The MGA With An Attitude

At 08:17 PM 9/30/04 -0400, Andy C. wrote:
>"Will the MGA's ever reach Healey price levels? If not, why?"

Excuse me for a moment while I polish up my crystal ball.

It says "Probably not", but perhaps your Magic 8 Ball could have done better.

In My Humble Opinion, .... it's all relative. There are too many MGAs around to drive prices that high, while not enough Healey's to supply the demand. Healey's were always higher priced, like comparing a Caddy to a Chevy, just a different price range from new. With the big Healeys being produced in much smaller quantities they had two possible ways to go, either up with demand, or possibly into the crapper due to lack of parts. Of course we know which way that went. Luckily the Healey shares a lot or parts with some other models, so the parts supply never dried up. But you might expect both MGAs and Healeys to get more expensive first, and later they might all drop in value. A lot has to do with who is currently collecting what cars.

When I was in college in the late 60's, MGB's were new and MGAs were obsolete orphans that no one wanted. You could buy a very nice low mileage MGA for $400 in the late 1960's, when a MGB was $3200 new (about the same price as a new Chevy Impala). But very early cars and pre-war American iron with loads of chrome were hot on the market. A Model T Ford or a Packard or LaSalle or old Cadillac was often more valuable than a new car. The mid 50's 2-seat T-Birds were holding their value fairly well, about half the cost of a new MGB in 1969.

In the early 70's most MGAs were basically junk, non-runners, because parts were not available. Parts weren't there because there was no demand for it. This was a bad time for MGA. If not for their intrinsic beauty they could well have been completely abandoned, and in fact many of them were being disassembled for parts and crushed for the scrap metal value. Late 60's and early 70's muscle cars were beginning to be cheap hobby cars while the Ford Model T was dropping in value. The 2-seat T-Birds from 55-57 were already collectibles and about the cost of new cars, while early Corvettes were not doing quite that well. That had a lot to do with the 2-seat T-Birds being out of production with nothing else similar being available new, but you could still buy a new Vette. The MG TD was picking up as a collectible, maybe $9K in show condition, while TCs weren't quite making it because of limited numbers, lower performance and limited parts supply. The TFs were a little too new-ish to be collectible, didn't quite look classic like the TD, so not catching on yet. Big Healeys were also considered as junk, sort of, but the limited supply wasn't quite up to the demand level, so they luckily held value just enough to stay out of the junk yards, typically stored in the back of a garage somewhere.

By the late 70's there were tons of used MGBs, just old used cars when you could still buy new ones, so those were dirt cheap (lots of parts cars in junk yards). MGAs were just beginning to be restored by a select few personal admirers (like myself). I bought mine in clapped out condition for $800 then. The only place in the world you could get most of the parts for an MGA was Moss Motors. The only MGA parts you could get from the MG dealer were MGB compatible parts. But J.C.Whitney was doing pretty good business in old stock MGA daily service parts. An MGA restored to show condition would have been approaching the value of a new MGB (but not quite), about $4500. It's really hard for any collectible car to exceed the value of a new car when similar new models are still available. The American pre-war heavy chrome was still hanging in there (some close to $50K), partly due to the sudden scarcity of new large American car models. Lots of new stuff was getting smaller and 2-ish, like the Mustang-II and Bronco-II, which never was all that appealing. Very early cars like the Model T Ford were biting the dirt big time.

The common thread through all of this is that the demand for certain models may pick up when the 30 to 50 year old demographic group, having a little money to spare, may want to buy that car they always wanted in their youth, but couldn't afford then. Demand suddenly drops when the people who like them get old and start to die en mass.

In the early 80's you couldn't buy a new MGB any more (which caused a bit of an aberration in the MG market). The MGA started picking up in value a little quicker, and a restored one was soon more than the best used MGB. Oh joy! The TD was a bit higher, maybe $12K then and going up fast, so the TF was getting another glance or two. Muscle cars were more serious hobby cars, but not quite collectible status yet. 1981-1983 was a bad time for new cars, no big engines, power in the crapper, nothing exciting, and sports car clubs were taking a beating on membership and activities. I was busy in life, and my MGA was apart and languishing in storage. The new Mazda RX7 was in a niche by itself and selling well while the Yen was still cheap compared to the Dollar. Heavy chrome pre-war iron was beginning to fall with the economy and would never recover.

By the time I got my MGA restored in late 86 they were already worth a smidge over $10,000 in show condition, but you could still buy a decent used one (whatever ones were still in running condition) for a couple thou, and parts cars maybe $300. That was still small demand and excess supply working, but restored ones were rare, so you sort of had to roll your own, and prices were pretty near the cost of a home restoration. TDs were pushing higher as collectibles in the 20K range. Muscle cars were all the rage and climbing fast, sometimes passing up the pre-war heavy chrome which was by that time falling fast. By the early 90's you couldn't get $20K for a perfect LaSalle (and never again since), but Packards were still hanging in there for the long term due to better performance. Big Healeys were taking advantage of short supply and were by that time half again as much as an MGA (maybe I should say "still"). Lots of this had to do with heavy inflation in the late 70s early 80's, so the real value of collectibles in general never was rising all that fast.

By the mid 90s there were a number of new smaller "sporty" type cars hitting the market (mostly small 4-seaters with a little more power), maybe following the success of the RX7. Small V8s were making a comeback with better fuel control, and the pony cars (Mustang and Camaro types) were saved from extinction. Sports car clubs and club activities were picking up again, and SCCA was saved from the doldrums. Anything 57-ish (plus or minus one year) large or small was suddenly collectible including most British sports cars within a few years of 1957. MGA was on the escalator (first $15K auction) along with the big Healey, and MGBs were back in the game (barely) due to being more affordable and more available for the masses. TD hit the big time with $25K-$27K being fairly common, so street chumps thought they should be able to sell a nice daily driver type for over $20K (but not often successful). MG Midgets were still mostly junk when MGBs were downright cheap, but the better "vintage" muscle cars were already up to double the price of a new car (funny how perceptions change with time).

About 1995 the first $25K auction for an MGA (which was a total aberration) drove the hobby class folks bonkers. Some "expert" in a magazine article was tagging the MGA as the next art collectible for the yuppies and predicting $30K for a "nice" one to be common by turn of the century. Forget the Picasso and buy an MGA. I never have stopped laughing over that stupidity, because it doesn't cost that much to pay a pro shop to restore one (not at that time), and there is no shortage of donor cars. TDs were peaking out in the upper 20's, TF finally found a new market interest, big Healeys and Jag XK's were off to the Dutch tulip market where price is a product of speculation (although the Jags have more intrinsic value to justify some of it). Most of the pre-war heavy chrome cars were in big trouble, never to recover, even the Packard by then. The worst problem for cars built prior to 1950 was that most models couldn't keep up with modern expressway traffic speeds, so they lost appeal for the driver type folks and had to settle back into the smaller nitch of the collectable market. When supply then exceeds demand for a while prices fall accordingly, even if they are nice classics. So rather suddenly very little built prior to 1955 was of much interest to the masses, and the number of collector models shrank dramatically. The true classics will of course always hold value as collectibles (including MGA, hopefully), but there really aren't too many of those.

In the last 10 years (1995 to 2004) MGA is still rising at a nice steady pace, so the low 20s is common for a show car, and some of the nicer ones are 25K or a tad higher, very close to the cost of a professional restoration. For the record, a nice professionally restored MGA Twin Cam just sold on eBay for $34,600 (early October 2004), which didn't surprise me one bit. Estimate about $10,000 less value for a nicely restored pushrod model (nominally speaking). An older restoration or non-pro body-off restored car is in the upper teens, and a nice solid and presentable daily driver or spiffy running repaint is in the lower teens. Heck, my "heavily-haggard twice-restored well-used gone-round-the-clock-thrice forth-engine and fifth-paint-job MGA" may even be worth $10K today without washing off the mud. The TD has been dropping in market value, sure to be suffering from the same fate as other cars of that era (insufficient speed), so the TD is now lower than the MGA. Who'd a thunk it? The late production TF with the 1500 XPEG engine on the other hand is still picking up and has surpassed the TD in value, about even with the MGA now (still 2004). I dunno how long that may last, but maybe a long time, as the TF is the last great representative of the classic/vintage MG styling. If the TF ever surpasses the MGA in value, I suppose it would only be because of short supply.

A restored XK or E-type might now be traded even up for a small house, and maybe for good reason. Big Healeys are now obscenely priced (not terribly expensive, just way overvalued) in driveable repaint but not fully restored condition, with really nice restored ones almost wishing for XK status. That has to be all hype with smoke and mirrors, because I don't even like to drive the beasts ($.02). I have a feeling that the big Healeys are due for a substantial fall before the MGA, but maybe not for another decade or two. I certainly wouldn't put money into a big Healey on speculation, because they are already substantially appreciated, and might (maybe) not go up too much higher. In the meantime it's onward and upward at least until us baby boomers expire. I'm past center a little closer to the tail end of that group, but I expect to be around with continuing MGA interest for another for decade or two.

To be perfectly objective about it, I don't suppose my kid will be very enthused about the MGA when he's old enough to be able to afford the luxury of a collectible car. If he is it would only be because he grew up around mine, not representative of the rest of his generation. The now generation is into new or nearly new cars when they can afford it, or slightly used ones otherwise (as always). They still like to tinker with minor performance mods, so now they build ghetto Hondas. Who knows? Given another 20 years the collector car generation may be into restoring Honda CRX, S2000, Z3. Possibly Mitsu GT3000 for the more affluent, Miata resto projects for the tight budgets, and maybe the new Mini could take on the same cult status as the old one. But big Healey and MGA are likely to be relegate to pure collectible and museum status 20 years from now. I'm guessing there might be a few MGB still thrashed about and neglected on the downward slide before most are crushed for the scrap steel value (ouch).

I don't think the B will ever surpass the A in market value, simply because there are so many available as to cause relative over supply in the market. So in the year 2035 when I'm the old geezer still driving the last MGA serving daily duty, there may be a few left over MGB still running and driven in parades, and some more seen only at car shows, but probably very few (to the extreme) daily drivers. Being 20 years less aged doesn't mean much when they're all over 50 and being either a pristine show car or a total rust bucket with not much in between. Don't laugh. MGA is already close to that situation with very few non-restored daily drivers. As much as I hate to face it, most remaining MGA today are either restored or just stored. And as they continue to age and rust the stored ones are getting harder and more expensive to restore. It isn't just the change of generation that diminishes the enthusiasm for the hobby, but also the diminishing supply of restorable cars and the increasing cost of restoration. Meanwhile a person can still buy a "slightly used nicely restored MGA" (older restoration) for a bit less than the cost of a new Miata (if you have enough patience and search time in a very small market nitch).

I dunno what your original concern was, but the simple answer was no.

$.02 with education via school of hard knocks,


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