Cowland on Cars

Don’t buy a car to make money – buy one to make memories

by Paul Cowland
2 February 2022 4 min read
Don’t buy a car to make money – buy one to make memories
Photos: Matt Howell

Can a collectible car be a good investment? Almost always, reckons Cowland. But that’s the last reason you should buy it.

As one of those alleged ‘TV Car Experts’, a question that I’m asked on an almost daily basis goes along the lines of… ‘What’s the next big thing?’ or ‘Which car should I buy if I want to make money?’

They’re great questions. Of course, if I categorically knew the answer to those queries, my assistant would be typing these words, as I dictated them for you, from the deck of my yacht. The fact that I’m in the office in a battered pair of Vans and a scruffy hoodie tells you that, perhaps, I too, don’t really know either.

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I can take a best guess, of course. And after 28 years in the motor trade, you start to guess right more times than you guess wrong. As Tiger Woods once famously said, ‘the more I practise, the luckier I get.’ And there’s something in that. Although it could be argued that he might be better off practising his driving, rather than, erm, his driving…

The answer I always genuinely give though, when asked about which car to buy, is ‘the one you can afford and have always wanted.’ And if you’re considering dipping your toe into the warm and inviting pool of classic cars for the first time, I’ll say the same to you, too.

Buying the car you promised yourself when you were a kid, that you saw in your favourite film, that your parents had, or you used to worship on your bedroom wall are all the very best reasons for ‘investing’ in a classic. You’ll love owning it, you’ll meet some wonderful people and you will travel on some captivating road trips and adventures in your time together. And, if you’re very lucky, once you’ve paid your insurance, servicing bills, upkeep and storage, you might even make a few quid along the way. The trick is, always keep that last bit as a bonus ball. If you do make money, that’s great. Maybe it will be enough to offset the car’s running costs, maybe it will be more still and is something you can pass on to those around you when the time comes. If you don’t make money on it, you’ve had the car of your dreams for the last few years.

You simply can’t lose either way.

Human nature being what it is though, canny collectors always look to put their money in the best place to get a return. And who can blame them? Hagerty’s very own valuation guide is the stuff of industry legend, after all, and if you’re looking to spot an upwards trend and potential money parking spot, those deeply-researched numbers will help to steer you in the right direction. Even then, my advice remains the same. If your dream car was actually the Citroen BX GTi, then that’s the one you should buy – if you can find one of course! Just because it doesn’t flex the same potential investment muscle as its 205 stablemate, it’s always more fulfilling to buy with your heart first and head second. Believe me, I’ve been there – too many times, some would say.

Paul Cowland's car collection
Cowland bought all of these with his heart. If you’d seen them, you’d understand why.

The quest for investment classics has led to a new phenomenon; that of classic car shares. Companies are now popping up that allow you to buy a percentage of a covetable classic and it’s all very clever on paper. If your budget only stretches to £500 but what you actually want is an RS500 Cosworth, you can now buy a share in one. And once it’s gone up, which it most probably will, and the majority of your fellow shareholders agree, you can sell it, pay off the costs and pocket the premium. Good for your bank balance? Quite possibly. Great for the soul? Not even slightly. You can’t even go and drive ‘your’ car if the mood suits. You can make an appointment to go and sit in it though. Although if you ask really politely at most shows, and are wearing clean trousers, you can achieve the exact same effect for precisely no cost at all.

If you do only have £500 to sink into a classic, my parting advice would be to do just that. Go and buy a £500 classic. It’s probably going to be something relatively unloved from the late ‘90s, but it will be yours. All yours. You can sit in it whenever you like, drive it where you wish and generally do whatever you want with it within the bounds of decency and legality. Because you’ll own it in the very realest sense. You’ll also be able to bring it to Hagerty’s Festival of the Unexceptional, too. An event where, believe it or not, a £500 banger really can receive more love than an RS500.

You may make a few quid in a couple of years’ time. You may not. But I guarantee that you really won’t care either way. The true joy from classic cars comes from the memories and friends you make along the journey. Not the money.

Read more

Join a car club? Not until they can all get along
Everyday, unremarkable and unloved – no wonder I love the Festival of the Unexceptional
Saint Cowland of Cars and his ever-growing flock

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  • Andrew McGuinness says:

    What a fantastic informative article. Very interesting. Love the idea of buying a share in a car. I may look into this.

  • Darren F says:

    Exactly right Paul I own many fords but I’ve a Mk6 Escort estate saved her for 200 quid fettled myself and I love it it’s not going to make me thousands of pounds but I love it for being a car that will be forgotten in time and I hope to keep hold of it for rarity more then value as nothing feels better. , Like you I have many cars bought because I like them not want to make money on them …

  • Rhid says:

    The classics market has always been about nostalgia, who would have ever thought a cavalier or an allegro would be a classic but if it evokes a memory then it is!

    More to the point, I spot an XT and keys for an MV or similar.. you’ve gone up in my estimation! Lol!!

  • Lloyd Evans says:

    Will have no qualms in buying and driving , Morris marina,first car I drove after passing my tests.
    And,a Maestro TDI , we had them as works cars, totally and utterley abused,very capable and reliable cars in the right hands😁.
    Bit noisy though.

  • Steve Loffman says:

    Hi Paul , Your last paragraph is spot on.We brought an MR2 Roadster 14 years ago and joined a club and have made so many new friend from all over the country.Its the people you meet on your journey not the value of the car that makes it.

  • Iqubal says:

    Itook a punt on a 2001 Mercedes Benz CLK 200 KOMPRESSOR. One owner from new 73,000 FSH and mint condition. £1400 a bargain I think and to top it it’s ULEZ free. It’s an amazing drive sure to go up in value.

  • David Knight says:

    I agree with Steve we bought our Mr2 years ago and its used every day as he says its not just the car but its the friends you make on the way,and yes the wife is a club member and also an ace tinkerer

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