“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”
The words were written by Charles Dickens to describe the plight of the French peasantry but very easily could refer to the current state of the affordable British sports car market. Many of the cars long rumored to be on the way up and appreciating are still at the levels they were a decade ago while others seem to be depreciating (that only seems to be the case) or treading water amidst the pages of the Hagerty Price Guide.
No where is this more true than in the case of the paragon of the affordable British sports car caste, the MG TD, which always seems to be available for purchase somewhere at a reasonable price. While its progenitor in the T-Series (the TC) has definitely suffered in the market over the past decade, the TD has only barely been able to hold its own. This past week we attended the Mecum Auction held at the Convention Center in Anaheim where three TDs crossed the block within hours of one another. What they sold for is instructive as to their place in the market.
The most affordable example was a 1953 TD (XPAGTD224119) and was unrestored but in fairly good order. The respray was solid, the undersides were clean and all the materials were appropriate for the car. It started easily, registered the appropriate levels on the gages and was free of any discernible evidence of rust or rot. There’s an axiom in automotive valuation that any car is worth what the market says it’s worth and this market spoke firmly that it was worth only $15,000. The owner felt otherwise and it was a No Sale at that amount. Should he have taken it? That depends whether he could afford to wait it out for the market to catch up with his own perception of value or to find someone that just had to have the car. If anything, I think the car was actually overbid; $12,000 should have been able to buy this particular example but it actually finished several thousand dollars north of that mark.
The middle bear of the Goldilocks-like lineup was also built in 1953 (XPAGTD229604) and was subject to mid-quality restoration at some point in the recent past. Importantly, the engine was freshly rebuilt with new pistons and rods but the most attractive thing about the car was installation of a 5-speed transmission. Whatever purists might say, in a car of this ilk, the extra gear transforms street driving and makes time on the highway pleasurable rather than endurable. What was the enhanced drivability and peace of mind afforded by the engine rebuild worth? At least a few thousand extra as this car sold at $21,000 (including commission) which is still slightly high in the recent market but a fair deal for both sides.
I have seen well over 100 cars in my life offered for sale by private parties that were advertised by their owners as being in No. 1 or Concours condition. After seeing the cars in person that description was accurate in no more than a handful of cases.
Chances are, if you think your car is in No. 1 condition, it’s a No. 2 (although most times it’s really a high No. 3) and it’s not worth what you think it is.
The last example that crossed the block was subject to a professional restoration (reportedly nut-and-bolt) with high-quality materials and mostly correct appointments (it had radial tires and chrome wheels) and really presented well. Call it a 1-/2+ car and how it performed on the block tells the real tale of how the TD market is doing. A good rule of thumb is that there’s a 100% premium to make the jump from No. 3 to No. 1 and a 50% to 75% premium to go from No. 2 to No. 1. If the first car offered was a No. 3 car (it was) then this car should have reached $30,000 (it did not). Instead, it sold for $26,000 and it took an awful lot of effort to get there. Was it sold too light? Not really. Over the past three years I can say that this was right where the market was – which is to say right around $25,000.
The best of times? It is – if you are in the market for an entertaining, light, nimble and fun to drive LBC. The worst of times – it is if you have a pristine example in the garage and were hoping to retire from the proceeds of its sale. This is the state of the market. Not horrible, not great, unless you happen to have a Ferrari 250, Porsche 911 SWB or a hundred-point E-Type in the shed. If you do, it’s definitely the best of times. If not, not so much.
By Johnny Oversteer