Essen’s Techno Classica shows: classic car market is robust

Techno Classica Essen (Germany) is 30 years old this year, and the event celebrated this milestone by adding a new hall to the already vast show area and introducing a new layout of the numerous halls, so as to better welcome the 1250 exhibitors coming from 30 different countries. The timing of the event (21st-25th March) was not ideal as it clashed with the Stuttgart show Retro Classics. As a result, the exhibitions of some of the most important players, forced to be on two fields at the same time, were not as extensive as they might otherwise have been. As ever, what stood out most was the contrast between the car manufacturers’ official stands, which were respectful of the respective corporate messages, and the area given over to the car clubs, dedicated to specific models or brands, where imagination and a touch of craziness are always key ingredients!

“Verkauft” – sign of a healthy classic car market at Techno Classica

The trading area was absolutely amazing, proving once again that, for classic car trading, there is no event better than the Essen show. The number of “Verkauft” (“sold”) signs appearing on windshields as the event unfolded was a clear indication of the robust health of the market: the formal asking prices tended to be high, but serious prospective buyers soon found that these incorporated adequate leeway for negotiation. As always, Techno Classic was attended by the most important international collectors, who could be seen “surfing” the show, on the lookout for something interesting. It was impossible not to note that the average age of the cars offered for sale, or simply shown, was far lower than just a decade ago. Accordingly, today, the stars of this show are no longer pre-war cars, but young-timers or instant classics, and this change was also reflected in the brands and models most represented at the event.

The new wave

Only ten years ago, pre-war cars (usually from the late 1930s), along with 1950s and 1960s cars, formed the backbone of the Essen show, with most of trading at the event involving these categories. This obviously meant that certain brands, such as Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia and Jaguar were strongly represented, while Mercedes-Benz 190 SLs and Pagodas, Porsche 356s and Volkswagen Beetles of any sort represented Germany on wheels. Today, with the advent of a new generation of enthusiasts, with new tastes, dreams and requests, the average age of the cars making up the classic market has dropped sharply, and therefore the situation looks very different. The models now representing Mercedes tend to be the R107, the 1970s/1980s SL, or the subsequent R129 (the first SL with resin bumpers launched in 1989); Porsche, on the other hand, is now represented by its 911, including the more recent version, while the Volkswagen Golf and Scirocco are two models that are now considered at least as important as the Beetle.

BMW and Audi on the rise

Until a few years ago, the only BMW model of interest would have been the pre-war 328. Now BMW is a really hot brand, with the E21 and E30 series of compact sedans from the 1980s/1990s, and the first six series of the E24, launched in 1976, all very welcome as modern classics. Audi is another brand that was little represented until recently. But its UR Quattro and early RSs are currently in great demand. Just as we see on the “normal” market, these shifts of interest have seen other brands pushed into the background.

Indeed, gone are the Fiats — the Dino and the 850 have not been replaced in collectors’ dreams by newer models —, while Alfa Romeo, too, has lost prominence, its later models failing to appeal to collectors like the Giulietta coupe or spider once did. Only its Series 105 Coupe continues to be sought after and strongly traded. Ferrari remains as strong as ever (and how could it be otherwise for this legendary brand?), while Lamborghini is making ground all the time, with its Countach and the later Diablo increasingly featuring in the wish lists of new collectors. The evergreen Mercedes W198 300 SL, both closed and open, seems to sail effortlessly through the decades, continuing to be, as ever, the stuff of many collectors’ dreams.

The corporate stands

The hall entirely devoted to the VW group is always extremely impressive, but this year it seemed to offer more than ever, with every single one of its brands given its own huge display. The amazingly colorful Porsche display, featuring a group of 911s in the most amazing, and sometimes almost indecent, colors, really made a splash, while Skoda, an increasingly successful brand, exhibited numerous prototypes (never produced) of fun cars from the 1960s and 1970s that tied in perfectly with its newly launched SUV vehicle.

Lamborghini’s Polo Storico shows two jewels

Lamborghini’s new classic division, Polo Storico, to the delight of many of those in attendance, exhibited a perfectly restored Islero and a “restoration in process” Espada, both models currently celebrating their 50th anniversary. Lamborghini is clearly committed to providing its collectors with all-round support. After creating the Polo Storico, it set up an in-house restoration and certification program, and now also manufactures new spare parts for the firm’s classics.

Mercedes-Benz decided to play it “big” and devote most of its space to the “G-class”, the off-road vehicle created in the late 1970s for military use that has now become something of a legend. Only a few months ago it was replaced by a new version, which has been kept, as far as possible, identical to the previous one. The display ranged from the early “working horses” of the 460 series to cars that are part of its more refined and powerful recent production.

Visitors to the BMW display were impressed by the exhibition of M1 racing cars — the M1 is 40 years old this year —, which proved how the racing colors of the past are definitely more appealing than the modern ones. BMW also celebrated the 50th anniversary of its E3 sedan.

The FCA group had a single stand for all its brands (Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia). This featured numerous contemporary Giulia and Stelvio cars, but little in the way of classics. The stand also unveiled, for the first time on the German market, FCA’s “Reloaded by Creators” trading program, under which the company will buy, restore and resell old classics of its brands.

Finally, the Jaguar-Land Rover display, featuring early Land Rovers (both pre- and post-restoration) was stunning, while Aston Martin showed a recreated DB4 GT, an in-house built replica that, part of a limited series, was so similar to the original that it was practically impossible to spot the difference.

The most interesting cars of Techno Classica 2018

At Essen there are always so many cars that catch the eye that it is difficult to pick out a single best one. As a result, the choice is a reflection more of personal taste than of true supremacy. This year, my personal favorite was the 1984 W201 Mercedes-Benz 190 2.3-16, originally used by Niki Lauda in the famous Nürburgring Champion Race, a real piece of history on wheels.

Having said that, had it been present at the event (something that is never likely to happen given that it is now owned by the MB Museum), I would have chosen Senna’s famous 190 2.3-16, the car that raced to victory in the inaugural race on the new shorter Nürgburgring racetrack. Still on the subject of racing, the celebration of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, staged in an area at the heart of the exhibition venue, brought together some of the most important winners of this race, including the 1991 race-winning Mazda 787B, with its Wankel engine, considered one of the loudest racing cars in the world (unfortunately it was not possible to hear its engine in Essen…) and the Mercedes-Benz Sauber C9 that won in 1989, one of the most beautiful looking racing cars ever to enter this French marathon, and also one of the most beautiful to drive, according to Jochen Mass.

Italian auction house Aste Bolaffi exhibited the Bertone Nuccio show car, to launch its forthcoming sale in Milan (23rd May), an auction that will be enhanced by the presence of the very last two prototypes built by Carrozzeria Bertone: the 2010 Pandion, based on the mechanics of the Alfa Romeo 8C, and the aforementioned Nuccio, built in 2012, based on the Ferrari 430 F1.

More impressions in the photo gallery of Techno Classica 2018:

For more info on Techno Classica, please visit the website of the classic car show.

All photos courtesy of the author.

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