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How much is a continuation car really worth?

Continuation cars are a motoring riddle wrapped up in an enigma. They’re neither real nor fake, and they’re both old yet new. From Jaguar to Shelby, Aston Martin to Alfa Romeo, the experts at Hagerty talk us through what that means for them as an investment

Jaguar XKSS Continuation

CONTINUATION CARS ARE a curious breed: neither original nor replicas; not as desirable as the genuine article yet still commanding considerable sums of money; they occupy a unique place in the classic car market.

To the uninitiated, a brand-new, factory-built duplicate of an iconic classic sports car sounds irresistible, particularly when the new car costs less compared to the original, but still makes good returns for the companies involved.

Those returns and the impact on the bottom line are considerably more appealing than a feel-good story for a car company’s brand, which is why the likes of Aston Martin, Jaguar, and Shelby American mine their back catalogues.

Yet a question lingers for anyone considering one of these re-animated antiques: how does the classic car world view – and price – something that is both real and not real at the same time?

The answer starts with knowing where a car falls in the sometimes muddy spectrum between continuation and knockoff.

Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato Continuation

The most desirable of the lot are so-called ‘Sanction II’ cars. In the late 1980s, Aston’s then managers, Peter Livanos and Victor Gauntlett, cast a greedy eye at the huge money being thrown at the company’s most charismatic sports racers from the early 1960s.

In particular, there was the DB4 GT Zagato – essentially the Ferrari 250 GTO of Aston Martins. With its perfect profile, double-bubble roofline, and deep-dish Borrani wire wheels, demand from collectors far outstripped the meagre supply of just 20 cars, and in the late 1980s they were selling at auction for up to £1.7m.

Ironically, when the DB4 GT Zagato was introduced, Aston could scarcely give the things away; poor timing meant front-engine sports cars were becoming obsolete for serious racing. As a result, there was a group of four chassis numbers that had been assigned to cars never built. Thus, the DB4 GT Zagato Sanction II was born.

Replica is an inadequate descriptor when applied to the Sanction II cars. Beyond the fact that they wear 1960s serial numbers, they were built almost exactly like the originals, with their bodyshells constructed by Zagato and finished by some of the same people. All four of these Sanction IIs sold quickly at around £750,000 apiece (about $1.2m at the time).

Not surprisingly, Aston had a hard time stopping there. About ten years later, it authorised Zagato to finish two extra body shells as Sanction III cars. And just last year, Aston Martin announced it would build 19 more, now tagged ‘continuation cars’. This time, you need to buy a DBS Zagato with it – a two-for-one deal that costs an eye-watering £6m (about $7.4m).

Jaguar Classic Works

Note that ‘continuations’ and ‘replicas’ and ‘tributes’ aren’t clearly defined terms, but continuations are definitely separate from the other two. And Jaguar, conveniently, provides a good case study in the difference.

While Aston Martin and Bentley have both recently rocked up at the continuation car party, Jaguar has a deeper history of replicas than almost any other brand besides Shelby, in addition to its modern continuation car program.

At one point, Jaguar’s racing greats of the 1950s, like the C-type and D-type, were just obsolete old racers, but by the 1970s there was a burgeoning classic motorsport movement.

Demand and prices for genuine Cs and Ds grew, so a market for faithful copies emerged, with companies like Proteus, Lynx, and others helping people live their D-type dreams on an E-type budget.

As you might imagine, quality varied, from fibreglass D-type panels with the wrong lines laid over an old XJS chassis at the bottom end of the spectrum, all the way up to immaculate copies that were arguably better than the real thing.

Reacting to a C-type replica in a 1982 issue of Thoroughbred & Classic Cars, William Heynes, ex-Jaguar design and engineering director, called it “much better than original… We never had the time to make them look like this!”

Much better, maybe, but not more desirable. As we all know, history and provenance can stretch an important race car’s financial worth into the millions. Nevertheless, this cottage industry of copycats, the best of which sell for six figures, has not gone unnoticed by Jaguar.

The company launched its own in-house Jaguar Classic Works brand in 2017, to provide classic parts, factory restorations and even a limited run of ‘new’ examples of the rarest and most valuable Jags to come out of the company’s golden age during the 1950s and 1960s.

Jaguar Lightweight E-type Continuation

The first of the Jaguar continuation cars was the Lightweight E-type. Using the original engineering blueprints, as well as period materials and methods, Jaguar Classic hand-built six Lightweight E-types from 2014, and was careful to point out that this run of six ‘completed’ the originally planned production run of 18 cars.

Just 12 Lightweight E-types were built in period, and the sequence of chassis numbers for the continuations picked up where Coventry left off in 1962.

In a way, then, Jaguar wasn’t just building copies of old cars. It was finishing an unfinished job, just a few decades late.

The original price of £1m for a Lightweight Continuation seemed steep for something that is both unable to be registered for the road and ineligible for prestigious vintage races, but the cars nevertheless sold out quickly.

Jaguar XKSS Continuation

Jaguar followed up in 2016 with an XKSS Continuation, again using traditional methods like bronze-welding the frames and hand-making the bodies, with a fuel cell and slightly better seats as the only real concessions to modernity.

Again, the production run was limited only to what Jaguar had originally planned to build in period.

In the XKSS’s case, the number came out to nine continuation cars. Just 16 cars were completed before the infamous February 1957 fire at the Browns Lane factory in Coventry destroyed the remaining stock.

Each of the chassis numbers for the nine continuation cars correspond to one of the cars that was lost in the flames.

Jaguar D-type Continuation

A continuation version of the three time Le Mans-winning D-type followed in 2018.

The run was limited to 25 cars, again because of the company’s plans in period.

Of an anticipated 100 D-types, Jaguar built 75 in the 1950s.

Again the price of the final 25 D-types was about £1m, and again the cars sold out quickly despite the price, despite the limited opportunities for use, and despite debates about the cars’ authenticity.

Jaguar C-type Continuation

Most recently, and perhaps in no small part tempted by the profit that is to be made, the British car maker has decided to revisit yet another star from its back catalogue: the C-type.

Eight more C-types will be built at the factory, to mark the 70th anniversary since the once dominant car maker won the demanding Le Mans 24 Hour race back in 1951.

We were watching last year’s RM Sotheby’s Elkhart Collection sale closely because it was the first time three such cars had been brought to auction.

There was also a high quality but non-factory replica crossing the block there for comparison. One of about a dozen C-type replicas built by Britain’s Peter Jaye Engineering in the 1980s, it rides on an XK140 chassis and drivetrain, and it sold for £221,000. Peter Jaye C-types are among the more well-regarded Jag replicas and this car sailed past its £150,000 high estimate, but it still brought less than one-tenth the value of even an imperfect but real-deal C-type, and genuine C-types with serious racing history can bring significantly more.

The E-type Lightweight Continuation in the Elkhart Collection was the first of seven built and used as a promo vehicle by Jaguar Classic. Still fresh with just 717 miles, it sold for £1.22m, or a bit over its original £1.21m estimated purchase price back when it first rolled out of Coventry.

E-type Lightweight replicas (like fake C-types) have sold in the six-figure range, but of course this isn’t a replica, is it? The real deal, meanwhile, is worth between £3.3m in #4 (Fair) condition and £8.7m in #1 (Concours) condition according to the Hagerty Price Guide.

The last two genuine Lightweight E-types to come to auction were a car with Australian racing history that sold for $7.37M (£5.6m) at Scottsdale in 2017 and an ex-Cunningham car that sold for $8M (£6m) at Quail Lodge 2017.

The collection’s XKSS Continuation, one of nine built and the first one offered for sale publicly, fetched £1.5m, nearly past its estimate of £1.14m to £1.5m, and well over its original price.

In the Hagerty Price Guide, real-deal XKSSs are worth between £5.7m in #4 (Fair) condition and £9.1m in #1 (Concours) condition.

The collection’s D-type Continuation, which with 25 built is the most ‘common’ of the three continuation Jags available, is a short nose model and also the first D-type Continuation to hit the auction market.

With 170 miles on the clock it brought £1m, a bit less than its estimated £1.14m original price but still quite close.

Values for original D-types vary greatly depending on racing history, but Hagerty Price Guide values range from £2.2m at the very low end to £6.8m for the better examples. D-types with the best provenance, though, can stretch well into eight figures.

Of any, Jaguar continuation cars are as close to the real thing as you can get, even if they technically aren’t the real thing. They’re born in the same place as the originals, using the same materials and methods, and the limited nature of the runs using period chassis numbers gives an air of extra exclusivity.

Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ

There is a seedy underbelly of the continuation car world – namely, unsanctioned replicas.

Italy is famous for having a virtual cottage industry in counterfeit cars. There, the craftsmanship has always existed to do pretty much what Aston Martin and Jaguar Classic have created but without manufacturer sign-off.

Several unauthorised DB4 GT Zagato copies have been built up from standard DB4s. Special coach-built Alfa Romeos have also been targets of unsanctioned replication.

The joke is that although just 112 Alfa Romeo TZ1s were built, 500 survive.

Because the basic Alfa mechanicals were readily available in Italy (unlike Ferrari parts, they’re relatively cheap), the fakery in Alfa TZ1s, TZ2s and Sprint Zagatos has been legendary. The official certification process before pronouncing any of the above cars genuine is challenging, to say the least.

Replicas do have one major advantage: you can usually drive them on public roads. They are usually built from donor cars that were produced in period and can be licensed as vintage cars.

Shelby Cobra

Shelby American makes thousands of new-age Cobras, far more than the single and low-double-digit totals for the British recreations, and for low six-figure prices.

What’s more, the Cobra is probably the most replicated car of all time. Having to explain to a non-car person the status of a continuation Cobra, “it’s real, but it’s not real” can add a bit of tedium to the ownership experience.

Finally, although the quality of the officially sanctioned continuation Cobras is good, Cobra people live and die by the numbers that follow “CSX” in the cars’ serial numbers. Owners of originals will always look down their noses at the continuation cars.

Back to the future

You can’t legally drive most continuation cars on the road. They simply can’t be made to pass modern safety and emissions laws, and companies like Jaguar or Aston Martin don’t qualify for any sort of small manufacturer loophole.

The Lightweight E-type, XKSS, and DB4 GT Zagato are thus sold for “off-road” or show-and-display use only. (Continuation Cobras skirt this issue since they are supplied as a rolling project – engines must be fitted by customers or dealers – so they’re road-legal in most places, in much the same manner as a kit car.)

To add insult to injury continuation cars usually don’t qualify for the best vintage racing events, so you can’t even drive them on a circuit.

Given this major catch, you’d think continuation cars would trade in a very thin market and at a discount from the original price. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. There are limited sales from which to draw definitive conclusions, but the market for them seems surprisingly bullish.

For instance, a Sanction II DB4 Zagato sold at a Bonhams auction in 2012 for £1,233,500 (about $1.9m). This is no challenge to an original, which Hagerty values around £8m ($10m), but a DB4 Zagato of any provenance comes to market so rarely that someone who has waited years or even decades for one might jump at the opportunity to buy a Sanction II or Sanction III version. Similar logic should hold for the limited-production Jaguar continuations.

Continuation cars seem to be holding their value: $115,000 to $160,000 seems to be the ballpark at the moment. This is downright reasonable in comparison to other continuation cars (not to mention original Cobras) yet is more than even the highest quality non-Shelby replicas bring.

The Sanction II business is likely here to stay, if only because for cash-strapped manufacturers, the value proposition is clear: remake your iconic cars and cash in on some of the millions that otherwise go to the auction houses and owners who sell the originals. Bentley has most recently recreated the Blower, and Aston Martin is assembling DB5s replete with James Bond gadgetry. And even though Carroll Shelby is no longer with us, his company is still churning out Cobras.

Time will tell whether more profitable companies like Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes and BMW will find it worth their while. For now, a Sanction II Ferrari 250 GTO or a second run of the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS seems unlikely, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?

For more information, see hagerty.co.uk. To keep up to date with insider data on the classic car market, sign up to hagerty.com/media/newsletter.