Personal Finance

The old wheels of fortune

Arvind Jayaram | Updated on November 19, 2014

The 1933 Chevrolet Master Phaeton is one of world’s six that is still running




Your prized vintage car can turn in a tidy profit; all you need is to cherish it

They are rolling sculptures and icons of a bygone era. Like fine art or wine, the adage, “Old is gold,” holds true for automobiles too. But owning one of these coveted machines is quite unlike other passion plays, because there’s more to it than parking it in a secure space.

Indeed, cars are designed to move, and would rot if they don’t. Driving a vintage or classic vehicle is the best part of owning it, especially when heads turn as you hurtle down the road.

That’s not to say you can’t turn a tidy profit if the pristine Morris Minor or Model-A Ford that you own goes under the hammer.

Costly hobby

Owning a vintage or classic car may not fit into every investor’s plans or pocketbook. “Vintage cars are all about passion. This is not about repairing and selling to make money. To like such cars, you have to be extremely passionate. The more passionate you are, the more involved you will be with every spring and clip,” says Sharath Vijayraghavan, Executive Director at Sundaram Motors.

He is the proud owner of a vintage 1933 Chevrolet Master Phaeton, of which only 613 units were ever produced. His car is one of just six worldwide that is still running today.

The car was originally purchased new by his grandfather, TS Duraisamy, who started Sundaram Motors in 1945, and it has clocked over 1,20,000 km since. Vijayraghavan estimates that the car was bought for a princely ₹1,200 in 1933.

The car took on multiple trips between Chennai, Madurai, Bangalore and Mumbai in the 1940s. After Duraisamy passed away, it was mainly used for wedding functions up to the early 1970s, following which it was retired to the garage.

But its story doesn’t end there. “Five years ago, we once again got back to the car and tore it into bits and rebuilt it with all the original parts from America, the original suppliers. We imported everything and put it back together.

“The Chevrolet Vintage Car Club of America helped us enormously in sourcing various parts, right from the hood skin to seat skin to carpet,” says Vijayraghavan, who estimates that the cost of restoring the vehicle was ₹25-30 lakh.

“A car like this in the US today will go for about $4,00,000. You just won’t find one,” he says, adding “The pride of driving it around is extremely special. It is very rare to see such a car running on the road. You don’t have to run it like a day-to-day car… I drive it on weekends.”

Classic or vintage?

The prized vintage is now housed in Sundaram’s compound on Mount Road, where it is both heirloom and mascot for the company.

Before evaluating the purchase of antique automobiles though, you should know that they fall into two categories: classic and vintage.

Vintage cars are models that were hand-built before the adoption of mass production methods; they are usually categorised as Edwardian (pre-1919), vintage (pre-1931) and post-vintage thoroughbreds (made prior to World War II).

On the other hand, classic is popularly used to describe landmark vehicles in automobile history that rolled off production lines, such as a 1967 Ferrari.

When determining a car’s worth, the key parameters to keep in mind are its pedigree, rarity, condition and desirability. Some cars are indelibly etched in the minds of auto buffs, perhaps because they were featured in a hit movie or have a storied past.

And, yes, beauty does lie in the eyes of the beholder.

The true worth of your car will depend on the amount a collector is willing to pay for those ancient wheels.

Thankfully, the other factors are easier to evaluate. The manufacturer and craftsmanship are the prime determinants of the worth of the car. And some sort of pedigree attached to the brand is always a good thing.

A fair amount of importance is also attached to a car’s rarity, based on surviving stock and import figures. The final factor, of course, is the condition of the car itself.

So, if you are looking to purchase a vintage or classic car, keep in mind that a car that requires a substantial amount of restoration can be bought at a fraction of the cost of a vehicle in pristine running condition. Iconic cars that are representative of a brand or a decade history usually rake in the highest demand and prices.

For starters

In the pre-Internet days, locating a vintage or classic car needed a lot of legwork. But now, you can find ads for antique vehicles on sites such as Olx and Quikr, though it is advisable to make a first-hand evaluation of the item for sale before putting down the cash.

The website of the Vintage and Classic Cars Club of India (VCCCI) also has a handy classifieds section where members put up some of their prized cars for sale from time to time.

If you have the desire and the passion to own a vintage or classic car, keep in mind that some cars are easier to find than others. If you’re looking to purchase a piece of history on four wheels, there are a number of options for the budding collector.

For example, Fiats built from 1956 to 1962 — also known as Dukkar Fiats — can be bought for as cheap as ₹45,000 in case of a run-down piece, to up to ₹4.5 lakh for well-restored ones, according to some estimates.

Similarly, the Landmaster, popularly known as the Landy, starts from ₹50,000 and goes up to ₹4.5 lakh if preserved well; just be sure that the original headlamps, door handles and front grille are intact, as these parts are hard to find.

Early models of the Morris Minor built between 1948 and 1950, called the “Lowlight”, have a price tag of ₹1-3.5 lakh, depending on the condition, while the Chrysler-branded Dodge, Plymouth and Desoto can be found in dilapidated condition for ₹2.5 lakh, but go up to ₹10 lakh.

And a Model A Ford built between 1927 and 1931 can cost as much as ₹12 lakh if well-restored.

Naturally, there are other gems out there that fit into your purse, but remember, what you put into your vintage or classic car is what you will get out of it. Restoring a broken-down vehicle can be time-consuming, frustrating and expensive.

But like any other investment, if you do the due diligence and put in the hard work, you’re not only likely to attract whistles of appreciation, but also draw in buyers for your mean machine.

Published on April 20, 2014

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