Alexander Corne's 'Future Classics'

By: Andy Enright/Scott Murray, Photography by: Alexander Corne/Unique Cars

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Alexander Corne and his 1991 book 'Future Classics' Alexander Corne and his 1991 book 'Future Classics' Alexander Corne and his 1991 book 'Future Classics'
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We keep score on Alexander Corne's speculations from his 1991 book 'Future Classics'...

Alexander Corne's 'Future Classics'
Alexander Corne and his 1991 book 'Future Classics'

 

'Future Classics' by Alexander Corne

Call it conceit, call it confidence, call it what you like, but there’s one thing that classic car enthusiast have in common. We all reckon we can pick a future classic. We’ve studied the form and know the backstories of all the models you care to mention, but picking the winners is actually a good deal tougher than we’d like to imagine. Why? Put simply, what has happened in the past isn’t always a good predictor for what will happen in future. Secondly, used car values are hugely influenced by macro-economic booms and busts that we can do nothing to influence and little to offset.

Here at Unique Cars, we’re constantly grilled by readers and enthusiasts if their car-yard shucking will ever reveal a pearl. By the same token, what should people have bought new a decade ago that could pay for the kids’ uni fees in the future? Step forward motoring journo, industry commentator and PR maestro Alexander Corne, who attempted to addressed this very issue back in the early 1990s, in his aptly-titled book Future Classics. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

"At the start of the 1990s, with the passing of Enzo Ferrari, classic car prices started to go mad," Corne says. "The fact that there were few interesting cars in the ‘80s as a percentage of total cars built, added to this. In the ‘80s, many global brands were still trying to come to terms with the reliable, economical wave of Japanese imports," he says. "Given the previous generation of gobsmackingly beautiful, powerful cars, the impact of efficient and reliable Japanese cars changed the face of motoring. So too did the threat of convertibles being outlawed in the US due to roll-over protection regulations."

So, two and a half decades on, how accurate were Alexander’s predictions? Some cars would have put your kids through college and left change for a beachfront holiday renter. Others would have had the young ‘uns and your parents working doubles at KFC to keep the lights on. Hindsight’s a beautiful thing. In truth any car becomes a classic if it gets old and rare enough. Even your next door neighbour’s shiny Kia Optima is going to be a cool classic given forty years or so, but we’re interested in which of Alexander’s picks would emerge as under-the-radar money-makers.

So where to start? Let’s stick a pin in the atlas and hit Great Britain. Aston Martin might seem the safest of bets, but Corne wasn’t working with great source material in the early ‘90s cars. The Virage was no great shakes and the Zagato Coupe and Convertible haven’t appreciated significantly from when the book was published, many still trading in the region of £300,000. A better buy would have been an older DB6 or V8 Vantage, prices of which were in the doldrums at the time but are now skyrocketing.

Whisking through the Brits we find the Bentley Turbo R which steam-Rollered its Royce parent and showed that weighty luxury didn’t have to be slow. Values today haven’t really taken off except for the most pristine and best-provenanced examples. Speaking of fast, the Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth was a future classic as soon as it rolled out of the factory, but even Corne couldn’t have predicted the frenzied demand for honest examples. He would probably have lost his house if he’d have taken up his own ‘buy’ recommendation on an XJ220 which, at the time, were changing hands for almost £300,000. Boldly stating that "the car will never sell for less than a quarter of a million pounds", it’s now fairly easy to find them changing hands at less than £200,000.

Likewise, his recommendation for the XJ V12 saloon hasn’t come to much, that model plagued by unreliability and oversupply.

He almost struck gold with Jensen but plucked defeat from the jaws of victory by plumping for the Interceptor IV which, at the time, carried a £120,000 asking price. Now you’d be lucky to get half that. If you picked up an earlier Interceptor at a good price, hold on tight because the time’s right for these to start appreciating. He rightly fingered the all-wheel drive FF as a past classic, but this was the car that actually had the most earnings potential, alongside the very collectable 440 SP.

Lotus has been another marque that can be a minefield for speculators and the 1980s Esprit Turbo SE and the Elan Turbo SE that Corne picks haven’t set auction blocks alight. The Esprit has underperformed, with only latter-spec models like the Sport 350 and GT3 starting to make money, while the front-wheel drive Elan was lauded at the time but quickly forgotten with the arrival of the Elise in 1996. Perhaps its time may still come with increasing rarity, but in the meantime look to the S1 Exige and 240R.

Triumph’s TR8 is a brave and interesting choice and if you could have picked a US-spec car up at the right price would probably have made you a modest profit. That’s if you hadn’t spent too much fixing its many mechanical issues. "The pop-up headlamps didn’t, the doors didn’t shut and mechanical infirmity gave the cars a bad name," writes Corne. The appeal of a gutsy Buick lump in a lightweight two-seat body, fronted by a charismatic badge has kept enthusiasts interested though.

That formula was teased out to the nth degree in the ultra-rare TVR 450 SEAC, with its advanced Kevlar composite body. Since the Blackpool company was driven into the ground by a young Russian investor-owner, demand for the prime products has grown and the 450 SEAC certainly fits that bill. Track down one of these, a Speed 12 or a late Sagaris and you could be sitting on a serious pile.

Japanese cars haven’t always been much of a happy hunting ground for investors and some of Corne’s picks were doomed from the start by the familiar problem of oversupply. The Mazda MX-5 certainly qualifies as a future classic in name, if not in value. Mazda’s second-gen RX-7 will always be overshadowed by its magnificent successor, while the Nissan 300ZX probably seemed brilliant at the time but only viewed through the lens of what had gone immediately before.

The second-generation Toyota MR2 and the original Supra Turbo were enjoyable and workmanlike performers but remain mass-market cheapies. The tuners and JDM industry built these cars up and then destroyed values of most of them, with only unmolested originals holding any promise. Corne misses out on the iconic R32 Skyline GT-R but does strike gold with the Honda NSX, a car that fortunate owners realise still has a long way to climb to fulfil its potential.

Interestingly, Corne singles out France as a closet hotbed for potential classics. The Alpine-Renault GTA is a curious pick, with its longitudinally-mounted V6 in a rear-drive configuration, but this model hasn’t reached the peaks of its A310 and A110 forebears. Corne plays a straight bat with the Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9 and the Renault 5 Turbo II, the values of the latter going stratospheric while the Peugeot continues to flatline.

You don’t have to dig too hard to unearth a future Italian classic: the Alfa Romeo GTV6, as you’ll see in our Buyer’s Guide on page 126, is a warm meal ticket among the hungry and forever-tinkering Alfisti. The brutal SZ has rewarded the faithful and the early ‘90s Spyder might yet do something, despite being overshadowed by the more desirable earlier Duettos. Corne’s hand is forced by the ugliest Lamborghini Countach, the Anniversary, rather than the much-vaunted LP5000 QV or the purist’s LP400, values of which are now nudging £1,000,000. The Diablo is already well on its uphill march, especially if you’ve got your hands on an ‘edition’ such as an SV, SE30, GT or Jota, and you’d certainly be sitting pretty if you’d bought the somewhat overproduced Ferrari F40 or the fantastic 288 GTO. The Testarossa never really emulated its key rival the Countach at auction, so you’d have lost your shirt there.

Likewise, you’d be crying into your beer if you’d chosen a Maserati Shamal, a Lancia Monte Carlo would probably have oxidised but a Delta HF Integrale in decent nick, especially one of the last Evoluzione IIs, is on the right path.

Heading Stateside, the C4 ZR1 Corvette might have been King of the Hill back then, but 380bhp today isn’t anything too extreme and values are languishing. The DeLorean DMC-12 has an enduring Back To The Future kitsch appeal which has bolstered values quite well, although it’s the original cars which fetch the most money. Mock it up like Doc Brown’s and the value won’t McFly. Ford’s T-bird Supercoupe was rapidly forgotten, while the Pontiac Fiero GT falls into the bracket of ‘almost there’.

As for the Germans, Corne hits the Deutschmark with the Audi Quattro 20v, one of those rare cars that always lives up to the big billing. Likewise, BMW’s E30 M3 Sports Evolution is a car that will have bidders foaming at the mouth. Another winner is the Mercedes 190 Evo II, while the Porsche 959 was always going to be a bolted-on classic. Perhaps Alexander’s most informed German choice is the VW Golf Limited, a G60-supercharged Mk 2 wolf in sheep’s clothing. What it lacks in universal recognition, it’s beginning to claw back in cachet among VW collectors. The Porsche 928 GT and BMW 850i were both complex and slightly overweight bahnstormers that might yet see some play, but better buys at the time would have been the Porsche 968 Turbo RS or the BMW M1, prices of which were around £40,000 for a tidy example. You’d get ten times that for one at auction now.

So Corne’s done pretty well overall. He’s picked some home bankers, some left fielders, a few you could retire on and a handful that didn’t just fall out of bed pricewise, but fell out of bed, crashed through the floorboards and vanished down an abandoned mineshaft. He missed out on Aussie tackle altogether, and overlooked some sexy Swedes like the Saab 900 Turbo 16S and the Volvo 850 T5. Think you could you do better? Hit up
our Facebook page and let us know what you’d pick.

CHOOSE WISELY

Unique Cars' Andy Enright picks five for the future...

Without going into the realms of fantasy cars like LaFerraris or Lambo Venenos, where would we put our money, if asked to identify future classics? Straight away we’re faced with whether these are purely investment vehicles or cars that will build a reputation as classics regardless of price. To make things easy, we’ll go for the former. The cars don’t need to be good, bad or ugly; they just need to appreciate in value. Recently out-of-production models like the Lexus LFA, BMW 1M Coupe, Alfa 8C, Mercedes SLS coupe and the Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0 would have made the cut but as for current cars, here are my picks.

1. FPV GT-F
A bit of a no-brainer this one: Ford’s fastest full stop is always going to create a powerful pull with those who get a bit dewy-eyed over the days of domestic production. Swap for HSV’s Commodore GTS if you prefer.

2. JAGUAR F-TYPE R COUPE
Is this one going the way of the E-Type or the XJ-S? It’s a gamble but Jaguar launching an all-wheel drive version may well see a rationalisation in chassis strategy that would make the spiky rear-wheel drive F-TYPE R a rare beast. Those owners with heavy right boots will doubtless make it rarer still.

3. AUDI R8
It’s the last supercar with a gated manual shift. Of course, there are other reasons, but the last of any particular line bolsters interest and while a tidy manual R8 V8 probably isn’t at the bottom of its curve just yet, it’s one for the longer term.

4. MORGAN TRIKE
Much will hinge on how expensive the list price for this one will be here but as an oddballer, this eccentric tripod is exactly the sort of thing that future collectors will pay big money for. It’s not as if Morgan’s going to go crazy and start overproducing either.

5. FERRARI 458 SPECIALE
The 430 Scuderia was a gem and prices have gone berserk. The 458 Speciale is better still and although $550,000 isn’t an insignificant sum, the fact that Ferrari is switching to turbocharged engines for future models could well make this a normally-aspirated high-water mark. Without wishing to get too snake-oily on you, you’re really not going to lose here.

 

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