classic cars

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A classic car story: Foreign buyers snap up SA’s ‘precious metal’

When the rand is sitting at around R18/$, buying a classic car and shipping it home is not an issue.

classic cars

Image via Adobe Stock

You are in New York and buy a burger. As you take your first bite, you realise that NYC burgers are the most expensive in America. The mental arithmetic reveals that the $9.52 you have just spent is costing you R163 — instant heartburn.

Reverse the situation and an American buying a takeaway cheeseburger in Johannesburg is happy. His meal could cost him less than a dollar.

The unfortunate thing is that what is right for burgers is also right for cars, something that is very hard for a local classic car lover to digest. That’s why an increasing number of our most-loved icons are finding themselves getting shipped overseas. It’s a buyer’s market if you live in the United States (US) or United Kingdom (UK).

It’s a classic car buyer’s market (if you live abroad)

“What’s more, the global buyers sniffing out bargains in our heartland aren’t picky about what they buy. If the precious metal is left or right-hand drive, a Rolls Royce, BMW, Ford, Chev, Mercedes, VW, Bentley or a collectable bike, they want it,” says Corber Viljoen of WSJ Garage/Vintage Cars SA in Pretoria.

Image via Facebook @watswaaijy

The drawcard for international buyers also goes beyond price. Our cars are cleaner than many on offer internationally. The Highveld is known for the quality of its classics because they are generally rust free and well-maintained.

The name of his company suggests what Viljoen feels about this state of affairs. WSJ means “Wat Swaai Jy?” (Flog It), and within a minute of our meeting starting, he is saying the loss of our cars is sad.

Whereas many would say that a V8 left hooker leaving our shores for the US has a poetic type of justice, Viljoen sees each departure as a loss for local enthusiasts. But, business is business, and if you make a living selling classics, putting a meal on the table comes first.

What’s the problem with cars leaving our shores?

The consequences of a car heading for the Durban Container Terminal don’t just end there. We may not like spending R163 to get indigestion, but we understand Economics 101, and the benefits of owning something that someone else wants.

So, as savvy locals have realised the benefits of going international, they have also realised that they can probably ask a lot more here for what they have. Local classic prices are going up steadily.

“Despite this, the classic car market here is fairly stable, and demand is good,” says Viljoen, adding that many local buyers are knowledgeable and do due diligence on their purchases by taking international prices into account.

Image: Supplied

What makes this trade interesting is that there is no defined price for a classic. There are no dealers’ handbooks that set out high, low and average prices or local reference materials that itemise classic sales and prices achieved.

“It is a market where buyers are enthusiasts. They buy cars because they love them, and the market price of a car is the price that a prospective buyer is happy to pay.

“Like the traditional car market, it also goes through phases where some types of cars surge in popularity. This popularity may last a while; then the cars fall out of favour, something else becomes the flavour of the month and this impacts on the prices of cars that aren’t as sought after as they once were.”

You would think that living thousands of kilometres away from the metal you want to buy would create problems. Not so, says Viljoen, who says that “reputation is everything” in his game.

International buyers soon learn which dealers can be relied upon to deliver what they advertise. Digital contact also makes getting an idea about a car’s condition possible.

But, for those who make travel a part of their obsession, personal visits are common.

Keep the metal here

Some 1975 VW split-window pickups under the ‘South African Fleetline’ section of . Image:

The other upside for locals is that international buyers will often use local proxies to examine and report on cars they are interested in. So, although at first sight what appears to be a “lose” situation isn’t as bad as a seems.

So, what’s on the floor at the moment?

Before the Americans or British get in, look at the 1968 Ford F100 Bumpside (R395 000/ $23 000); the 1975 VW split-window pickup (R350 000/ $20 000) or the 1970 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow (R450 000/ $26 000).

Buy now, and keep our precious metal where it belongs.