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The Car Years:
The Car Years expert and auctioneer Nick Wells, and his life in classic cars

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July 16, 2021
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Dream cars, eclectic cars, classic cars and that Spitfire he restored as a teenager… Nick Wells, an expert on ITV 4’s The Car Years sponsored by Adrian Flux, opens up about the joy he gets from the world of motoring.

He’s a lucky man. He loves classic cars and he’s spent most of his life selling them at auction advising clients on values, sales or acquisitions of all sorts of interesting vehicles. Of course, people’s perceptions of what makes a classic car differ greatly from one person to another.

classic cars

Nick and his beloved Porsche which he has owned for more than 20 years.

So what makes a classic car?

“Everyone has a different opinion of what makes a car a classic and that’s no surprise because it’s hard to pin down one thing.

“It’s not just the age of the car, it’s not just because it’s got chrome bumpers. Ultimately it’s a range of things in context together.

“One good indicator is that a classic is probably an old car that people are talking about again in fond terms. People get very nostalgic about cars. They recall cars from their childhoods and today there is a lot of fondness for cars from the 80s and 90s.

“Another solid indicator is if the value of the car has bottomed out and perhaps turned the corner, started to go up in value again. That indicates potential to become a classic.”

Which classic cars does Nick Wells own?

Nick is also a long term keeper of several classics of his own including a 1973 Triumph Spitfire, which he restored from the ground up with his father in the 90s.

He also owns a Lancia Flaminia Touring GT, an early Lancia Fulvia Zagato and a Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera which he’s had for almost 20 years. While some may feel the Porsche is pretty predictable, what’s the lure of the Lancia?

“I think Lancia is an incredibly interesting brand. When you think about Lancia many people imagine Deltas and Betas in the 70s and 80s rusting on the dockside.

“But when you transport yourself beyond that from the 20s to the 60s, Lancia set a fantastic standard, good build, great design and excellent finish. The Lancia really was the quality car choice for the connoisseur.

“The other thing about Lancias, you can’t pigeon-hole the kind of people that own them. You tell people you own a Porsche and they immediately have an impression of what you’re like. Tell them you own a Lancia and they’ll probably scratch their heads”.

‘I see classic cars as time machines’

Nick’s daily runner is a modern Mercedes Estate but he has also recently bought an 80s Peugeot 205 Gti which makes for some “interest and fun”. He said: “It’s got cheap plastic trims, a basic radio/cassette, and wind-up windows, but it’s a joy. I see old cars and especially classics as being time machines.

“They take you back to another age, an age when driving stimulated hearing, touch, sight and smell, or simply back to your own youth in whichever decade.

“In an old car you have to do things that have long since been ditched by manufacturers of modern vehicles; you have to wind the windows, turn an ignition key, change gear. These simply aren’t features of modern cars and a lot of people miss them.”

The biggest thrill of driving a classic car? “Well I guess getting the thing started in the first place, because that’s not always a guarantee.”

Nick’s continued confidence in the classic car market

Nick remains confident about the future of classics: “There are around 33 million cars registered to drive in the UK and of those just under two million are classified as classics.

“There are more modern classics coming onto the market than ever before because cars are more durable than ever. Things like rust are no longer a problem and people have more disposable income and time to maintain and restore them.

“It’s also easy to market and sell classics through online sales. Where once you had a few hundred 100 people in a room bidding for a car, nowadays the vehicles are online and bids come in from all around the world.

“While a lot of businesses have struggled during the pandemic, it seems to have accelerated interest and bidding on classic cars as many people have had more money and more time to spend on their hobbies. Classics are a new outlet for their money and their leisure time.”

Time for a classic car restoration project?

So what does the specialist think? Is it better to buy a classic car that has already been restored or buy one as a restoration project?

“I think if the car has been well restored, or it has been well looked after and is in excellent original condition, I think that’s your best bet. If you do that, the price you pay is more or less the cost of the restoration and the car is essentially “free”.

“But people, car lovers especially, do love a project. They do love to get their hands dirty and they have money and time at their disposal, so why not buy a project car?”

classic cars

The Honda Insight, a classic car for the future? By GabboT.

And what of the race for alternative power?

“We couldn’t continue pumping out all these polluting vehicles. Electric and hydrogen power makes perfect sense.”

And already one or two electrics are shaping up to become classics of the future: “The Honda Insight launched in 2000 is already a collectable electric vehicle, the 2008 Tesla Roadster based on a Lotus Elise chassis will cost a bit more but that’s becoming collectable too.”

Unlike some classic car aficionados, Nick has no issues about converting everyday classics to run on non-carbon fuel.

“I have no problem with people converting a classic such as a VW Beetle or a Mini Clubman to run on electric power.

“It will make them more reliable, prolong their lives and open them up to a wider audience and boost their appreciation.

“I think if it’s your own car and you love it, do whatever you want to do to prolong your experience and the joy you have with it. Electric power, upgraded brakes, enhanced entertainment systems and other modern refinements can only make these classics more desirable to a more diverse group of people and that can’t be a bad thing.”

Generation Z and classic cars

“While availability of classic cars is greater now than it ever has been before, I don’t see Generation Z as being that inspired by classic cars.

“When I was growing up I loved cars and engines, but I sense many younger people have other technical interests today.

“Perhaps as cars become even more sophisticated that will change again and inspire Gen Z car buyers, but the whole procedure of buying a car has changed so significantly. Nowadays people buy a finance package with a vehicle they’ve seen online connected to it.

“People no longer tour showrooms and read adverts to find a car they fancy and then work out how they can pay for it.”

And Nick’s dream cars?

“I suppose my ultimate dream car would be a Ferrari 250 SWB…if I had the spare £6 million or so I would need to buy it.…

“I suppose more realistically at the moment I would go for something closer to my youth, perhaps a nice Ferrari Testarossa or 70s 911 Turbo or RS.”

Nick’s 6 tips before buying a classic car

  1. Don’t just buy a classic car as an investment, buy something you really like.
  2. Think about the practicalities. If you want to take your wife and three children out in it, a two-seat roadster is probably not the right car to choose.
  3. Sounds obvious, but buy what you can afford. Set a budget.
  4. Allow extra in that budget because you may well need it!
  5. Consider where the car is going to be kept. An old convertible’s great in a garage, but not so good to be left on the street or exposed in a driveway.
  6. Do your research. Come up with a shortlist of cars that you like and work out the different options. Don’t just look through adverts and expect the right car to jump out at you.

Introducing the new series of The Car Years

Series 2 of ITV4’s Adrian Flux-sponsored The Car Years launches on Monday, 19 July, and in each episode joint hosts and motoring experts Vicki Butler-Henderson and Alex Riley go head to head driving in, and arguing for, the merits of a host of classic cars. The series kicks-off with a double header of two half hour episodes.

Episode 1

In Episode 1 the hosts pick the most technologically advanced sports cars of 1978. Vicki picks the revolutionary Mazda RX7 while Alex makes a case for the Porsche 928. As in every episode a panel of judges, including Nick Wells votes on the winner.

Episode 2

Episode 2 harks back to the best sports saloons of 1986. Vicki goes for a turbo powered touring car for the road in the shape of the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth.  Alex picks Ford’s arch rival on the race track, the BMW M3.

Episode 3

In Episode 3 the hosts pick their favourite GT released in 1969. Alex makes a case for the Datsun 240Z, while Vicki drives 70’s TV detectives’ favourite the Ford Capri.

Episode 4

Episode 4 looks at supercars from 1975. Vicki champions the Ferrari 308 made famous by the Magnum PI TV series while Alex gets behind the wheel of one of his childhood heroes, James Bond’s Lotus Esprit.

Episode 5

Episode 5 races forward to the year 2000 two rate rallying icons of the PlayStation generation. Alex argues the case for the Mitsubishi EVO 6 Tommi Makinen Edition while Vicki goes for the Subaru Impreza P1.

Episode 6

Episode 6 drops back to post-war motor manufacturing in 1948 to find the best car to mobilise the world following the end of hostilities. Vicki gets to grips with the Citroen 2CV, while Alex makes a case for the Series 1 Land Rover.

Episode 7

Episode 7 goes back to the 60s, 1962 in fact to find that year’s best British sports car. Vicki picks the ever popular MGB while Alex makes a case for the ultra-lightweight Lotus Elan.

Episode 8

Episode 8, the final episode, seeks to find the best car released in 1970. Vicki picks a Range Rover, the first luxury SUV, while Alex picks the Citroen SM, which at the time was said to be a vision of the future of luxury GTs.

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