Alternative investments: Attainable classic cars – what to buy and look out for

By Jarryd Neves

To most, a car is merely an appliance – a white good – that gets them from A to B. It’s a brilliant tool, but certainly no investment. Dogs bark, birds fly and cars depreciate. Right?

Well, that depends. There are a handful of cars that have managed to slip out of depreciation’s nasty clasp. I’m not talking about $1 million classic Ferrari’s, either. Here, we take a look at three attainable – yet usable – classic cars that are set to appreciate in the years to come.

Honda S2000

classic cars

Introduced in 1999, the rear-wheel drive Honda S2000 was designed to do battle with a raft of roadsters from Europe. A Honda? Up against the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche? Quite right. The 2,0-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol engine produced up to 184 kW of power, sent via a six-speed gearbox to the rear wheels.

‘The original AP1 S2000 was a driver’s car’, says former S2000 owner and motoring expert Ernest Page. ‘Many cars claim to be bulletproof, but the S2000 actually is. In my two years with my 100,000 km example, I replaced one clutch cylinder and 4 tyres’.

The S2000 sold in relatively low numbers, so be patient when searching for an example. Despite the oldest examples now being 22-years old, prices have increased in the last few years. ‘Good units now going for around R250,000 to R300,000’.

Despite their excellent built quality and ‘bulletproof’ reliability, there are things to look out for.

The soft top mechanism is robust, but like any soft top, make sure it’s waterproof and fits correctly. The two-seater also enjoys great popularity as a tuner car, but Page recommends finding one without any aftermarket add-ons. ‘Make sure that the one you’re looking at is standard with no engine or suspension modifications’.

Being a sports car, an engaging gear change is essential. ‘Be sure that the gears don’t grind when shifting. It should be smooth and precise. ‘The Formula 1 engineers that designed this car made sure to make it robust – but it’s best to get a well looked after example’, says Page.

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (R129)

classic cars

Throughout the decades, the SL Mercedes-Benz has been synonymous with glamour and celebrity. Whether cruising on Rodeo Drive or down to the French Riviera, the SL was right at home. However, in recent years, some of that timeless elegance has been lost. Debuting in 1989, the R129 model brought the SL dynasty into the future.

Advanced engine options – including a lusty V12 – and a cabin packed with technology put the stylish Merc far ahead of the competition. Now a desirable classic, Mercedes specialist Hein Jordaan of Absolute Cars reckons now is the time to grab one.

‘I think the R129 can be regarded as one of Stuttgart’s finest and will definitely be an investment proposition’. But which one to buy?

Jordaan reckons this comes down to personal preference, but that the 240 kW SL500 with the five-speed automatic (offered from 1996 onwards) would be ‘The universal favourite. It has a perfect power-to-weight ratio with better fuel consumption and creature comforts compared to the earlier ones’.

‘These cars were engineered like tanks and any serious issue should be pretty apparent’, says Jordaan. Still, there are things to look out for. ‘The complicated but ingenious hydraulic roof mechanism is important. Check for any hydraulic oil leaks above the windscreen and the two cylinders above the wheels. The condition of the soft top will tell a story but this can be rectified without too much hassle.’

While lower mileage models may be more appealing, Jordaan says that a comprehensive service history is more important. ‘Cars that have been driven regularly tend to have less issues’.

Prices for this generation SL vary between R175,000 to R500,000 depending on the model, year and condition. ‘The sweet spot is somewhere between R250 000 and R350 000’, says Jordaan. ‘Buy right and the maintenance will be right’.

Porsche 911 (996)

classic cars

The 911 has one of the most recognisable profiles in the motoring industry. The low roof line and sloping rear end have been staples of the design since the first model was introduced in 1963. Initially, the 996 had the reputation of most unloved 911. But that’s all changing, as Richard Webb of The Archive explains.

‘Affectionally known as the runt of the litter – with its fried egg headlights and integrated indicators – the fourth generation 911 was a Marmite car at inception. Yet, for a collector it ticks so many boxes. It’s the first water-cooled 911. It was to be the beginning of Porsche’s market dominance in water-cooled, rear-engined performance cars and launched the brand into the technological stratosphere that we see today’.

As with the SL above, the 996 911 was offered with multiple engine, gearbox and trim options. Webb’s personal favourite, the 996.1 GT3, is at the front of the queue when it comes to collectability and exclusivity. ‘ It is still the rarest 911 GT3 to this day, apart from the RS models’. Webb says it was the first production Porsche ‘to be pulled from the standard production line and assembled at Porsche’s Motor Sport department’.

Depending on the condition and mileage, expect to pay anything between R1 million and R1,35 million. ‘Full service history and no accident damage would tick all the boxes’, says Webb.

If you’re still craving the thrill of Zuffenhausen’s finest but R1 million is too much, there is an alternative. ‘For those craving a driver-focused 911 on a budget I would look at the 996 Carrera 2 manual. It’s rear-wheel drive, with three pedals, and has a beautiful naturally-aspirated 3.4L flat-six’, says Webb. A well-kept example can be found for around R350,000 to R450,000.

It may not be the sound investment that the GT3 is, but Webb reckons the running costs can be clawed back when it comes time to sell – but only if you buy right in the first place. ‘If you’re happy to have an affordable 911 tucked up in the garage, to walk in and just stare at it, or fire it up and enjoy its benchmark steering, chassis and powertrain then look no further’.

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