Rich are learning there's gold in them there grilles
Classic cars now viewed as a smart investment but there are plenty of bargains out there too
Sexier than gold ingots, more fun than a Picasso and out-performing luxury London property, classic cars from Ferraris to Aston Martins are the new hottest investment for the very wealthy.
The value of top-end classics has soared by 28pc over the past eight months.
And from Beijing to Silicon Valley, the new super-rich in particular are scrambling to snap up rare, historic and exotic supercars to race, rally or show off in their climate-controlled garages.
As investments, classics are currently far outperforming gold, fine art and property in hotspots such as Paris and London.
London-based property consultancy Knight Frank, which publishes an index tracking the performance of luxury goods, said Asian billionaires in particular are putting more money into cars that can be driven and enjoyed and still offer a big return on their investment.
The latest report from Knight Frank points out the unique appeal of old Ferraris, Bentleys and Porsches for millionaires who love to have bragging rights.
"It's an asset class that's very rare and it's very aspirational," said Andrew Shirley of Knight Frank.
"A lot of Asian high-net worth individuals have acquired classic cars. They keep them in their garage in the UK or Europe and they come over and drive them in rallies."
Mr Shirley points out that gold, for more than a decade the go-to investment vehicle, has fallen in value by 23pc over the same period that has seen classic car values soar.
"The thing about gold is that it's tangible in the sense that it's a physical thing, but there's no great enjoyment to be had from gold," he said, "whereas a classic car, it's still a safe haven play, but it's something you're going to enjoy."
The classic car world was stunned in July when a rare 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196, which five-time Formula 1 world champion Juan Manuel Fangio drove to two GP victories, was sold in the UK for €22.6m, making it the most expensive car ever sold at auction.
The Fangio Mercedes was one of a series of exotics that went for huge money over a summer of frantic action at the big auctions across Europe and the US.
The really big money is being spent on historic racers, hand-built factory team cars from the likes of Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Jaguar, usually with competition history from legendary circuits such as Le Mans or the Nurburgring.
A major sale in London last week saw a rare Maserati 250S, previously raced by legendary American driver and designer Carroll Shelby, sell for just under €2.5m.
The market can be a little volatile, and there are always experts who warn of a sudden down-turn.
A Jaguar racer built for Le Mans had to be withdrawn from the same sale after failing to get anywhere near it's €6m reserve.
However, the same auction also revealed the wackier side of classic car investment.
The "James Bond Lotus Submarine", a movie prop from the 1977 film 'The Spy Who Loved Me', sold for €732,180 to an unknown bidder. And that was judged to be a lot of money for an un-drivable movie prop.
An association with a famous name or a movie franchise can increase a car's value almost exponentially.
British-built Aston Martins from the 1960s, which have long had an association with the James Bond movies, have recently fetched more than €400,000 at auction. The same cars were being snapped up for as little as €25,000 to €30,000 only 10 years ago.
One of the most iconic cars in movie history, the 1968 Mustang Fastback driven by Steve McQueen in 'Bullitt', has recently come to light in the US. It is not currently for sale, but is estimated to be worth anything up to €15m.
If you think that is a lot of money for an old car, it is worth pointing out that the brown tweed jacket worn by McQueen in the same movie sold last month in Los Angeles for a cool €550,000.
However, while exotics are going for huge money, more practical classics have also seen their value rise by up to 20pc in the past year or so. The humble Ford Escort Mk 1, the everyday hack for many thousands of Irish families in the 1970s, is now one of the most in-demand models on the classic scene.
Good examples of standard Mk 1s are now worth from €7,000 to €10,000. Rarer sports variants such as the Ford Escort Mexico or the RS2000 can cost between €25,000 and €40,000, depending on rally history and condition.
The values of cars from the 1960s through the 1980s has been boosted by a new wave of nostalgia, with many 30-, 40- or 50-some-things looking to relive the magic of their childhood memories.
Morris Minors (especially the wood-bodied Traveller estate), BMWs from the 1970s and 1960s-era Mercedes are all very popular at the moment.
These cars are also practical, relatively cheap to run and easy to service.
Cars built before the era of computerised management systems and other hi-tech advances are often not a whole lot more complicated than the average lawnmower.
A thriving club scene and widespread parts availability (helped by the internet and cheap shipping) mean classics can be kept on the road for surprisingly little money.
In Ireland, classics (cars more than 30 years old) can be imported for a VRT rate of €200 and taxed for €48 a year. They are also exempt from the NCT (but you will need an engineer's report to avail of classic insurance, which is usually cheaper than insurance on a "modern").
Even a good classic Porsche 911 -- for many car nuts the greatest sports car ever built -- can be bought for as little as €14,000 and run for the same cost as a modern family car.
And that is part of the attraction with classic cars -- the Wow Factor can be had for a fraction of what it would cost to achieve with a new Ferrari or Aston Martin.
At a recent classic car show in Dublin, we saw a new Aston Martin parked near a Fiat 500, the cute little Italian "Bambino" that has recently inspired a best-selling retro-model from Fiat.
The Aston Martin would not have left much change from €250,000. The perfectly restored 1960s Bambino was on sale for €8,000.