British Lead Price Rise in Collector Cars

Big Healeys and MGTs log strong sales

It’s no secret in the world of fine collector cars: Quality sells at a premium often higher than established values guides’ limitations. Almost every weekend in 2004, record prices were paid at public auctions for popular British sportscars.

If the price increases seen for such models as Austin-Healey 3000s (especially the BJ8 series) as well as E-Type Jaguars are any indication of the current economy, then the collector-car market is at its all-time apex. From the glitter-covered sales block of Barrett-Jackson’s annual kick-off sale last January in Scottsdale to the fabulous weekend in Monterey headed up by Christies, Gooding, and RM Auctions, prices have escalated to record levels.

Driving these prices are the availability of parts from sources such as Moss Motors and quality restorations that far exceed factory-production quality. Sheetmetal is perfectly mated, flawless paint is applied in the correct colors, interiors are created by the finest artisans, suspensions have detailing that far exceeds the exterior finish of many modern cars, and mechanics are not only spectacular to view, but also ready to hit the track or the concours field.

Healey Inflation

Awesome would describe the price jumps seen in recent months for the Austin-Healey 3000s. In public auctions, they’ve rocketed from the low $40,000s to near $100,000! Reportedly, several private sales have been over the six-figure mark. High-dollar examples have thousands of hours of restoration labor and use only the best materials. Craftsmen have replicated every feature expertly enough to make the spirit of Donald Healey rest easy knowing that his creations are being so well presented.

Also enjoying a king-size growth spurt in values is the fabled MG T-Series roadsters from the late 1940s and early 1950s. While many credit the MG-TC with spawning the British sportscar craze after World War II, today this model is considered the elite of open-air English motoring. Prices have risen in response to the growing audiences, with some examples reportedly hitting the $50,000 mark, about a 35% rise in the past couple of years. During the last days of the Clinton administration, TDs hovered in the $12,000-$15,000 range. Today, take those values, double them, and then add a 10%-15% premium on top of that for exceptional quality for a price level that many felt was long overdue. Setting an all-time record was a specially prepared TD 2+2, exhibited at the 1953 New York Auto Show and later owned by actor Lee Majors. At the recent Christies’ Monterey sales, this car commanded a bid of $94,000. A 17.5% premium took the final sale price well into six-figure land.

When the MGA was released in the late 1950s, it had a modern body design with mechanical carry-overs. When the 1600s came out, the result was a faster car, and both the coupe and the roadster were well-received. Today, under the lights of the auction block and the blaring loud-speakers, MGA prices have seen 40%-60% rises: Roadsters go in the low to high $40,000 range while even the coupes are enjoying values in the mid-$20,000s. Of course, add a Twin-Cam and the value will increase a minimum 20%.

Always considered the most elegant of post-war sportscars are the XK-120s and 140s, which have accelerated in value faster than when they took the checkered flags at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At the auction block, a premium has always been expected with the alloy-body early 120s. Standard steel-body examples have been approaching this level, but of course those early models still hold a 40%-50% advantage.

E-Type Investments

Considered by many the epitome of the post-war production sportscar is the early E-Type Jaguar. Flat floors or side latches for the bonnet add to the value of the first editions, and the top-dollar cars at auction are the Series I roadsters fitted with the 4.2L engine. With prices seen well over the $100,000 level and pushing $120,000 in one report, these cars are very safe returns on the investment of quality work. Even the later Series III V-12 editions and coupes have seen a 10%-15% general rise at auctions from New Jersey to Los Angeles.

Some of the most difficult cars to pin values on are the Triumph TR2 and TR3 roadsters. Outstanding examples of these cars when new were few and far between, and many of today’s restorations exhibit higher quality fit and finish than production levels. While the “cheap and cheerful” restorations are fun to look at, here again, quality is key. While prices have generally remained under $15,000 on the auction block, professional restorations often exceed this level, which limits the budgets some owners want to establish for having their cars redone. But those who are willing to take a chance may be surprised in private sales, and it’s just a matter of time before these TRs’ values climb up to make them worthwhile investments.

Even the smaller cars—such as Sprites, Midgets, and later Triumphs—are doing very well, making the higher cost of restoration and parts a little more bearable knowing that the final product will return its value at auction. Cars that were once entry-level bargain-basement models are now becoming prized possessions due to nostalgia interest and a growing segment of the motoring population wanting to get involved with the hobby and sport.

However, only those cars that have scrutinized to the “nth” degree seem to fare well. Careful buyers, or their representatives, comb over every major part of these cars, looking for short-cuts in restoration skills or items that the factory never designed or placed on the cars. As values for the finest examples have shot up at record paces, cars that need restoration or have shoddy workmanship have remained flat—and in some cases have actually seen a decline in value. This is due to rising prices in restoration skills. Several quality Canadian shops have noted a major drop in work from the United States as the Canadian dollar increases in strength.

Not counting an unforeseen disaster in the near future, prices will surely escalate at a pace ahead of interest rates or many standard investments. However, auctions can be fickle, and a model’s popularity could turn almost overnight. While financial investments are good, it is far better to buy, own, maintain, and restore your British-born sportscar for the sole purpose of loving its unique mechanics, wonderful driving experiences, and the friendships of those who share your passion.


With prices topping over the $20,000 mark, the $4,860 paid for this 1972 Triumph TR-6 with rare optional hardtop was among the few bargains we found at the Kruse International fall Auburn sale.


Always one of the most popular members of the British sportscar set are the early XKs, such as this XK-140 with the very desirable MC option, selling for a strong $94,000 sell price at Christies’ in Monterey


Especially treasured by British sportscar fans is the handiwork of the early David Brown inspired Aston-Martins. With values rising steadily, this DB-2 drop-head coupe was a good buy when called sold at the Hershey Auction for a bid of $83,000, plus the commission.

  By Phil Skinner; photos by Phil Skinner

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