Market Report

British Sports Cars Surge in 2016

A Brand-by-Brand Breakdown of the Past Year

Posted: December 22, 2016 4:30 pm
by John Nikas

British sports cars occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of many enthusiasts, having served as the “gateway drug” for entry into the collector car hobby while holding the unique distinction as the sports cars Americans loved first.

Seven decades since the Jaguar XK120 and MG TC began to appear en masse, the allure of British Racing Green continues, adorning cars at every possible price point in the market and serving as the favored livery for some of the most expensive cars to ever cross an auction block.

British cars offer the most options for the burgeoning collector, providing an affordable alternative for an owner on a budget or the perfect example for display at Pebble Beach or competition at Lord Richmond’s estate at Goodwood. 

A Look at the Marques

While Brexit dominated the headlines this year, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European community does not seem to have significantly affected values on either side of the Atlantic.

On the contrary, at least in the upper trenches of the market, British sports cars such as Aston Martin and Jaguar have continued to build upon recent gains, albeit at a more modest pace than in the past few years. Predictably, as the earliest examples of the Jaguar E-Type reached stratospheric heights, later models have been pulled along, such that even the once underappreciated Series 3 has fast become a doyen in collector car circles (although it was always more highly valued in its home market).

Certainly, much of the impetus behind Jaguar’s continued rise in values is the realization that the company’s products have few peers on either the road or track -- certainly none that can approach it for value.

Proof that Coventry’s finest have reached near equanimity with its rivals from Maranello and Stuttgart can be verified by the sale of the penultimate Le Mans champion at Monterey this past summer. Sold for US $21,780,000 by RM Sotheby’s, this was an impressive result for a race car not bearing the cavallino rampante, although the record price was fully justified, given the car’s originality and bulletproof history.

The recent surge in Aston Martin prices has seen many cars come to market in recent years, leading to a seeming shortage of pristine examples this past calendar year.

But there are always exceptions. One of the most attractive, rare cars to venture forth from Newport Pagnell was sold this year by Gooding & Company for US $3,080,000.

Wearing impeccable Bertone coachwork, the 1954 Aston Martin DB2/4 Spider was a former winner at Pebble Beach, originally shown at the 1954 New York Auto Show, making it one of the most desirable road-going Astons ever built. The standard DB series cars continued to add modest gains to their bottom line, hindered more by limited supply than a slowing down of the market.

Curious Developments in the Affordable End of the Market 

At the more affordable end of the spectrum, one must be careful not to place too much stock in the results achieved at some of the more high-profile auction houses. Look no further than the basket case 1956 Austin-Healey 100 BN2 sold by Gooding & Company for US $34,100. Off the road since 1962, this car had all sorts of needs, and the price paid plus another few grand would get an already running, driving car from any number of sources. Currently offered for resale at US $49,500 by the winning (losing?) bidder, we suspect it will languish for some time as a number of better options continue to grow.

At Mecum, no fewer than five Big Healeys were on offer, with only two finding buyers, despite receiving reasonable offers on the block. Although the limited-production 100M and 100S models continue to climb, it seems the more prosaic examples are destined to languish for the time being, no doubt affected by a negative Hagerty article that called the 3000 one of the “worst current investments in the classic car market.”

As for their Abingdon stablemates, most MG models are holding value, except for early T-series cars, which seem to be on a downward spiral. While the MG TC may reverse that trend because of its historic significance and attractive lines, don’t expect the same for the TD, which suffers from compromised aesthetics and large production numbers.

In a curious development for any fan of the marque, the Triumph roadsters designed by Michelotti have eclipsed the value of the earlier sidescreen cars, which had previously ruled the roost. No doubt some of this is due to changing consumer tastes, since few younger collectors have experience with side curtains and erect-it-yourself tops, but these are unquestionably more attractive cars that get better looking with each passing year.

Sunbeam Tiger prices continue to climb slowly for the very best examples, while the middle-range cars remain stable. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Alpine, since several good examples have sold for surprisingly little money, typified by the startling US $9,900 paid for an excellent Series III at RM Sotheby’s Hershey auction this fall. How these cars are worth less than a contemporary MGB is beyond me, but the market is the ultimate arbiter, and it says these cars are worth less than a five-year-old Honda Accord.

British oddballs and orphans, on the other hand, continue to excel across the block on both sides of the pond, as Aces and Allards continue to rise in lockstep with pricier alternatives from the Continent.

When even less-appreciated examples like the K2 start to climb to new heights, you know that stars like the J2X have been priced out of reach for most. Sold for US $137,500 by RM Sotheby’s, the 1952 Allard K2 is a sign it’s coming along for the ride too. Ace prices continue to climb as well, but on a slower trajectory than in recent years, as demonstrated by the 1956 AC Ace Bristol that sold for US $308,000.

Overall, it looks like the new year will bring much of the same for cars wearing British Racing Green. Cars at the affordable end of the pool will tread water against the more expensive competition, and the more rarified examples will continue their inexorable upward climb, buoyed by recent values that were far too low for what these cars are and represent, giving them plenty of room to grow over the next 12 months.

Photos courtesy of Mecum Auctions, RM Sotheby's and Gooding & Co.

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