June 2, 2021
For some collectors, the fun is buying a car they even can’t drive—yet. Indeed, Bloomberg reports, according to Jay Leno, some cars are so special that even if you find the scattered pieces of one, you should buy it.
And he should know: In the years since his final hosting gig on The Tonight Show, the 71-year-old car enthusiast has presented the popular Jay Leno’s Garage on NBC and YouTube and has grown what is one of the most valuable and diverse car collections in the world.
Indeed, that philosophy certainly applied to a 1960 Jaguar XK150 S that sold for $127,552 in a Bonhams auction on May 22. The hammer price on the crumpled, patina-riddled drophead coupe was six times over the sale estimate.
“The enthusiast market is in rude health at present,” Rob Hubbard, the head of Bonhams MPH—a car auctioneer in Bicester Village, Oxfordshire, England—told Bloomberg in what the business publication calls “the understatement of the month.”
Sales of classic and collectable cars across the world have returned healthy numbers in recent weeks, with Bonhams and RM Sotheby’s selling more than $60 million worth of old cars in a single weekend in Florida. Dozens of the six- and seven-figure cars at the Amelia Island auctions sold for far more than even the high side of their estimated values.
According to Bloomberg, the “barn find” is a segment of car collecting that has exploded in the past year, with garages and restoration shops bulging at the seams with businesses. The term “barn find” applies to any variety of derelict vehicles that have been left forgotten for decades; they come in various states of disrepair—from rusted-out bodies and frames to non-existent or half-missing components like seats, brakes, headlights, wheels, and even engines. Most are riddled with cracked paint…and worse. Rodents living in the underbody, inhabited by stray cats, and covered in droppings from birds and bats are all expected scenarios. At least one car is rumored to be protected by a malicious ghost.
Amid Covid-19 fears, “car guys” have more time than ever to tinker in the shop or send their heretofore tabled restoration projects to the shop. But there must be more than bullish pandemic-pent-up buyers to make a smashed car worthy of such a high price. The Jaguar model itself is special enough to merit barn-find project status, even if the sum of its auction-price and the amount of money spent on restoring it might exceed the resulting value.
“To be honest, we don’t really know why that much money is being spent,” says John Mayhead, the manager of Hagerty’s automotive Intelligence in the UK. He noted that sometimes it’s about timing—the exact right buyer finds the exact perfect project, and the two just click.
Other times, it’s about becoming a part of history: “The story to it sometimes encourages buyers to pay over the odds,” Mayhead says. “Owning a car like this is about continuing that story, and you want to be a part of it.”
Launched in 1957, Jaguar XK150s came in fixed-head or drophead coupe versions. They were known for their rounded, mod styling and progressive mechanics, like disc brakes (compared to the old-fashioned drum brakes) and powerful 3.8-liter engines that produced up to 265 horsepower engines. They could hit 60 mph in 7.3 seconds; top speeds exceeded 130 mph. All told, Jaguar made fewer than 3,000 Drophead coupes and even
In pristine form, the best Jaguar XK150 S is worth around $280,000, according to the Hagerty Price Guide. But prices vary widely. Most in good condition — the typical collector car— are worth closer to $163,000, Mayhead says. Last year, a pretty 1958 XK150 sold at auction for $176,000. In January, Bonhams sold a white one for $145,600. Meanwhile those in less-than-mint condition can be had for well under $100,000.
Owned by a single person since 1969, this XK50 in particular had a longstanding working history until “a wet day” in September 1996, according to the auction catalogue, when the owner of the car lost control and crashed it into a tree. The driver walked away unscathed; the car fared rather worse. It has remained inside a garage swathed in rust-riddled glory ever since. But it is actually good the car stayed squired away; it helped preserve what was left of it.
“Considering the date of the crash and being kept in dry storage, the car is still in a salvageable condition, and offers enormous potential as a rewarding project car,” the Bonhams auction catalogue notes. The dry storage is crucial, as it stalled the development of extreme rust, which can render a car nearly hopeless when it comes to repair.
Bonhams declined to share who bought the crashed Jag. But for those who buy such relics of time past, of course, the time and expense are all part of the fun.
Research contact: @Bloomberg