The MGA With An Attitude

Just 2-1/2 years on, this may be too soon for an update, but someone brought it up again. I have also been reminiscing about how much fun it was to write the first article on evolving market value, and my perspective has also evolved just a bit with current experience.

At 12:56 PM 2/16/2007 -0700, Brady Mann wrote:
>"I really enjoyed your opinion on collector car values. I could not agree more. The older cars (and tractors) just are not of interest to younger people. I am 36, "

My first good chuckle here. You apparently are one of those "younger people", with an interest, whom you imply may no longer exist.

>"but I have a 1909 Economy Highwheeler (great, great grandfathers), 1923 Model T touring (basket case) and other cars, motorcycles and tractors from the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's. "

Considering that your vehicle interests go back considerably more than 50 years, I don't understand why you believe there wouldn't be others with such interests.

I happen to like machinery in general, not just cars (or tractors), but I have never been a collector in any sense of the word. I just happen to have an intense personal interest in one model of car, and one individual car in particular. If my current pet MGA was ever destroyed it may or may not be replaced by another one (as they were in the past), but I have no yen whatsoever to buy any other collectable car. As far as I'm concerned this may have little to do with the age of the car or myself, only that it stems from an interest in the first car I owned.

The future of the collectible car (or tractor) hobby depends on people who have an interest in the vehicles. Already there are many people owning MGAs who are younger than the cars, so there is not necessarily the same intensity of dependency on age or time as has been prevalent in the past. If there was, you probably wouldn't be interested in owning one.

My current impression is that there may be not much long term "collector" interest in post 1980 vintage cars (for lots of good reasons leading to an impression of "not-classic or collectable", like being too complex and too expensive to maintain). As such, general collector interest may be permanently directed toward pre-1980 cars. However, the status remains that pre WW-II cars have lost a lot of collector interest. I suspect that has largely to do with the fact that they are not so "roadable", and most of them would have problems with daily duty on modern expressways. That leaves the current window of general collector interest in the 1950 to 1980 model range, and I think it might stay that way for a long time to come. The bottom started to fall out of the MG T-type market about 15 years ago, and MGA cars are not much newer, so there must be some other reasons driving the current continuing run up of interest and prices for MGA.

In the future the primary driving force moving people to newer collector cars (post 1980) may be lack of availability of the 1950 to 1980 models (supply and demand). This would be a much different situation than in the past where the market may fall apart when the interested people grow old and/or die. Under the "new" circumstances post war collector cars may continue to hold good interest and appreciate in value almost indefinitely, while interest in post 1980 cars may be driven more by availability and affordability (or rather lack of same for older models). There are also significant differences in pre and post war cars, where post war models are generally capable of negotiating modern road speeds, and also include a wide range of sports cars that did not exist in very large numbers per-war.

>"The problem is they seem to go for crazy prices."

Crazy? It's all about supply and demand, nothing unusual at all. The only thing I see being a little crazy is that eBay seems to be a sellers' market. Apparently people regularly bid and pay too much when buying cars through eBay. I attribute that to the fact that pictures don't lie, but also don't tell the whole truth. Also there are too many people with a bad case of wishful thinking who don't have a clue as to how bad the condition of a car might be, and then tend to buy the cars without ever having a personal inspection. There are far too many horror stories and not so many satisfied buyers through eBay, but I consider that to be the buyer's fault.

There is no reason why anyone should be dissatisfied with purchase of a car if they check it out in person before buying it, or commission some knowledgeable third party to do it for them. Of course if you have never driven one you might be screwed from the git-go, having no idea what you're getting into until after you already lay out the cash (or worse, after paying to have it restored).

>"I would like to spend $12-$13K for a nicely restored (but not perfect driver)."

Well, you may be about 3 to 5 years too late for that. A few years ago you could buy a nice low mileage "older restoration" MGA for about that price.

>"Paying $17-$18 for car with plywood floors seems a bit stupid."

ROTFLMAO. How about a mid 1930's MG PA or PB Airline Coupe for about $100,000? Those not only have wood floors but also wood body frames. There is nothing inherently wrong with a plywood floor when properly prepared. Since restoration my MGA has been on the road for more than 20 years and 205,000 additional miles, and the plywood floors I installed are good as new. Plywood is a better insulator and sound deadener than sheet metal, and less likely to deteriorate with exposure to the elements (when properly treated and painted).

>"For a few bucks more I'll buy a BMW Z4."

Or for a lot less bucks you can buy a very nice used Miata that is also generally "superior" to the MGA in most ways. It is more a matter of what you have in mind and why you are buying a car. Either a Z4 or a Miata will likely be worth considerably less 5 years on than today's price, while an MGA will likely be worth more than today's price (although maybe not enough more to qualify as a good investment).

The MGA is not in any way comparable to these other cars along the lines of performance or creature comfort. You should ask yourself why anyone should ever want to buy a 1950's vintage car built with 1920's technology. This is not a matter of either transportation or economics. Also anyone who intends to buy any car with the intention of making money on a later sale is nuts. You might however expect some cars to cost less than others to own in the long run. If you expect to have more fun driving an MGA than a Z4, you sort of have to have a warped sense of reality, stuck living in the 50's, so to speak. The MGA is an extremely fun car to drive, in it's own classic way. If you think a Z4 or a Miata is more fun to drive than an MGA, and you only buy it to drive, then you probably shouldn't buy the MGA.

I'm sure you do understand the reasons for wanting to own a vintage car. I'm not so sure you're committed yet to owning an MGA. There are lots of people who buy an MGA based on "styling and simplicity" only to discover after the fact that a vintage car (in general) is nothing at all like a newer model, and they may in fact regret ever having bought it. You can't just gas it and drive it and expect once a year dealer service to make it a totally care free car. You definitely cannot find a competent service shop in every neighborhood, you may not be entirely enthralled with the poor heater and wipers and leaky weather proofing utilities, and you may be downright disappointed at the low power and poor acceleration (by modern standards).

I finished the (first) restoration on my MGA in late 1986. In mid 1987 I traded a '79 Mazda RX7 for a new RX7. Since then both the 1958 MGA and the 1987 RX7 have accumulated in the range of 200,000 miles, both have had an engine rebuild and a repaint, and I still have them both. They each hold a different niche in the world. The RX7 is my daily beater car, a more comfortable road car, better handling for back road rally (although not as much fun), and when properly prepared just a little quicker around an autocross course. I find it particularly boring (like a limousine) compared to the MGA which is particularly exciting to drive. For the past 10 years my MGA has consistently accumulated more miles than all other cars I own put together. Many people would not agree with my opinion of the MGA, even to the point of calling me crazy, but each to his own. Today, 20 years on, the RX7 is worth about 10% of what I paid for it, while the slightly tatty MGA is worth considerably more than the full cost of my home brewed restoration (not counting my labor of course). The MGA has always been cheaper to maintain and operate, even including the cost of the second restoration in 1998. Full coverage classic car insurance for the MGA is less than liability insurance alone for the RX7. If I had a choice between a recently restored MGA or a brand new Miata for about the same price, it's a no-brainer (but that's just me).

The bottom line here is that us baby boomers are getting older pretty fast, but I don't see any indication that the bottom may fall out of the market value of the MGA any time soon. Current trend seems to be increasingly more people of "collector" age (full range from mid 20's through retirement age) looking for a good MGA to buy or to restore, more cars being restored, and a decreasing supply of good purchase and restoration candidates. This should lead to continued increasing market value for the foreseeable future. Maybe (with a little luck) for the first time in 50 years or so the value of "older" collector cars (post WW-II vintage in this case) may not be destined to fall with natural aging of a special interest group. The MGA in particular seems to have a pure classic theme of its own that may be capable of spanning any generation gap to continue in collectable interest for a long time to come.

Wishful Thinking Mode off, but still optimistic. -- Barney Gaylord

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