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Archive for February, 2013

Top 5: Classic car auction sales of 2012

In the first of an on-going ‘Top Five’ series, we take a look at what kind of money high-end car collectors are prepared to pay for the best.

The classic car auction market has always intrigued me. Largely, this is because of the sheer beauty, history and diversity of the automobiles on display. Some are no less worthy of a discerning eye as a Picasso, for they are artworks in their own right. Others have a unique story to tell, or are just simply so damn successful as racing cars that the market has no choice but to respect them.

Beyond the stories of the cars themselves it’s the psychology of the market that also intrigues. Nowadays, it’s not only those in the trade or with oodles of money looking to add to their collections that you’ll see holding a bid card. Nope, like artworks or fine wine, there is the occasional speculator who looks at these items merely as another investment opportunity. There have even been a couple of funds set up in the UK that treat cars as an investment asset class.

Whatever the motive, the market has been on a ‘bull’ run for several years now. The very best examples of the most desirable models continue to grow in value, as seen by the following list of the Top Five Cars sold at auction in 2012. Prices include ‘Buyer’s Premium’ (basically a commission for the auction house) and are nominated in Australian dollars.

A couple of key points to note: All five sales came over the course of ‘Monterey week’, an annual gathering in the United States where all the major players congregate. The list also proves that a Ferrari badge is generally a value-adder; with recent news that Ferrari is the ‘World’s Strongest Brand’- beating Apple and Coca Cola- who knows what heights classic Ferraris will reach in 2013?

1. 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Spezial Roadster

Sold for $11,295,585 by Gooding, Monterey, August 18

The height of pre-World War 2 German excess, the 540K Spezial Roadster is somehow imposingly-styled yet still breathtakingly elegant. Powered by a supercharged 5.4-litre straight-eight this example was said to have had only three ‘caretakers’ from new, the first being the Baroness Gisela von Krieger- it was a graduation present from her mother. It has been restored to ‘Authentic, as-delivered appearance’ with ‘matching numbers’ (meaning it retains its original engine and driveline).

2. 1960 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spyder Competizione

Sold for $10,820,537 by Gooding, Monterey, August 17

Achingly desirable (and expensive) even in ‘standard’ long-wheelbase (LWB) form, this ‘Cali’ was one of only nine to be delivered with an alloy body. Additionally it was delivered in ‘Competizione’ specification, with covered headlights, disc brakes and an engine uprated with parts used by the 250 Testa Rossa race cars. Significantly, it was ordered by legendary US Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti lending it extra resonance on the American auction floor.

3. 1968 Ford GT40

Sold for $10,556,622 by RM, Monterey, August 18

Surprised to see Ford mixing it with the exotic Euros? With the GT40 (so named because its height was 40 inches) Ford’s aim was essentially to destroy Ferrari at the race track, after Enzo Ferrari reneged on a deal that would have seen Ford take over Ferrari (imagine that today…).

Powered by a 4.7-litre V8, this example was one of three ‘lightweight’ production-build GT40s. With ace Jacky Ickx it won a sportscar race at the famed Spa-Francorchamps circuit in 1967. Subsequently upgraded to 1968 specifications, it was used in the filming of the Steve McQueen movie, Le Mans.

4. 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder

Sold for $8,234,165 by RM, Monterey, August 19

Carrying Ferrari Classiche certification- a sign of its authenticity- this California Spyder is of the short-wheelbase (SWB) form- generally accepted to be the ‘Cali’ to have, despite the LWB Competizione above out-pointing it on the auction floor. One of 37 covered-headlight examples, this example is a Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance award winner.

5. 1955 Ferrari 410 S Berlinetta

Sold for $7,914,466 by RM, Monterey, August 18

Said to be a one-off body with coachwork by Italian Carrozzeria Scaglione, this earlier Ferrari was specially commissioned for Ferrari SEFAC (racing department) board member Michel Paul-Cavillier. It is powered by a massive 4.9-litre V12 engine which had been prepared for road racing competitions and produced over 280kW of power. Another award recipient, this time at the famed Concorso D’Eleganza Villa D’Este in Cernobbio, Italy in 2009, the uniqueness of this Ferrari no doubt contributed to its exceptional price.

*Images thanks to Mecum and RM Auctions

Fuel Economy: Myth or Fact?

Wringing the most out of our fuel is very much the in thing, whether you’re a greenie or a meanie. Information about what you can do to save fuel and improve your car’s fuel economy gets handed on and handed around. But are some of the things that Uncle Fred taught you actually going to help improve your fuel economy?

• Myth or Fact? You need to warm your car up before you can drive it properly.
Myth. Even if you are in the chilliest parts of the world, you don’t need to warm a car up before you can drive it. Sure, you might need to apply the choke for a little bit in the depths of winter, but if the engine is turning over, you’ve got the energy needed to turn the wheels. If you do use the choke, remember to turn close it off after about five minutes.

• Myth or Fact? Small cars are more economical than large cars.
Myth. As my fellow-blogger David commented, fuel economy is getting very, very sexy in the motoring world, and the guys and girls who come up with car ads are just as likely to mention the fuel economy figures as they are to mention the torque. This means that fuel-saving technology is being applied to medium-sized and even large cars. This is good news of all of us for whom a little Honda Jazz  or similar is impractical – there’s no need to jam a family of leggy teenagers into the back of a little hatchback in the interest of saving fuel.

• Myth or fact? Driving less aggressively is more fuel efficient.

Fact. If you demand less of the car, it can work more efficiently. Feather-light touches on the accelerator, gentle braking and smooth cornering are easy on the car and mean that it uses less fuel. Fierce acceleration, hard braking and tight cornering might be all right on the race track but are bad for fuel economy, as well as making you obnoxious on the road to your fellow drivers. This is anecdotal evidence, but I’ve recently picked up a 4-litre Ford Fairlane . Keeping a light foot keeps the average fuel consumption (according to the trip computer) nice and low. Plant the boot and the figures soar. Think of the effortless and graceful soaring of a seagull or an eagle compared to the aggressive and frantic flapping of a chook.

• Myth or fact? After-market additives and thingummies can make your car run better.
Myth. According to a Reader’s Digest article and the US Department of Energy, most gadgets and additives that you chuck in along with your petrol don’t make your car any more efficient, and the only thing that they clean out is your wallet. The exception is a full conversion to LPG or something along those lines.

• Myth or fact? Replacing your air filter will improve your fuel economy.
Fact – sort of. Changing the air filter does indeed improve the fuel economy of older cars. However, with modern cars, changing the air filter improves the performance but doesn’t actually improve the fuel economy. This is because a lot of modern engines have computerised controls that maintain the right fuel to air ratio, no matter what state the filter’s in.

• Myth or fact? Idling uses more fuel than restarting your car.
Fact. If you have to wait for that person who’s running late or if you’re held up by road works, switching the engine right off and restarting it again uses a lot less fuel. OK, it might not be a good idea to do this at the traffic lights, unless you know that you’re going to have to wait a long time until the lights go green.

Modern safety technology: Does it make drivers lazy?

Driving along in a new Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire, I was enjoying the sound quality of the Rockford Fosgate stereo as I sat in climate controlled comfort. Suddenly, the dash lit up with a panicked ‘Brake!’ and an accompanying beep. There was a turning vehicle several metres up ahead that I had already slowed for and was preparing to move around. The reality was that if I had to, I could have stopped comfortably within the space between the Outlander and the car ahead. For me, the Forward Collision Mitigation (FCM) system was a jumpy (and pre-emptive) distraction to something I had already seen…but I can’t talk for everyone, or indeed for every situation.

At advanced driver training courses, the first thing you are taught is to look far ahead so you can make such avoidance manoeuvres with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, this is not always related to those learning to drive, but that is a story for another day.

Manufacturers, to their credit, are trying to add safety to their products, to save lives and sell more cars. The advancement in active safety measures has been impressive these last few years and though it’s apparent that not all of these new technologies can claim a definitive ‘number of lives saved’ they are obviously doing their bit in the fight against any incident ranging from a simple accident to a vehicle-related death. But are these systems sometimes too smart for their own good?

Take the FCM system. At its extreme, you could suggest that people will no longer care to look too far ahead, ‘safe’ in the knowledge that the car will tell them when they need to start paying attention.

I also wonder if cars that reverse-park themselves will render that driving skill obsolete…and how much damage will be caused a) if the technology fails and b) if the driver has to do it for themselves! The same goes for cars which use FCM and/or sonar to adjust vehicle speed automatically (and in extremes perform an emergency brake with no driver input). The intent is to avoid upcoming dangers but it can go wrong (search ‘Volvo Brake Test Fail’ on YouTube to see an example).

A rear-facing camera can also embed a sense of dependency on what the camera shows when reversing. I’ve done it myself when in a hurry: “There’s nothing on the screen and the parking sensors aren’t beeping, so I should be right.” It’s usually then that a pedestrian appears from the side, or a stationary object in your blind-spot suddenly greets your bodywork.

More broadly, Automatic Stability Control (ASC) systems do a wonderful job in assisting safety- just watch a driver training demonstration video for proof of that. In my opinion, however, it can lead to complacency behind the wheel and a lack of understanding as to what caused the ASC to trigger in the first place. In my mind, ASC and indeed these other technologies can be seen as cures, but developing your awareness by taking a defensive or advanced driver training course can prevent a potential accident from occurring in the first place. Such courses will also aid in your understanding of these systems and show you how to work with them rather than rely on them completely.

Automotive brand hierachies

The concept of ‘brand hierarchies’ is nothing new in the automobile manufacturing world. Take a corporate giant and its want to expand into different market categories- or indeed different markets- without diluting its parent brand’s strength or market position.

The example of General Motors and its Holden brand is probably the most well-known to Aussies. A man by the name of Willam Durant had risen to fame in the 1900s as a key driver in the success of the Buick Company. Durant acquired several other manufacturers and named the conglomerate ‘General Motors’. His vision was simple: that each GM sub-brand would stand-alone in its own class, so they wouldn’t be in competition with each other.

As a result, Cadillac became the high-end luxury brand, Buick for the upper-middle class, with Oldsmobile seen as the entry level to the corporation. Later, Chevrolet was added as the ‘everyman’ brand, and so it continued.

Though the ‘one brand per class’ philosophy has faded and several sub-brands have come and gone since, today GM’s presence is still felt world-wide. As well as the home-market Chevrolet, GMC (a commercial vehicle producer) Buick and Cadillac, they have a presence in mainland Europe through their Opel brand (now in Australia), in the United Kingdom with Vauxhall and in Australia with Holden.

Given their heavy global presence and continued success, the Volkswagen Group (VAG) is the most influential of the multi-brand car corporations today.

Currently in Australia the VAG hierarchy commences with the Czech Republic’s Skoda as the entry-point. From there, it moves through the German Volkswagen brand to a premium German marque, Audi. The aristocratic English Bentley is on the next rung before the red-blooded Italian peak of Lamborghini. Other countries receive bookends to these, the budget Spanish SEAT (which failed locally) and the artisan Bugatti, originally of France.

Although there are distinct steps in prestige with each of the brands sold here, sub-brand pricing strategies often collide, particularly when the marques in question share a model platform. For example, a Skoda Fabia RS in three-door hatch form has a list price only $1000 less than the better-specified (though similar underneath) Volkswagen Polo GTI. The Audi equivalent A1 Sport is better specified again, but costs over $10,000 more than the Polo. Of course, if you are looking into any of the cars mentioned, Private Fleet can help save you thousands off these prices!

The Fiat Group has also established a hierarchy, though their reasoning is perhaps more patriotic- if they hadn’t acquired other Italian manufacturers, the entire Italian car-building industry may well have died. The Fiat brand itself sits below Alfa Romeo, Lancia (unavailable in Australia), Maserati and Ferrari and technologies are shared across brands to ensure economies of scale. The re-emerging strength of the Fiat Group has been highlighted with the acquisition of a majority stake in Chrysler to increase its distribution capability in the United States.

So, next time you see a car with a familiar shape but a badge you weren’t expecting, you know why!

Debunking ADR Fuel Consumption Figures

We’ve all seen the fuel consumption stickers attached to every new car’s windscreen. But how are the figures calculated, and what do they mean in the real-world?

As society shifts towards a green energy future, it was inevitable that the automotive world would be swept up by the ever-building wave of environmental sustainability.

Manufacturers were once boastful of their power and torque figures, with fuel consumption relegated to the fine print- if you could find a reference to it at all.fuel-consumption

It was perhaps the energy crisis of the early 1970s which first gave pause for them to consider just how much fossil fuel their products were burning as they supplied mass transportation to the world. Since that time, mechanical carburettors have been surpassed by electronically-controlled fuel injection, a far more efficient and accurate method of supplying fuel to the engine. This process has been refined further, with today’s ‘direct injection’ petrol motors providing excellent engine response and power while also being frugal with fuel. Additionally, diesel engines have found wide-spread acceptance across the globe thanks to their headline fuel consumption figures (though their pollutant levels are another matter).

When shopping for a new vehicle today, the government has ensured that Australians have a set of combined fuel consumption figures which allow us to directly compare rival models. Set under Australian Design Rule 81/02, manufacturers have to provide a windscreen sticker on all new cars which shows ‘urban’, ‘extra-urban’ and ‘combined’ fuel consumption in litres per 100 kilometres.

How are these figures arrived at?

Using a chassis dynamometer in a workshop, a sample vehicle is strapped on to the machine’s rollers and taken for a stationery spin. Each car uses either pump-grade diesel fuel or 95-octane unleaded fuel to ensure there is no fuel advantage. It is then run over 20 minutes, simulating the stop-start conditions of an urban drive, followed with a sustained run up to freeway speeds. The figures garnered are then merged to provide the headline ‘combined fuel use’ figure.

Although these tests are thorough- they use fans to simulate air-flow and the rollers to generate inertia- it is nevertheless very difficult to paint a truly accurate picture of that vehicle’s performance on the road; the external variables are too great.
Think of everyone you’ve ever sat next to as they drove. They all have their own driving habits, and that affects fuel use. Other variables, such as the road surface, gradients, altitude, temperature, fuel quality…the list goes on.

In practice it is our experience that the simulated figures are very difficult to emulate in real-world conditions, particularly with modern smaller-capacity turbocharged cars (not to mention the traditional large-capacity V8s) when you want to use the available performance- which is the point of buying such a car in the first place.

In essence, the ADR combined fuel use offers a valid point of initial reference, but when shopping for a new car should be used as a guide only.

Buying Privately?

OK, although here at Private Fleet, we work with customers to help them get the best deal on the sort of car they want (). But we do know that sometimes, people will use our site for research via the car reviews and then go and buy the car they want through a private sale that’s been advertised on an online auction site of the EBay type or through the good old classified ads in the newspaper.

For those that are buying through private sales directly from the owner rather than through us or from a dealer, here are a couple of tips to help you get a good deal (of course, you can avoid the hassle by going through us, etc. etc. in shameless plug for what we do).

1. Don’t agree to meet the car owner in a park or anywhere apart from their house. For one thing, you won’t be able to see those tell-tale pools of oil on the driveway or in the garage. For another thing, the owner will have driven to the meeting place, so when you see the car and try to start it up, it’ll be hot and you won’t have the chance of starting it from cold.

2. In a similar vein, the first thing you should do when inspecting the car is to put your hand on the bonnet. If it’s warm while the rest of the car isn’t, the owner has warmed it up. This is a warning sign about what the thing is like when starting from cold.

3. Sellers who are about to move overseas are more open to negotiation, as they just want to get rid of the thing for a price that’s more or less in the right vicinity. What’s more, the car is likely to be in reasonable condition – they would have been driving it still if they hadn’t been moving to Japan or wherever.

4. Wealthy people can be easier to haggle with, as a couple of hundred bucks don’t make much difference to them, even though it can mean a fortnight’s groceries to you. However, some wealthy people became wealthy by watching every single penny. In this case, keep your fingers crossed and hope that they sympathise with your situation as they were there once and know what it’s like to be on a tight budget, rather than Mr Scrooge.

5. Be very, very suspicious about cars being sold privately by mechanics or panel beaters. If they’re selling it, it’s probably because they can’t fix it up any further and want to get rid of the thing before it explodes. If you’ve ever had a courtesy car from a local Mum & Dad garage/mechanics (as opposed to a courtesy car from a specialist garage), you’ll know that these tend to be in rather rough condition, although they are road legal. Something being sold off is probably worse. Stay away from them unless you own a wrecker’s yard. Stay even further away from amateur car mechanics, as the resulting junk heap is a failed project and is best used as scrap or given a second life as a hen house.

6. Also be a bit dubious about cars that have been given after-market modifications such as lowering, fat tyres and sporty accessories. Guess how this car has been driven.

7. You are less likely to find them being sold off in private sales, but ex-taxis and ex-cop cars tend to have high mileage and good maintenance histories.

Get Me To The Church On Time

I don’t know whether it’s because it’s summer time or whether it’s to do with Valentine’s Day being just around the corner but I’ve seen quite a few cars running around the place on Saturdays with white ribbons on.

 

Now, once upon a time, probably back when my parents got married, there was less fuss about what sort of car was used to get the bride to church on time. The thing that really mattered was that she arrived there, preferably on time. I’m not sure when the tradition of having a fancy car (or a horse and carriage) to turn up in and go from the church to the photo shoot location to the reception in came from, but it appears to be fairly recent. My suspicion is that it dates back as far as the early 1980s and the start of the glamour-wedding industry that started after the royal wedding of Charles and Diana.

 

So what sort of car makes a good wedding car? Well, the only hard and fast rule about wedding cars is that you have to be able to get some white ribbon going from the sides of the windows and/or the top of the car down to the front of the car. The best sorts of cars are those that have a large medallion on the bumper, which simply begs to have ribbons attached to it. This means that classic Jaguars and Mercedes-Benz cars tend to be rather popular, although thanks to the design of modern vehicles and the demands of aerodynamics, the big medallions seem to be disappearing.

 

A wedding car should be luxurious in some way, and preferably largish. We’re talking about high-end vehicles here – usually European luxury models such as BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Audi, Alfa Romeos and the like, although you could probably throw a Lexus into the list these days, along with some of the classier American numbers (Dodge and Chrysler). However, if you are passionate devotees of the blue oval or the lion, then a big V8 Ford or Holden – or the upmarket FPV or HSV – could also fit the bill. Custom seems to dictate that the wedding car is driven by a chauffeur (who can be Uncle Fred or the person who owns the car rather than a pro) and the bride needs to sit in the back in all her finery. After the ceremony, the groom needs to join here there. This means that although you might love the idea of a nippy little Alfa Romeo sports car as a wedding car, it’s going to be a bit awkward getting in and out of it. Four-wheel-drives don’t seem to be used as wedding cars much. I’ve certainly never seen one all decked out with the white ribbon, but given the tendency to find interesting and out of the way locations for photo shoots and outdoor weddings, a nice, luxurious Range Rover wouldn’t exactly be out of place.

 

Classic cars tend to be quite popular. If you are lucky enough to own a classic, you might like to consider hiring it out as a wedding car (and you go with it as the chauffeur) as a way of making a bit of pocket money on the side. These days, you get some of the quirkier classics being used as wedding cars, such as the cute VW Beetle (the old style), Minis and Kombis.

 

And what do you do if you want a car that doesn’t have a big medallion for getting ribbon onto? Here’s how you do it: Start by threading the ribbon through the grille above the front bumper – there’s usually somewhere you can do this. If you can’t get it through the grille, then feed it through the bumper. Get the ribbon even. Take one side up and put it through either the passenger side window or through the passenger side door and fix it to the sun visor. Do the same on the other side. If you want a bow out the front, make this separately and attach it to the bit of ribbon going through the grille. If you’ve fed the ribbon through the door, don’t slam the door; if the ribbon has gone through the window, don’t open the window.

There is another sort of wedding car, although this sort seems to be going out of fashion a bit (or else I’ve never been in the right place at the right time to see it). This is the getaway car, which tends to be what the newlyweds use to leave the reception in and head off on honeymoon in. This can be any sort of car, and if it isn’t a hired car, then it’s traditional to do this car up with balloons, tin cans, shaving cream, confetti and “Just Married” signs. There are two rules for getaway cars:

  • Don’t put a potato over the exhaust pipe or you risk gassing the newlyweds.
  • Wash any shaving cream messages off the back asap. If you leave it overnight, it can etch itself into the paint. This happened to me and for ages afterwards, you could see what was written when the car was in the right light. What made it worse was that my brother, who had done the car up, had made a spelling mistake so that little car had “Just Maried” on it for the rest of the time we owned it.

 

Going Smaller

Big engines that guzzle the gas are getting the boot.  Over in America, the popular Dodge Ram is big on the outside but getting a whole lot smaller under the bonnet.  In the past, the Dodge Ram housed the very powerful and thirsty hemi engines.  We love the performance, but when it comes to filling up at the pump you felt rather like a deflated balloon.  Modern times have put the squeeze on these gas guzzler types, and we’re seeing the smaller 3.6-litre Pentaster V6 engine doing the job for the Ram really well.  In fact, the same Pentaster V6 engine is showing up in the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Journey and Dodge 300 C.

In North America, the latest Car of the Year was the new Cadillac sedan.  In the past Cadillac sedans have housed big, powerful engines under the hood. This is certainly not so with the new Cadillac sedan which is an AWD or RWD vehicle that is similar in size to the BMW 3 Series.  Now, four and six cylinder engines are used for moving the new Cadillac, and the result has been hugely popular.  Rave reviews for the car’s performance and handling goes to show that smaller engines can still produce an enjoyable and satisfying drive.

It’s working in America, and I think we can expect more of the same here in Australia.  People are turning to thriftier Holden and Ford products, with a marked drop in sales for the current Falcon and Commodore models showing that people are making careful choices about what size engine is going to drive their new car.  If it’s not a new Toyota or Mazda, then Holden’s Cruze is outselling the Commodore.  The Holden Commodore currently sells about 15,000 units a year – which is less than a third of what Holden sold in the nineties.

Ford, like Holden, has worked really hard on producing LPG variants to bring the running costs of the big Australian icons more into line with what consumers want as far as economy goes.  Ford also has brought the EcoBoost 2.0-litre Turbo engine into the Falcon mix which I like the look of, and it appears is very economical.

I hope that we won’t lose the Commodore and Falcon models altogether, but it’s hard to see how Ford and Holden can make them viable.  What they’re up against is people’s tastes, because when people want the smaller engine size, there are a whole lot of cars on the market that offer this in a package that’s as good as, if not better, than Ford and Holden’s models.  The competition all of a sudden becomes much, much tougher for Australian car manufacturers.