What do British sports cars have to do with the Ford Model T?
There was a time when the Ford Model T was ubiquitous in the classic car firmament. Almost every car collector had one at some point and it was both an entry level and aspirational car for many enthusiasts. They represented a good investment as prices rose – albeit gradually – over time and that appreciation ensured that most of the money spent on their maintenance and improvement was likely to be recouped when the cars were sold down the road.
Over the succeeding decades, however, the Model T was eventually replaced as an object of affection by its successor, the Model A, which in turn handed over the baton to a legion of muscle cars and 55-57 Chevys. Sports car enthusiasts gravitated towards European models that built on the sterling reputations won through competition victories and an enamored following in the automotive press.
What happened? The Model T suffered by being seen as something of an anachronism to collectors that were used to post-war era automobiles that could be used on weekend drives, afternoon trips to the local Dairy Queen and used on events from the local club outing to the high dollar tours like the California Mille and Colorado Grand. The T also fell out of favor once its owners grew older and used their cars less thus failing to bring them to the attention of a new generation of potential owners and fans.
Model T values are almost at exactly the same place they were a decade ago and the long term prospectus for growth is for flat appreciation or even a gradual decline. Does value matter? Maybe and maybe not, but owners are far less likely to lavish time and money on their cars if there is little to no likelihood that the money spent will ever be recovered. More importantly, values reflect demand (read interest) and these flaccid sales are reflective of a market that has passed the cars by.
What the hell does any of this have to do with those of us that love British sports cars? Over the past year or so, as I have attempted to bang the drum for some of the under appreciated models out there such as the TR7, Spitfire, Midget and rubber bumper MGB, there have been repeated comments from the hobby that these cars are, at best, the bottom of the collector’s barrel, and, at worst, outright turds that should be avoided at all cost. What these people fail to understand is that these cars are the gateway drug to other British sports cars. Today’s TR7 owner is tomorrow’s TR3 buyer and the rubber bumper MGB will introduce a world of driving pleasure that cannot help but lead to one day buying an MGA or Big Healey down the road.
Any British sports car on the road is advertising for future generations. There was a time when a drive in my TR4 meant at least one or two comments from passers by as to what type of MG it was. Now, few remember MG, let alone Invicta, Riley, Marcos, TVR, et al. How many times have you been out and had to answer the question, what is it? Few owners of SWB Porsche 911s, BMW 2002s and Alfa Romeo Spiders have to endure the ignominy of explaining that Britain once produced more sports cars than anywhere else and that they were widely coveted and collected.
Surely, drivability – or lack of it – played a part in the demise of the Model T. Truth be told, it is just too damn slow to be used on any freeway and it’s usage is best suited for parades and participation in the Great Race. Such concerns have put a damper on TC values and argue for the presence of an operable overdrive in any prospective purchase.
What can you do? Continue to go out and drive, go to as many shows and events as you can and be patient to the general public when explaining what these cars are and what they used to represent. Get your kids involved and try to teach them as much as you can. I spent a few days last month with a collector in Texas who had a great assortment of Big Healeys, Sprites, Triumphs and MGs. His problem was that his 21 year old son had no interest in these relics and instead wanted a Mitsubishi 3000 GT instead. Perhaps that’s not so unusual but it doesn’t speak well of the further if no one will want these cars after we’re gone. After all, we can’t take them with us.