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Jay Leno's Column: The Collector

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If you like cars and you buy what you like, a car will always go up in value because, if you consider yourself an aficionado, the odds are that other people will like it too.

A good example is my ’66 Oldsmobile Toronado. It’s a car I bought for a good price. I always liked the design and look of the car. Well, we built our own chassis and converted it to rear-wheel drive and put a thousand horsepower through it. But basically it still looked like a ’66 Toronado and it won Hot Rod of the Year at Hot Rod magazine and it went to all the auto shows.

Then a guy came up to me one day and yelled at me. He says, ‘I used to buy Toronados for half or less, and since your car came out they’re all double, double now!’ He was really upset about it. So I said, ‘Yeah, but you know something sir? I’m also keeping cars from going to the crusher. Because when they go up in value, they’re worth something more than just what the steel in them is worth.’ That kind of calmed things down a little bit.

It’s fascinating to try and figure out what is collectible. I remember when I was a teenager people saying that the Mustang would never be a collectible car because they built so many of them. They made almost a million in the first year. But I think the car that future generations will collect will be the Mazda MX-5. It will be the Mustang of the year 2025. They’ll look back and say, look, they’re pretty simple, there’s no airbag, no anti-lock brakes, none of that stuff to deal with, just a little four-cylinder twin-cam engine. People ask why I don’t have a Ferrari and it’s because I’ve never been able to actually buy one. Every time I’ve gone to look at one, I say, ‘Oh, I like this car,’ and the guy says, ‘I’m not the owner. The owner is Mr XXX and he’s in Pakistan and he has the title with him.’

And every Ferrari I look at, no matter what the year, they have 28,000 miles on them. Now I like Ferraris. They’re wonderful cars, but the idea of trailering them from place to place is something I don’t understand. There was one that sold recently at Pebble Beach, a Daytona I think, with 78 miles on it. It was a brand new Daytona Spider. What do you do with it? Do you drive it?

What I don’t quite get are some of the muscle cars. When I see Hemi Cudas going for three or four million dollars… It’s not hard to recreate a Hemi Cuda but you cannot recreate, for any reasonable amount of money, a 2.9 Alfa, or even a Duesenberg.

I have a friend making reproductions of Duesenberg heads and he has spent 0,000 on the castings alone. That’s just for the heads. So to pay a million dollars for a Duesenberg actually makes sense, because you can’t recreate it for any reasonable amount of money.

I have a disdain for people who buy cars to speculate.They rarely know the history of them or even understand what they are. What they’re doing is just keeping true enthusiasts out of the market.It’s no better doing what collectors do. Collectors, I think, are people who hoard cars away so the cars never get run. Rarely does a collector’s car look as good on the inside as it does on the outside. Just like an athlete who sits on the couch all day, arteries hardening, it’s the same with these old cars: if you don’t run their fluids through them and exercise them the way they were meant to be, they’re just static art. That’s why I like the Bentley Drivers Club. They use their cars and so there’s a need to fix them.That creates a demand for spares and apprentices to learn how to work on the cars.

I think a recession will send car prices higher. People look for other places to put their money. And the one nice thing about the last boom in the ’80s was that it saved an awful lot of Aston Martins. Over here there were a lot of marginal Astons going for $10,000-30,000 but they needed $10,000-worth of repairs. So most of them just sat and rusted, and then suddenly when they were going for $100,000 all the speculators bought them up and had them restored, tried to sell them and lost a fortune.

Now those cars are coming back. They might have been gone, had it not been for that boom. Sometimes you get lucky by loving a car. The most I’ve spent on a car was $1,000,000 for my McLaren F1.I remember calling my brother and he said go for it, even though I thought $1,000,000 was crazy. But I bought the car and I polish it, I drive it, I put gas in it and it’s now worth a million-eight. But I bought it because I loved it… and that’s the reason to buy any car.


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