The MGA With An Attitude

Before we get too far here, the short answer is,
"Please don't ask me for any exact number".

At 09:06 AM 5/19/04 -0500, J. William Robinson wrote:
>".... about a 1961 MGA coupe project car my daughter has and [Mr. X] suggested I contact you to see if you could offer suggestions on what it might be worth."

Well, he sent you to the right place for free and (nearly) unbiased advice. I only hope you are not disappointed with the naked truth.

>"Pictures are [were] available on .... web site. .... The motor is complete but out of the car. The car is missing glass, hood, seats and radiator. Small parts are in boxes. Some body work has been done and there is little if any rust deterioration. ....Would you be willing to give me your opinion as to what the value of the car might be?"

Well, maybe a ballpark number. I am not a legal appraiser by any means (but then I don't charge hundreds of dollars for the service either). I could refer you to a professional service that will provide an appraisal (for a few hundred dollars of course). Such an appraisal may hold some legal standing in settlement of estates or tax issues, and it could lend some credence to the value and influence buyers and sellers accordingly. But in the end the true value of any given car on any given day is the exact final sales price agreed to by both the seller and the buyer, and not a penny more or less.

I totally avoid having anything to do with final negotiation of the price, other than trying to educate either or both parties about the facts of the world around MGAs. In other words, I'm not a broker for profit, so I should have no profit motive to be biased. I do however have a slight leaning toward the buyer when it comes to discovering anything wrong with the car. That is mostly just shining a light on the truth, but also because I know the new owner will be contacting me again with lots of questions after the purchase, and I certainly don't want him to be ticked off at me and/or blaming me for any problems he might deem to be my fault. So I wouldn't coerce any special deal on behalf of the seller by way of misinformation, even if I was paid handsomely for it. I might be financially enticed into encouraging a buyer to make a better bargain by way of better education (if I had no personal interest with the seller). Keep in mind there may be a very small influence accordingly.

First you need to read BYE-101 all about selling your car.
Also read RT-200A about the economics of restoration,
and RT-201 about rusty MGAs.

Pay special attention to RT-201, as it deals in particular with the condition of the body in areas that may be expensive to repair, which has a lot (the most) to do with current value. The key issue here is that if the inner sills are in need of immediate repair it knocks the crap out of the value of the car, because it is a difficult and expensive repair. And even if the inner sills are solid, if the body has never been off the frame for underneath repaint it will affect the upper limit on value, as someone will have to do that eventually, and this also is not a cheap repair. Given a choice, it is far more important for the sills to be solid than it is to have beautiful new paint on the outside. So a basket case project car with solid sills may be worth more than a nicely painted daily driver with nothing but air behind the rocker panels.

The other problem is the missing parts that are unique to the Coupe model. As complete and running cars, the Coupe has about the same value as a Roadster, but may be influenced a little by geographical area. A coupe may be worth a tad more in colder climates, and a little less in hot climates, but on average generally about equal. Being disassembled is a severe bite on the value of any MGA, because it's hard to identify what parts may be missing, and difficult to evaluate the condition of the drive train (and chassis) when it can't be driven. A couple of large parts missing may be tolerable, as one can estimate the value of those parts and figure it into the current value. But an unknown number of small parts missing could turn out to be moderately (and unpredictably) expensive. The missing bonnet and radiator are not deal killers, as those parts are common to the Roadster model and generally available.

But being disassembled has a more detrimental effect on value of the Coupe. The tough call is the missing glass and seats (among other things). Any missing parts which are unique to the Coupe model are a big problem, because such parts are both scarce and expensive. In particular, the glass and all window mounting and trim pieces, the door hardware and all trim pieces and inner panels, the seats, and the headlining materials and related trim. Any prospective buyer will want to see those parts, and will want a detailed list of any of those parts that are missing. I don't know and don't care how they may have become missing, but it will be important to physically find as many parts as possible and to make that list. You as the seller will want to be able to produce on demand the parts you have, while the buyer will simply assume that any parts you cannot immediately produce are to be considered missing (and deduct the replacement cost from the value of the car). Luckily, that is just about all that is unique about the Coupe, so the rest of the conversation is generic MGA.

A running car could be in exceedingly bad condition from rust, and may even look bad, but it can still hold a certain value simply because it is dirveable and makes a nice toy, as long it can be kept on the road without any immediate major expenditures. So a moderately ugly rust bucket daily driver can be worth a few thousand dollars if it is just in good running condition.

Disassembled cars have a far different perspective. Once a car is disassembled it is pretty much committed to be a full restoration case. No one would ever just slap it back together as is and drive it. So instead of having physically functional bumpers which require no immediate investment, it may have decent restoreable bumpers which need minor straightening and (expensive) replating. Or new replacement parts may be cheaper then replating. The same logic holds for all of the visible trim on the car, including all chrome parts, all fabric parts, dash knobs, steering wheel, etc. As such, these used parts may have very little value after disassembly, and may be quite expensive to repair or replace.

The prospective buyer of a project car is looking at the expense of finishing the restoration, and balancing that against the value of the finished car to determine a reasonable offer price. Unfortunately this has a horrible effect on the value of the disassembled car, because a newly restored car is never worth quite as much as the cost of restoration. This is just a simple fact of life, because if you could sell a restored car for more than the cost of restoration, everyone would be doing it, and the world would be full of nicely restored classic cars.

The ballpark answer to your question is that the project car should be worth more than you paid for it (unless you just disassembled it and did nothing else), but somewhat less that your total investment (with a significant discount against paid labor and new loose parts). The bargaining range could be anywhere in between. A reasonable center of the ballpark might involve about $2/hr for personal labor (maybe a tad more for pro labor), $.40/$1(forty cents on the dollar) for new loose parts, and maybe $.80/$1 (eighty cents on the dollar) for installed parts and materials. So now you can get out your receipts and a calculator, and you may be able to come up with a closer estimate that I (or at least a smaller ballpark).

The largest offsetting factor for this "calculated" value in either direction would be the current condition of the sheet metal body sills, followed by any deficiencies in the frame which may need repair, and the fact of whether the body was ever repaired and/or repainted underneath (which requires removal from the frame). Doing a "total restoration" (misnomer) on an MGA without the body ever having been removed in the life of the vehicle might cut the finished value nearly in half, because someone will have to do it again some day. Rotted body sills make the car a low value start from scratch restoration project, regardless of how much money may have been put into paint and trim.

You may have noticed throughout all of this that I make very little mention of mechanical condition of the drive train or chassis parts. This is because a moderately handy do-it-yourself type can restore an engine like new for under $1500, a gearbox for a few hundred dollars, and the entire chassis mechanical works for maybe under $500 including paint (but not including welding work on the frame). In other words, the body restoration is the overbearing expense factor, and the mechanical work is so easy and cheap as to nearly be ignored by comparison.

If you want some more reality check on current value of MGA project cars, keep an eye on eBay for a while. Open auction is about as honest a barometer as you can get for setting the value of nearly anything. There are about as many in-process project cars and cars in need of restoration as there are daily drivers and restored cars. Furthermore, I personally find the final sale price of MGAs on eBay to generally exceed my notion of actual value by a significant margin. I suspect this is because pictures (especially small low resolution pictures) tend to omit a lot the truth (I didn't say lie). So a lot of unknowing buyers inexperienced with this model have no clue as to how bad the condition of the car may be. Subsequently there are a lot of horror stories about disappointed eBay buyers. That should be as much a warning for the seller as it is for the buyer. No one should ever buy a car site unseen, and if they do then the seller might reasonably expect some problem with the sale, or backlash afterward.

If you wanted to be a real weasel and had the constitution for it, I suppose you could present scant facts for the advertisement and ask a lot for the car, and you might sell it for more than it's reasonable value. You might have some luck with this approach on eBay, as it seems almost contagious there. There is a sucker born every minute, so you might get lucky and land one. You might also succeed in making a new enemy.

If you would like some more "constructive" criticism I would be happy to see some more pictures. [Before anyone else asks, this is limited to available time, which is often scarce].

In particular, a better evaluation requires close up pictures (shot from low or horizontal) of the lower fender and rocker panel area from wheel arch to wheel arch. Also pictures of the inner surface of the body sills next to the frame, not an easy camera shot, but more easily visible at more exposed ends near the tires. I also need a view straight up from the bottom between the inner body and the frame, just aft of the front inner fender. This is where you may be able to see all the way up to the under surface of the top body cowling, but where it is impossible to clean or paint without removing the body from the frame. If there is any of the original paint still left here, it may tell the original color of the car. It is common to be completely covered with surface rust in this area with no trace of original paint color. The factory didn't do a great job of painting the underbody, which is why it becomes so important that the body be removed for restoration. If this view reveals very nice paint on all of those surfaces, that generally means the body was once removed for restoration and repainting underneath, which is a BIG plus for the value of the car.

Also good to see a close shot of the nose of the car, including the grill surround area and the horizontal air pan inside of the grill opening. This can tell tales about whether the car ever had body damage on the front or not, or if it may have been properly repaired. For the same reason I look for wrinkles on the inner fenders ahead of the radiator mount panel. How about condition of the front valence panel, original steel panel straight or bent or missing, replacement fiberglass panel clean or cracked? Any of the fenders fiberglass or repaired in any noticeable fashion? Is there any filler in the body panels anywhere (more than 1/16" thick)?

This is not intended to be playing devil's advocate or berating your car in any way. I just try to shine a light on the truth, which may be as educational to you as it might be to a prospective buyer. This is a little like a nudist camp. When both parties are in plain view of the naked truth, it can be much easier to be straightforward about discussion and final agreement, and much less likely to end up with a disgruntled buyer or a loss of sale.

Similar applies to posting information on a web site. The more honest detail is presented, the less surprise there will be for the prospective buyer when he comes to look at the car. If he gets the impression that it was misrepresented, he might just refuse to do business on the basis of lost trust and walk away. Or he might be looking for something in better condition, and might also walk away. If he finds exactly what he thought he came for, he will likely buy it on the spot (for a reasonable price of course). Considering the small market niche for these cars, it is not advisable to play tricks or otherwise discourage a prospective buyer.


Barney Gaylord

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