Could negative interest rates drive the market for collectable cars?

Almost inevitably, a policymaker within the Bank of England has indicated that negative interest rates (taking the base rate below zero) are under serious discussion. The UK base rate is already at 0.1%, so quite frankly, we’re not looking at much of an adjustment. While for many economists it may be a last resort, the Bank of England has stated that it is a ‘tool in the toolbox’ that could be deployed, as other countries have done. The hope, of course, is to encourage spending and not saving.


But what if you have savings? Will you resort to planting brown paper parcels of cash under your mattress? Or might there be something else to do with your money that is a) pretty safe b) may possibly result in some modest growth and c) is waaaaaay more fun than rummaging under your mattress or scouting comparison sites for the best in a very poor selection of savings account interest rates. The answer for some of you might be the world of collectable cars.


I first became professionally involved with the classic car market in 2006 when I began to work for a major auction house in the classic car scene. Both 2006 and 2007 were good years for the market in almost every respect, but in 2008 we all found ourselves in the centre of a global downturn; a maelstrom of misery brought on by sub-prime lending and the systematic failures of the global banking industry. Banks failed, homes and jobs were lost, stocks fell, property crashed – and so did interest rates. And this misery coincided with a surge in the rise of classic car values the like of which we have never seen before and which continued unabated for the next decade. That wasn’t a coincidence. When investors lost confidence in stocks, shares, property and other traditional asset classes, they sought a new place to plant their cash – and many put it into old motors.


Now, none of this was necessarily a good thing for the classic car market (artificial price inflation brought on by speculative investors with deep pockets, never is) and the backdrop to that era was very different to the COVID ravaged world we’re living in today. The economics and the market forces were different, and direct comparisons can’t really be made. Right now, certain investments such as residential property are doing incredibly well, and we’re not necessarily fearful that our high street banks going under – as we were twelve years ago.


But the fact is that savers really have very few options these days. The property market is one thing, but to swim in that pool requires large sums of money, or at the very least it requires large deposits. And lest we forget, property attracts the attention of HMRC and capital gains tax.


Not so classic cars. Classic cars are – for me – the perfect asset. Of course, just like buying antique furniture or art, you need to know what you’re buying, and you need to invest with caution and with expert help and advice. But once those pre-requisites are navigated it really is a world full of fun and opportunity. First off, I’ll say here and now that people need to be cautious and not look for a quick return – this isn’t 2010. Buy what appeals to you, what you can afford (and what you can afford to maintain) and have modest expectations. But, for me, it’s far more fun than owning wine you can never drink or art that sits unloved on a wall somewhere. A classic car can be a joy to own and it opens up a whole world of friendship and fun.


And here’s the best bit – the entry point is a few grand – the sort of money that won’t get you started in the property market or buy you many bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1934. I’ve just bought a humble mid-60s MG Midget. Or rather my wife did with a small windfall she enjoyed. It cost a whisker under £7,000 and it’s beautiful. Almost perfect. It’s fun to drive, lovely to look at and simple and cheap to maintain. And here’s the point: I bought the car from someone who wanted a quick sale.


I’ve made some small improvements and lavished a little care and attention on it. I think I could sell it tomorrow and make a £500-£700 profit for my wife. We don’t want to do that because we want to enjoy it, but we also know that if we sell it in a few months or a few years, it will have lost no value and may have risen a little with the market. We could have put it in a savings account, but quite honestly, why would we? If you have £50,000, £100,000, £250,000 or £1,000,000 to play with, then broadly speaking the same rules apply. Let’s see what the Bank of England has in store for us, shall we?