Owning a Montecarlo – the Investors view
or, enjoying your car without losing a fortune
Before we start it is fair to say that everyone who owns a Montecarlo has made the right choice in my view and you are free to do whatever you want with your own vehicle. This article is intended to help you understand the impact of work on your car and how that may benefit or detract desirability to future owners. You probably know a lot of this as it’s mostly just common sense but hopefully it will help some owners.
One thing in life is certain and that is that what “comes around, goes around” and with classic cars there are some definite trends that can be applied to any desirable Marque. Let’s look at a few examples and see how the market works when it comes to firstly, making a shrewd investment, and secondly, ensuring that you maintain and build on that in a vehicles value potential once you have it in your garage.
Rule 1 – Investment vs mothballing
So to dispense with one myth straight away – investing in a classic car does not mean locking your car away and not using it. In fact this causes more problems than it solves, particularly on the mechanical front. I lose track of how many Montecarlo’s need new Master Cylinders due to lack of use. Always buy what you like, admire and wish to drive because if you want it, odds on other will also and it will increase in value over time rather than dropping like a stone. Almost always sports cars out perform saloons so we are off to a good start.
Rule 2 - Spend all the money at purchase
Buy the best and most original example of a vehicle that you can afford / find. So you have spent £8000 to £10,000 on a good Montecarlo and others are saying that was just too much- but you will be laughing in the future when you see the endless repairs that others are carrying out which will cost them a fortune as problem after problem comes to light. It is true that occasionally there are barn finds out there that may justify heavy investment but chances are that you will not know enough about the vehicles at the early stages of looking to recognise the wreck from the car with potential. Why risk it? Sure it’s great to return long lost vehicles to the road but do you really know who to trust rebuilding the engine, carrying out the bodywork repairs, sourcing the rare parts that everyone wants and ensuring that the final preparation and hefty refinishing costs do not spiral out of control?
Rule 3 – Original Spec
Avoid the modified vehicle as an investment unless it is a full blown conversion which you are buying just for that look (such as 037 copy) as this is a sure fire way to put off a large number of interested parties. Doubt this? Let’s look at a few cases:
Case study 1 – Just look at the closest market we have – Lancia Delta Integrales.
As with all older cars they have gone through distinct periods in their lives when values mirror desirability. When new or near new they have a standard used value to the trade. Reach 5 years old and they start to enter the older used car market – often with high mileages. 10 years in and they are generally just considered as throw away vehicles and this is the real danger time as this is when the wrong types get them and start running them into the ground, with poor maintenance and substandard modifications. The “boy racer” type move in and many vehicles are driven badly, chipped, modified and generally abused. Then we enter the renaissance period when certain more informed individuals (usually 40 plus age bracket) with more disposable income look back at vehicles and recognise that perhaps they were special for their time and worth preserving as a future classic.
Now the new owner seeks the factory specification vehicle again so cars are taken to specialists and all the modifications are stripped off at great expense and everything goes back to standard. Integrale’s are now worth rather a lot of money for a vehicle that was not designed to take the power of the later generation Evo’s, and the current better off owners know exactly what they want to pay top money for. They want the pure Lancia design vehicle – nothing else.
This is the golden rule for all classics. The mor money people spend the more particular they gat about originality and this is why hardly anyone, except those who track race, want a modified Ferrari or Lambourghini where the investment is that much greater.
Case Study 2 – The Ferrari 308 GT4 Dino which was always considered the “non-ferrari” by purists but has now gone through a renaissance. It was right at the bottom of the wish list for a perspective purchaser and could be bought for as little as £6k in rough condition up to 5 years ago. However, now that people see them as a viable collectors car virtually all the modified vehicles have been stripped back, with a standard car with good provenance now climbing to over £30k – a massive rise in value in less than 5 years. Keep it standard – maintain the value. In fact people try to obliterate any history of track use as that suggests accident damage and with a Ferrari that is seen as a real problem as only a small knock can upset the chassis alignment.
Case Study 3 - Porsche 911 an all derivatives (including the 912). In the 1980’s loads of these cars were modified to look like later vehicles. Now they are being torn apart again in a desperate scrabble to restore standard period looks. Off with the impact bumpers, side skirts, spoilers, wide wheels and later mirrors and much research into original matching engine numbers. It has even got to the level where 1980’s 911 SC are being de-whale tailed to make them look more toned down – even though 90% of UK cars had the tail as a factory standard option. Now a late 60’s or early 70’s 911 is pushing over £40k in good condition. They used to be the undesirable models and very underrated.
Rule 4 – factory finishes
Was your car light blue, white, pastel or metallic green from new and now is red or black? That is potentially bad news for any future sale as a colour change to any classic car takes it away from the factory specification. At one time that there were more Ferrari red Montecarlo’s around than any other colour, primarily because the more unusual 1970’s shades were often over painted. Now, fortunately, there is a revival. Just look at the new Fiat 500 range and surprise – all those unusual colours are back in vogue.
If you buy a Montecarlo with a colour change and are happy with that then fine, otherwise allow about £4000 to bring it back to original or just walk away. Refinishing of vehicles is now one of the most expensive outlays in percentage value terms, particularly with vehicles in the sub-£10k bracket. If you are restoring a car and you decide to change the colour that’s fine as long as you know the long-term impact on value (which of course may not matter to you if you intend never to sell)..
Obviously the higher value classics are a more sensible proposition where you end up with a car worth £40,000 but for now we are not in that realm. Also, never underestimate the cost of stripping a car completely in prep for a paint job to return it to a bare shell, or the time if you do it yourself. Something best avoided unless you start with the aim of a nut and bolt restoration and accept that you will spend far more than the car will be worth once restored.
Rule 5 – the reinvention of the wheel!
So your car was built over 30 years ago and is still on the road and in one piece. That kind of suggests that Lancia and Fiat did not get it all wrong. So it has Italian electrics which were primarily intended for warm climate use and this means that earthing points are not always best located, but we all know where they are and presumably are capable of cleaning these and restoring good operation.
There seems to be an increasing trend in minor modifications that often are useful, but not necessarily essential to keeping your car on the road. It is important to remember that Fiat. Lancia and Ferrari for that matter do not use idiots to design their electrical systems and spend massive amounts on new car development to prevent cars being dangerous and to protect them from legal action.
Now where there is a proven weakness such as the servo assisted front brake system I see the point in change, but just be cautious when considering changes as this all costs money and you are unlikely to ever see that investment back if you sell the vehicle. A cautionary tale which we can learn from was the widely tendered “expert” advice from specialists at one time that Montecarlo’s needed replacement valve seats to run on unleaded fuel. That was until a real engineer pointed out that the seats in an alloy head made by Fiat/Lancia were actually made of harder material than the replacements being put in!
So one I find hard to fathom – electric windows on a Montecarlo which all UK cars have. Sure – they are slower than your latest BMW to go up and down but they were always slower – that is just improvement in technology over time. Simply maintain your windows and they should serve you well for years. Ensure the worm drive is lubricated properly and that the window fuzzy strips are not damaged or swollen and I believe the windows will go up and down properly barring a major issue with the motor. Yes there is a small bearing at the base of the motor but it rarely goes wrong and in general the electrics to the windows are very simple. What else is there to worry about? Remember your car has been around over 30 years so if it hasn’t already burst into flames is it really ever going to? One test I do is to connect used units direct to the battery and watch them go up and down. Then I test through the switching and rarely do I see a difference in speed . So having subjected the motors to the full powerresource that the car has, if I want an improvement in the speed the window goes up and down it is surely down to maintenance – nothing else.
In my view for car electrics focus on the weak spots – the starter and the ignition switch. The rest should look after themselves. Ultimately the choice is yours and these modifications can be very good and do no harm to the car, but choose sensibly and remember to ensure its fully reversible and of course, mods are never a solution for poor maintenance or worn components.
On the electrical front, there are other cars in a far more precarious state than ours. Anyone had problems with the Fiat X19 headlamp switch which also triggers the raising of the lamp pods. Make that everyone!
And for TVR and Lotus owners I just have two words of advice – Good Luck!
Rule 6 – performance engines, fuel injection, turbo charging et al…
We all know that there are firms out there who are excellent engineers and will happily modify your engine, but as with all specialists you pay the market price for that work and knowledge. Your Montecarlo has a proven twin cam 2 litre power plant that was extensively used in other Fiat Group vehicles and continued to be developed well beyond the production period of our cars. It is a superb design for its time and generally simple to work on and maintain, as well as being very strong and long lasting. When the Montecarlo was new it was not a slow car as the 120 mph performance was the benchmark for all sports cars of its type/price bracket. In fact it was only really exotic vehicles that went faster when the car first hit the market in the mid-70’s. It is not a modern car and should be viewed in that light. The real joy of ownership is that you just do not need to go fast in a Montecarlo as nobody knows what speed it can achieve and it really is all about Pininfarina’s body design rather than out and out performance. It’s the crowd that forms around it when its parked that is the true test.
So performance engines are fine if you want to produce a non-standard car but they often do not add much value if your car if it is just for road use. By all means use twin carbs and performance exhausts but the engine and originality is central to classic ownership. After all you wouldn’t remove the engine from an historic race car such as one of the raced 037’s and replace it with something more modern or heavily modified, would you ? So why do it with the standard vehicles. Montecarlos were very good usable cars for their time and still have good handling characteristics and are reasonably rapid cars in standard form.
Now there are exceptions as it may be prudent to improve the engineering if your existing standard engine is damaged or worn out. There are problems sourcing some parts these days and that can mean that there really is little choice – pistons being a very good example.
Some bolt on bits are a separate issue. I would never turbo charge an engine but in the 1980’s there were many attempts – almost all of which have since proved a mistake. I also have my doubt about any sort of major fuel system change such as fuel injection. The car was not designed with this and it will impact on saleability. I realise that some people want to modify as a project or challenge in itself but the standard car works well as designed form the factory and often performance mods impact on fuel economy and day to day running of the vehicle.
As always – it’s your car and your money and you are welcome to disagree!
Rule 7 – if you do modify keep the old parts
The next owner may want to put your car back to standard. If you do decide to modify the car make sure changes are reversible and can be taken right back again easily. Keep that old carb, standard interior, OE wheels etc.
Rule 8 – Enjoy your car!
Despite all this I know that there are owners out there who have invested huge amounts on modification, and I guess all would claim their car is improved. Ultimately if you enjoy your vehicle and do this with your eyes open then it’s your choice and your money. To me however the original car is always king and will be the vehicles that remain desirable and benefit from the inevitable rise in value that our cars deserve. I know others may disagree, but In general they are also the most usable day to day vehicles, completely reliable and a sound investment.
About the author – Malcolm Steer is the proprietor of Montezone and has owned 9 Montecarlo’s since the mid 1980’s. He has also had numerous other marques including Ferrari, Jaguar, TVR, Alfa Romeo and many others. Over the years Lancia specialists have come and gone and there is little that he has not heard said about the cars or seen done……..not always to the financial benefit of the owners!
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