Personal finance: Collectables with sex appeal

If you can't afford to buy any classic cars, why not try some classic car memorabilia? By Clifford German
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The Independent Online
To be worth collecting, objects should be pretty or rare, preferably both. Next they should be sexy and valuable, if possible they should possess technical and historical interest, and they should be small and easy to store. Postage stamps pass most of these tests, but they fail the important test of sex appeal abysmally, which is why philately is in terminal decline, except perhaps among the very young and the very old.

Motor cars, by contrast, are nothing if not macho. Veteran, vintage and classic cars also have bags of technical and historical interest, some of them are very pretty, and wear and tear ensures that older cars are pretty scarce. But they fail the test of size and storability in spades. A garage alone costs anything from pounds 250 to pounds 1,000 a year or more to rent, and keeping cars in running order makes heavy demands in terms of time and money, in spite of the generosity of Kenneth Clarke, who exempted cars built before 1973 from the annual road tax.

The next best thing to cars in terms of collectability is "automobilia", the collective name for the bits and pieces which evoke the spirit of the motor car without the problems caused by rust and rot. Automobilia includes everything from accessories such as mascots, brass lamps and radiator caps, to clothing, clocks, tools, badges, toys, models, books, posters and maps, trophies and motoring equipment such as historic petrol cans and roadside pumps. It also includes everyday objects incorporating motoring themes such as ashtrays in the shape of tyres, and car teapots.

Automobilia pass most of the tests to a greater or lesser extent, and above all they are virtually maintenance-free. With the passage of time, the volume and variety of items has multiplied exponentially, and mass- produced material from the early post-war years has now become accepted as a genuine area for collecting. What began as a hobby for the vehicularly under-privileged has now come of age, and to prove it, it has its own supporting literature. Most classic car magazines have regular features on models, and sections of classified ads featuring automobilia, and the third edition of the collector's bible, Automobilia, by Gordon Gardiner and Alistair Morris has just appeared. The first edition came out in 1982, the second took a further 10 years and the third has taken just six years, a measure of the growth of interest in the subject.

The latest edition is lavishly illustrated, and comes complete with price guide, which are calculated to surprise, shock and amaze potential collectors. The Lines Brothers pedal car my parents bought me in 1938 for five guineas could now be worth pounds 1,500 in good condition, if I still had it. The enamelled badge of the Motoring Association of Chile a good friend of mine found on the trackside at the old Brooklands rack-track in the same year could fetch pounds 50.

Chrome or nickel-plated mascots, which could be mounted on the radiator caps on many upmarket cars in the inter-war years are worth pounds 50-pounds 150 according to condition. The Spirit of Ecstasy, the winged female mascot from Twenties Rolls Royces, can command anything from pounds 300 to pounds 500 and glass designs by Rene Lalique are worth serious money. Prices start at pounds 1,000, and go up to pounds 7,000 for the best known design, the winged head of Victory.

But pounds 20 will buy you an illustrated brochure or catalogue for a Thirties to Fifties saloon, pounds 50 buys an authentic Thirties petrol can bearing the petrol company's name, and pounds 150 a glass globe from an old-style petrol pump.

Automobilia: published by the Antique Collectors Club, price pounds 25: call 01394 384434