The Front Line: Market opinion from Gregor Fisken

The Front Line: Market opinion from Gregor Fisken 16th November 2018

“From the results we saw in Monterey, it’s clear there are still buyers making considered, well-thought-out purchases of great cars such as the Aston Martin DP215. When special opportunities come up, they will buy – I take great comfort from that.” Gregor Fisken talking to us about the condition of the market, cars he wishes he’d never sold, and how a 1950s American classic might one day find itself in the Fisken family garage…

“The best way of describing things at the moment is that some long-term owners we’ve known for years, rather than saying to us, ‘I’m never going to sell’, are at least engaging with a ‘well, maybe’,” he continues over lunch at a restaurant close to his Kensington mews garage.

“That’s helpful, as the market has certainly been starved of opportunity and when the truly exceptional becomes available, regardless of era, if a car is sexy and exciting, it will sell. And sell well: look at the 1935 Duesenberg SSJ at Gooding this year. It had three bidders on it, the youngest in his mid-40s, and eventually it went to a well-established collector with a long history of owning the best there is.

“My birthday treat this week was an outing in the family 1929 4½ Litre Bentley Saloon on the Benjafield’s Racing Club rally in North Wales. We drove there and back from London, setting Waze to a non-motorway route, and had the most wonderful time with a great bunch of people of all ages and from all walks of life. Talking about the future market for pre-War cars of this ilk, I’d say ‘inherently reliable’.”

And ‘matching numbers’ on cars such as these?

“It’s not the curse you might think. The records for Vintage Bentleys are extremely detailed and mechanical changes – especially those made by the factory in period – are quite rightly accepted. Then again, buyers for pre-War cars tend to be experienced enthusiasts who understand the reality of component changes, particularly for cars with racing history. Parallel to that is a well-heeled group of collectors who will pay for exceptional originality, particularly of coachwork.”

Away from Cricklewood, what takes Gregor’s fancy?

“Driving a pre-War car makes you feel special. It’s like flying a Tiger Moth. They don’t provoke envy, it’s a happy experience, and a Vintage Bentley at 70-80mph is as fast as anyone would want to go. They are never boring to drive; we joke that every perfectly silent gear change is a victory and they are incredibly engaging, indeed addictive. You mention other makes and models, well I’d look at Alvises – undervalued but great cars, good to drive with some lovely coachwork – plus sporting Lagondas and low chassis Invictas. A Derby Bentley with rakish coachwork is a lovely thing and super value for money. And there’s ‘Bunty’ Scott-Moncrieff’s ‘Edwardian Malingerer’, the Vauxhall 30-98, the connoisseurs’ choice.

Values of good pre-War cars just rise in a steady, orderly manner – I don’t think that these cars have flattened out in recent years like others. The best of the best is never easy to get hold of as the great examples tend to stay in decades of long-term ownership.”

Which brings us to some of the stars of the recent collecting boom from the post-War Grandes Marques.

“Again,” Gregor continues, “when something special comes up it goes well. Take the delivery-mileage 300 SL Roadster at Artcurial’s Le Mans Classic sale. Monterey was confident, the US market is more optimistic and it’s pro ‘doing business’. In Europe it can be a little bit ‘glass half empty’…subdued. However, generally, the more important cars in Europe tend to be transacted away from the glare of the auction room.”

The Fisken name is well known for racing and selling competition cars. British road-racing machinery from the 1950s is high in Gregor’s affections, cars that ‘owners would rather have in their garage than money in the bank’.

“Our own experience of selling serious Jaguar C-, D- and lightweight E-type competition cars, as well as competition Aston Martins, has been quite different from that of the salerooms. So far this year, we’ve sold two C-types, one D-type and two significant lightweight E-type competition cars. Though the auctions have done well with their Le Mans winners, they haven’t helped draw fair price comparisons by a combination of overpricing and mis-describing two sports-racing Jaguars.

“An unimpeachable short-nose customer ‘D’ I’d value at £7m – less than a third of the price of a Ferrari 250 TR. That seems incredibly fair, you can comfortably drive it on the road and, having driven both, I can tell you the short-nose D is simply a better car than the 250 TR. I had the privilege of driving a customer’s DB3S in the Mille Miglia last year. We had a fantastic blast for miles and miles, having no problem in keeping a couple of 4-cylinder sports-racing Ferraris behind us which, good-looking as they were, sounded thoroughly agricultural as they popped and banged behind us. A stunning-looking DB3S is probably less money and a joy to the ears at any speed.

“The car I wish I’d never sold was Jaguar C-type XKC 041 ‘KSF 181’ (above, with Tony Dron at the wheel at the 'Ring). It was Jimmy Stewart’s Ecurie Ecosse car. In 2000 I flew to Adelaide to buy it, airfreighted it back and immediately entered it in the third-ever Goodwood Revival. Having put what was really only a 180bhp road car on pole in the wet, come the race I dropped back and finished ninth.

“It was such a lovely car. We used it for touring, weddings and events such as the Scottish Malts rally. And it was a great privilege to sit alongside Jimmy when we took it back to the old Stewart family Dumbuck Garage in Dumbarton, where he took me out for a ride. He was a wonderful driver, with a special talent, a lovely man, and he drove it beautifully.

“At that time I was ‘living above the shop’ in the mews but I finally bowed to pressure to buy a London property. So XKC 041 was sold a few years later. When I saw it winched onto the truck, I was choked up. It was the ‘one that got away’ but it provided me with a home and I invested some of the proceeds in an ex-Ford France GT40, so things moved on.

“It’s still possible to buy a cracking C-type, though you might have to wait for the right one to turn up. These best-of-the-breed British sports-racers of the 1950s still represent value today and will always be on serious collectors’ wish-lists.”

Finally, how about something off-the-wall for the Fisken garage?

“We had a Buick Woodie once, a tender at the Revival. I regret selling that. Or… you know, I could be tempted by a sci-fi car from the 1950s, such as a Cadillac Eldorado, all wings and tail-lights. Being more sensible, perhaps a racing Galaxie like the one Jack Sears drove. They’re both full-on, and different from the cars I usually own, sell or race.”

Photos courtesy of Fiskens