Heroes, villains and how to avoid a classic mistake

Vintage cars can be a sound investment, but choose wisely, writes David Morley.

Vintage cars can be a sound investment, but choose wisely, writes David Morley.

A classic car well chosen can be a canny investment; a poor choice, conversely, can be a money pit.

It's often as much about the reputation of the make and model as it is about actual metal, glass and rubber. The Aston Martin DB5 is automotive art, for example, but sky-high prices being paid owe at least as much to it being James Bond's most famous set of wheels.

A 1968 Dodge Charger is a seminal American muscle car but is also inexorably linked to and valued for the 1968 flick Bullitt, where it stole the show as high-speed transport for the villains.

So there is a strong market for cars that good and bad guys drive. Perhaps that explains the attraction of the Mercedes-Benz 600, also known as the Grosser (from the German for "large").

The one pictured here, belonging to Melbourne man Heinz Schendzielorz, will be among the wild and wonderful attractions at Motorclassica, an annual gathering of millions of dollars' worth of rare automobiles at the Royal Exhibition Building that opens on Friday.

The big German limousine has attracted its share of real-world idols over the years, while plenty of despicable dictators and despots have been lured by its head-of-state ambience.

Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Rowan Atkinson all owned one but so did Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Ferdinand Marcos, Saddam Hussein and even Pablo Escobar. Other notable Grosser owners include Sir Frank Packer and Hugh Hefner.

Despite a 17-year production run (from 1964 to 1981), only 2677 were built. Remarkably, Mr Schendzielorz has owned 14 of them. He still has four, including one six-door example. His advice for anyone thinking about a classic car as an investment? First, choose a car that has wide appeal, but also one you personally like.

Scarcity helps, and on this count the big Benz shines. "Because they [600s] are so rare, buyers don't have a lot of choice, so they have to pay the asking price," he says.

He also cautions against restoring any car beyond the point of usability. "When people restore a car to absolute perfection, they then often don't enjoy it. They [the cars] can be too perfect."

Mr Schendzielorz says the smartest investment is a classic car that has already drained the previous owner's wallet.

"Experience says buy a good one to start with," he says, "and then enjoy it. If you are capable of restoring it yourself, well, OK, but if you're paying somebody else $100 an hour, it's almost certainly not worth it."

The Motorclassica event is hailed as Australia's answer to the Pebble Beach Concours in the US and Britain's Goodwood Festival of Speed.

It runs from Friday to Sunday and will feature more than 150 collectible cars with a combined value in the tens of millions of dollars.

The Age and 3AW are the official media partners of Motorclassica.

Related Articles