, that “legendary” Brian Poole and the Tremeloes LP with the same seven songs erroneously pressed on both sides.

There are middle-aged men (always men) – some of whom can pass for normal people – who spend all their money on Matchbox cars in the original mint boxes.

Their pride and joy – to be touched only while wearing white cotton gloves – is a Morris delivery van with blue (rather than red) upholstery, three examples of which were released accidentally in 1969.

Car collectors are hardly likely to pay a premium for a mistake: say, a McLaren F1 with the gearbox bolted to the roof, or fitted with a tractor engine driving the front wheels. Pay top dollar, you receive a top example – exactly as it was meant to be.

Is there a moral in all this? There are two: classic cars are bargains; and never pay more than three skillings for a three-skilling stamp. It would just encourage strange and reckless behaviour.

What do you think? Is $US2.3 million for a McLaren a bargain? Or are classic car lovers just as nuts as stamp collectors?

Tony Davis

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