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A Spider that can bite


INTEREST rates are rubbish, the Stock Market’s a gamble and the nest-egg that was going to give you a steady little income into your dotage has reneged on the deal. So where do you put your savings?

The clever money, we are assured by the financial experts, is being invested in things – not things with numbers written on bits of paper but real, actual, reach-out-and-touch things. But choose carefully.

Works of art are winners – providing you buy at the right price, of course. And fine wines and good jewellery. But right up near the top of the list of best returns on investments are classic cars.

If you want good results and the bonus of some genuine ownership pleasure, it’s important to buy something you know you’ll enjoy regardless of payback. Classic cars – what’s not to like?

After years of fantasising about owning a classic car, I realised that, at last, my head was coming to the same conclusion as my heart. The moment had come. I wouldn’t dive in too deeply but I wanted something to make my spirits soar when I looked at it and would climb in value a little more steeply than an Isa.

I didn’t know what it would be but it would certainly be something known to be reliable and it definitely wouldn’t be a convertible. Then when the crunch came, I splurged on a bright red Alfa Romeo Spider. Yes, I know what I had vowed about reliability and a roof but passion won the day.

My new old car was built and registered in South Africa in 1983, was imported into the UK and converted to right-hand-drive in 1988, and since arriving in England, it had had seven previous owners before it came into my hands.

Combing through the vast wad of paperwork that comprises its history file, I traced its life story and discovered that it had only ever been used as a very cosseted second car.

It has invariably been kept garaged, never seen a raindrop in its life, and been brought out only when the sun is shining and all is well with the world. This mollycoddled prima donna has even had a couple of SORN years.

It has been regularly serviced by reputable garages, its every whim catered for and its beauty admired and applauded all the way down the years. It has even, long ago, won a concours event.

It has done a not very grand total of 107,000 kilometres or 66,500 miles; that’s barely 2,000 miles a year. It has not had a hard life. It has been a pampered Italian princess.

And what has it done to repay these seven previous love-struck owners? It has been about as Alfa Romeo as an Alfa Romeo can be. It has cost almost all of its previous custodians a small fortune; I swear I can make out tear stains on some of the paperwork.

I have done a rough reckoning-up of the financial damage it has inflicted on its poor unsuspecting keepers. I have added up all the bills in the history file – and where there are no figures available, I have taken what I consider to be reasonable, conservative, guesses.

The total paid out since its arrival on these shores 27 years ago? A tad over £10,200. That means that, for every mile it has travelled, it has cost its respective owners more than 15 pence – that’s JUST for repairs. In the reliability stakes, my beautiful Alfa has been a consistent non-starter.

That, of course, doesn’t include at least the same again on petrol, heaven knows how much on routine oil top-ups, road tax, insurance, plus gallons of polish, shampoo and probably perfume.

Classic cars are supposed to be a sound investment. A comprehensive history file is said to be very important. Well mine is certainly bulging – but is that good news or bad? Should I be relieved that virtually every bit of this scarlet woman has been renewed or terrified that I have taken on a money-munching diva that is going to bleed me dry?

In two months I have already spent over £700 to get it serviced and to deal with a few ‘minor’ issues and been assured by the garage experts that it is a fine car, in good order, and that I should have confidence in it.

It is going in again before the winter because its underseal is falling to bits so that has to be scraped off and replaced with modern stuff. And the radiator has a leak; it’s not going to be a cheapie.

After that, once I’ve paid the bill and dried my eyes, it will be going into my garage for yet another comfortable snug winter, so it can start plotting its next expensive surprise.

Are classic cars the great investment that they’re cracked up to be? The evidence generally suggests that they are, even if mine has proved a hideous exception to the rule – at least for the last seven owners.

But you have to buy at the right price and you have to choose the right model. If you’ve got a million or more to splash, then buy a Ferrari, wait a while and count your profit. It’s nailed-on.

Most of us haven’t got that sort of dosh to play with and opt for something further down the food chain, where the payback is far smaller and less certain but the outlay doesn’t make you wince.

But if you follow your heart and go for a 1980s Alfa, maybe you should keep it well away from roads and just put in straight into dry-storage. Go and visit and pay homage once in a while. It’s a thing of great beauty but, boy, can it bite!


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