12 things to expect – or not – in 2021

So here we are, in the new year 2021, and no doubt all of us hope it will be a more positive one than 2020! In the car world there will certainly be lots going on, notably in terms of new sportscar launches, a few of which I highlighted in an earlier post you can read here. With a highly interesting 2021 line-up in F1 (see my latest post on that here for more details), there will hopefully be no lack of excitement there either!

To start off the year in style, I’ve compiled a list of things that can be expected – or not – in 2021. 12 to be more exact, each one corresponding to the first letter of the 12 months. This is not a prediction that they will happen in that particular month, or indeed that they will happen at all, so don’t take it too seriously!

January – as in jolly bloody happy that the new year has begun and with hopes that it will be an easier one than the last one, and that all of us get the opportunity to take our very personal dream roadtrips!

February – as in F1, and a new season that looks very exciting although it won’t start until March. Following Red Bull’s decision mid-December to replace Alex Albon with Sergio Perez, I would claim that 1) the three top teams (assuming here Ferrari finds its way again) have very competitive line-ups and that 2) the teams just behind have at least one top driver. For memory, assuming Lewis Hamilton does finally sign up for the new year, Mercedes will have him and Valtteri, Red Bull will have Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, and Ferrari obviously Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. And then right behind, McLaren has Daniel Ricciardo, Renault has the returning Fernando Alonso, and Racing Point (Aston Martin from next year) Seb Vettel, really hoping he can return to form. Let the races begin!

They will both be wearing different colors next year!

March – as in motor engines, and most probably the continued growth of electrical. The question is how far and how fast? On the bright side, in Germany in 2020 when the market as a whole was down 22% in new sales, electrical and hybrid cars grew their market share more than four times, and experts now speak of 2020 as the year of the electrical breakthrough. On the less positive side, looking for example at the Ionity charging network across Europe, it’s still many miles away from what Tesla offers, meaning European electrical cars (not hybrids) are still mostly charged at home and thereby reserved for shorter trips. All in all, even though I was negative on Tesla in Europe a while ago (see here), there’s no doubt electrical cars as such will continue to grow, the question is how much and how fast.

No cylinders here…

April – as in autonomous driving, which arguably doesn’t add to the thrill of driving but does add to the safety – although as some incidents notably with Tesla have helped us realize, staying awake and looking at the road ahead is still to be recommended. That’s anyway what you still need to do in many countries, even touching the wheel from time to time, as technology once again is far ahead of legislation. Don’t expect that gap to close in 2021.

Not to be recommended – yet

May – as in Maserati MC20 and all the other great sports cars coming to market, some of which I mentioned in the post referenced above. This is a segment where electricity is setting in big time, with the MC20 as one of few exceptions. You have to wonder how long we will still have alternatives, to electric power, especially of the 8- and 12 cylinder kind!

It may be one of the last of its kind

June – as in Japanese automakers and the question whether I’m the only one feeling that it’s time for them to hit us with something a bit more interesting than what’s been the case in the last years? This is the country that used to give us cool Skylines, supercar beauties like the NSX and more recently the Nürburgring record setting Nissan GT-R. That’s 10 years ago now, and this year, Nissan launched a new GT-R that looks exactly like the old one. And as for the NSX’s replacement, firstly it was delayed for an eternity and when it then came, it didn’t blow anyone out of his seat. Not much else has happened except a few more wings on the latest Type R hot hatch, that may be excellent but that just by its looks scares away any sane person over 30. C’mon Japan, give us something to drool about again!

I’ll have the one on the left please

July – as in jailtime, which is what you will spend in some countries if you’re caught speeding heavily. This isn’t new, but what is, and what’s currently being implemented in a number of countries, is measuring your speed over a distance. That’s a real bummer that takes the fun away quickly – and makes it expensive. In Italy where they use a system called Tutor, they at least have the decency of telling you in advance, which is obviously what you do if you’re more interested in lowering speeds and less in filling the state reserves. That will surely not be the case everywhere…

This is a bad sign

August – as in Aston Martin, where ex AMG-boss Tobias Moers will by August have been behind the wheel for a year. Moers has ambitious plans and a solid financial base, notably from chairman and 17% owner Lawrence Stroll, and also a solid collaboration with Mercedes-Benz which own a further 20% in the company. Moers wishes to see a more engineering-led Aston going forward and has in a rare interview also said that he wishes Aston to work more with the Mercedes engineers in Germany, and derive more engines from AMG. We all wish them viel Glück!

A lot of Aston’s future is riding on the DBX

September – as in solid state, and generally what I believe will be required to really give electric mobility the final push it needs, i.e. a significant advance in battery technology. As opposed to lithium, solid state batteries use solid electrodes and electrolyte, and other materials are mostly ceramics. They’re already used in for example pacemakers, they are extremely long-lived, and they’re much quicker to charge than lithium batteries. So where’s the catch? Well, they aren’t cheap… Prices will of couse drop going forward (although probably not as early as 2021), and this is perhaps the big leap electric cars are waiting for.

It’s always blue when it’s about EV’s…

October – as in obesity, something most of the so beloved SUV’s suffer from. And more generally, even a normal sedan is several hundred kilos heavier today than it was just 15-20 years ago. Arguably a lot of this is linked to much improved safety, but we’ve reached a stage where trimming the weight is less important as you can just mask it by increasing the turbo pressure such as to take out more power. Will we see a change to the “more weight therefore more power” equation soon, and a return to something like the Lotus concept that I explored through my friend Erik back in October (see here)? It would definitely be benefitting consumption! And by the way, since the post, Erik has gone off and bought himself an Elise that I’ll hopefully be exploring this spring.

November – as in Nikola, the biggest corporate scandal in 2020 after Wirecard. For those of you who’ve missed it, Nikola is a producer of electric trucks in the US, founded by Trevor Milton and built on a lease model with very nice cash proceeds – on paper. Because as it emerged, everything was on paper, including the trucks themselves that don’t exist yet. Unfortunately investors – including a small company called General Motors – forgot to do their due diligence around Milton and his background, which would have revealed a history of smaller or larger corporate scandals, generous spending of company proceeds etc. The company is still listed but unless you’re a distressed investor, stay away, and also, whether you’re buying a stock or a car, always do your own research and don’t trust anyone – including GM…

Never believe a truck salesman…

December – as darn, there goes another year! What will have changed? Will Japan have presented a supercar project? Will Aston be back on solid footing? Will Lewis have claimed his 8th title, and will more automakers have seen the Lotus logic of more for less? But even more important than all this, will we finally be rid of this bloody virus? We’ll know in 12 months!

Classic cars as investments

In the last ten years, interest rates in the developed world have been close to nil across the board, and you need to look no further for an explanation to why various kinds of real assets have seen steep increases in price. Cars are definitely part of that group, although it’s unfortunately not the family Volvo that has become a good investment, but rather classic cars and selected sports cars.

Irrespective of the statement above, the Volvo 240 has actually started to appreciate in value…

If you read this blog, chances are you also read other car blogs or follow some car Youtube channels (perhaps even one or several on my favourite list that you can see here). You don’t need to look far to find someone that describes a classic car such as the Jaguar XJ-S that I wrote about last week (see here) as “a good investment” or something that will “most definitely increase in value”. Personally my stomach turns at such unsubstantiated, general statements, but let’s look into whether there’s any truth to them.

In 2015 we launched the new sub-section “The Thrill of Owning” on this blog. We did so seeing the price evolution many enthusiast cars were starting to take, and I wrote about some cars I believed (without guarantee!) would increase in value over the coming years, adding an economic upside to the ownership experience. The first 5 cars I picked were the Lancia Delta Evo, the Honda NSX, the BMW Z4M, the Porsche 996 and the Ferrari 550. Looking back now five years later, it’s clear that had you bought an NSX, a Delta or a 550 in 2015 that you would sell today, you would get substantially more than you initially paid – the first two have basically doubled in price. For the Z4 and the 996, the evolution has been less steep but still in the right direction. Buying and selling is one thing though. Owning is another that should not be forgotten.

An Evo has basically doubled in value in five years, but is far from cheap to own.

Since close to ten years I’m the owner of a Triumph TR4 from 1965, a car that has brought me great joy and that I’ve been extremely lucky with. It hasn’t left me standing a single time and has generally been close to as problem free as a classic car can be. Nevertheless, and even if I haven’t driven thousands of kilometres per year, it still needs regular servicing and old parts will wear out and need replacing. Also, not to forget on a classic car is that the engine will typically need more adjustments than a modern one. In ten years I have thus had it thoroughly serviced and revised three times, redone the breaks once, and replaced more regular wear and tear parts such as the battery, tires etc. in between. A rough estimate is that the car has cost me around EUR 12-13.000 in servicing and parts costs over my years of ownership. To that should be added tax, registration, garage etc., but given how different those costs are depending on your circumstances and country, we’ll leave them aside for this exercise. You shouldn’t though, when you budget your ownership!

My TR4 is living proof that not all English cars fall to pieces!

Had I instead bought that Delta Evo in 2015 my costs would most probably not have been lower, as the Deltas are known as cars needing lots of love an attention. That said, the economic upside would definitely have been higher. On a higher level for the 550 as well, at least with the right car. The bullet-proof NSX may have been cheaper to own, had I been lucky. But again, all this will depend on the particular car you buy, its history, condition – and luck. This is why a statement such as something “definitely increasing in value” is quite simply not true. Firstly, it’s very difficult to say which models will increase in value (although if you know your stuff, I agree you can have a pretty good idea). Secondly, it’s all about the condition of the individual car.

Has my Triumph been a good investment? Price-wise it’s worth around CHF 10.000 (30%) more today than I bought it for, thus covering a fair part of my running costs. In my particular case living in Switzerland where owning and running an oldtimer is cheap, I’ve nevertheless had to rent a garage for the ten years I’ve had it and I’ve certainly not covered the costs for that. It should also be noted that a TR4 is quite a basic oldtimer, with an extremely robust, 4-cylinder engine. Friends of mine who own E-Types, Aston Martin V8’s and other, more advanced cars, will give you a number considerably higher than mine, even though most of them are more capable in a garage than I am and thus do a lot themselves.

The original V8 Vantage – a beauty when it works, a nightmare when it doesn’t…

That’s the economic side of it. On the emotional side, there is no doubt that it’s been a good investment and has brought me much joy and great memories. And that is really the point of all this. Don’t buy a classic car purely as an investment, but also as something to love, drive and enjoy! There will never be any guarantee that an XJS or any other car will be worth more 5 years from now and if you buy the wrong car, you will most certainly not make any money. Arguably it will also reduce the pleasure of ownership, but if this is the car you’ve been dreaming of since you were young, believe me, you will forgive a lot!

Unlike a painting, a car is made for driving. Be thorough in your checks, but also buy with your heart in the sense of loving what you buy, enjoying it, and not to be forgotten, knowing that you will be able to use whatever your dream car is on a regular basis. Good luck!

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Thrill of Owning – evaluation of recommendations so far

It’s been awfully quiet lately under the Thrill of Owning heading, something unfortunately due to a rather hectic work schedule of yours truly. Another factor at play is however the steady rise in collector car prices over the last year, by no means a new trend and no doubt one of the side effects of a zero- to negative interest rate environment and investors’ feverish search for alternative investments. This actually has led to quite a few objects that were intended for the column rising so much in price before the time of writing that they disqualified themselves!

In light of that I felt it was time to go back and have a look at the cars presented so far. If you had purchased them (and who knows, maybe you did?), would they so far have been a good deal not only driving-wise but also investment-wise? Given we started this heading in 2015 the track record is obviously short, but summarized below is an estimate of the price evolution seen by the cars presented during 2015 as per today, i.e. in November 2016.

thrill-of-owning-price-evolution

It would not take much academic effort to completely disqualify the methodology behind the price estimations in the above table, but at least it is consistent with how prices were initially estimated. Basically I have done a rough estimate of average market prices for the presented cars in Germany, Switzerland and partially Sweden, according to the specs (for example max kms) as described in the post. Given in all cases samples are also small and the individual condition therefore critical, it should really be taken as an indication at best.

Still, it is interesting to see how some models have seen spectacular rises in a short time, none more so than the Lancia Delta Evo, whereas others such as the Porsche 996 or the BMW Z4M have had a moderate, although still positive price evolution, probably also due to them being newer cars produced in larger numbers. However, you will probably struggle to find another investment in the current period that has a comparable performance on average whilst at the same time bringing true driving pleasure!

Even if the mission of the Thrill of Owning has become harder, the column will remain and I still have a few objects up the sleeve to enlighten the darker and colder season. Stay tuned!

The Ferrari-kicker from the land of the rising sun

1989. A year when the authors of this blog got their driving licenses, Milli Vanilli topped the charts (without singing, as we learned later) and Don Johnson drove his (fake) Ferrari 365 GTB/4 (Daytona) in the last season of Miami Vice. In the real world Porsche and Ferrari dominated the sportscar scene, Porsche obviously with the still air cooled 911, Ferrari with the brand new 348, successor to the classical 328. Honda was a brand among many building family cars, although these were among the most reliable in the world. But even though they had the small go-cart like CRX in the line-up, it was not a brand anyone associated with supercars.

And then, out of nowhere, came the Honda NSX (Acura NSX in the US). A car with precisely the 348 as explicit target, but with in comparison unbeatable everyday usability. A car that from every angle looked absolutely stunning. admittedly with some inspiration from the same 348. And a car that Ayrton Senna at the zenith of his career had actively helped develop, along with a small team of Honda’s most senior engineers and car-builders. Finally a car that became a showcase for Honda’s technical developments at the time.

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Development and Design

Development on the NSX – New Sportscar eXperimental – had started already in 1984 but as it became clear that the Ferrari 348 would succeed the 328 at the same time as the NSX would launch, the initial ideas of a small, 2 litre V6 engine were abandoned in favour of a more powerful mid-mounted 3 litre engine. The car’s design was fully Japanese, with the bodywork and especially the cabin being inspired by the F16 fighter plane, with the objective of giving the driver a similar visibility as in an F16 from inside. Whether that is true I unfortunately cannot tell you, as my experience of fighter planes is slightly limited, but it was a shame that Honda did not take more inspiration of the F16 or for that matter the 348 to build a slightly more exciting interior, which as it was turned out a bit too close to those Honda family sedans.

The NSX was a showcase of new technologies. Firstly the aluminium monocoque body that saved some 200 kg weight over a standard body. To that came aluminium suspension, electrical power steering and Honda’s VTEC technology, allowing the engine to rev up to 8000 rpm’s with a gorgeous sound. The engine produced 270 bhp until 1997 and 290 thereafter, little by today’s standards but very competitive at the time.

imgresAnd then came Senna, who was very involved in the chassis settings of the car, testing it extensively on various racetracks both in Europe and Asia, and who himself owned three NSXs – at the same time.

Versions

The NSX was produced with very few modifications for a very impressive 15 years, from 1990 until 2005. In total around 18.000 cars were built. Outside of Japan there was only one engine version, available with a 4-gear automatic transmission (the US was an important market after all) or a 5-gear manual (6-gear on later models). In 1995 a targa version was introduced, becoming the only version sold in the US whilst it was available alongside the coupé in Europe. In 2002, the pop-up headlamps were replaced with conventional xenon headlamps.

2003 Acura NSX.
2003 Acura NSX.

In Japan the NSX was available in a number of more powerful and lighter versions, but given these cars were never exported and are all left-hand drive, but for a few that were privately imported to the UK, they never made it to Europe.

Driving

Unfortunately I have not (yet!) had the opportunity to drive an NSX. But sitting in one as I did not long ago is quite an experience. The seats are superb, the sitting position is low, visibility is indeed what you could imagine from a plane, and steering wheel and gearshift, although as said looking a bit boring, are perfectly positioned. Apart from those short observations we unfortunately have to rely on external test drives and with very few exceptions, all of these, both then and now, were very positive. The NSX handles like a true supercar from the time, with excellent balance and a chassis and suspension rigid enough to enable very good track times (thank Senna for that!). At its limit the mid-mounted engine cam apparently lead to sudden oversteer, but you would really need a race track to notice.

NSX InteriorUnfortunately a slightly boring interior, compared to the rest!

Owning

The NSX is a Honda, which is really not bad when it comes to owning one. Servicing is marginally more expensive than for a standard Honda but cost-wise has nothing to do with anything from Maranello. Insurance is quite cheap as well, and reliability is superb. But above all, Honda made a point of making a car that was as good as the 348 but easy enough to be used as an everyday car and as per reports, that is precisely the case. In other words a perfectly sensible choice as second car (or third, or fourth…)!

Which one?

Tthe first problem you run into when deciding on an NSX is to find one. The offer is very limited indeed, and finding a later version (after 1995-1996) is practically impossible. Currently there are around 10 cars available in Germany and about as many in Switzerland. In Sweden there is right now only one car on the market.

Clearly you will want to go for the manual version, as a 4-gear automatic can never do the car justice. In terms of colour, chances are you will have to settle on red or possibly black, anything else is very hard to find. There is currently no targa model on the market in the countries mentioned, but even if you find one it is not necessarily the version to go for, as the targa construction added weight to the nimble NSX and also reduced the much-praised chassis rigidity. Finally, apart from a Momo steering wheel that some cars have fitted along with larger wheels (which do the car justice!), don’t go for a transformed one with body kit or gullwing doors, those are neither good for resale value, nor for your image.

If you find the right car, the odds are that its owner has treated it well and remedied the very few shortcomings of the original construction, but if not these are anyway not costly (they notably include electrical windows getting very slow with age, and some engine bearings).

Interestingly, although steadily rising, NSX prices have not really taken off yet. You can find a good car for around 40′ EUR / 40′ CHF with less than 100.000 kms, a price that given the scarcity of cars can be expected to remain very steady if not increase over coming years.

So what more could you ask for? A supercar from the swinging 80’s, designed after an F16, developed by Ayrton Senna, free of problems and marginally more expensive than an Accord to service? Sign me up!

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