I’m not Nostradamus, I’m a very naughty boy.
Welcome to 2021 dear readers. A year full of promise and hope, a renaissance if you will – time to put our collective anus horribilis behind us and move on to those bright sunny uplit….no, wait a minute. That’s 2022.
Time seems to have changed shape for most of us – I heard a great term to describe what most of us encounter when deprived of our normal routines; Blursday. This is when you’re not sure what day of the week it is but it doesn’t matter because the pub is closed anyway. I do wonder how long it will take for this time to pass from daily conversation and then fade from mainstream memory. If its anything like the second world war, it may take a while – my grandparents still filled the bath every day before they went to bed in case a water main burst during a night raid. This was in 1990. I told them the Germans just aren’t like that anymore, but old people are slower to forget.
Let’s be honest, none of us really expected to be where we are at this moment, but then that’s COVID for you – full of surprises. One of the biggest COVID related surprises of 2020 was car sales – and this one was the good sort. As the first lockdown was announced I realised I’d have time to actually do some forecasting for the financial year ahead, much to the joy of our accountant. Now, as we all know, forecasting is an essential part of running any business. Banks love them, accountants have spreadsheets for them, and higher up, stock markets and hedge funds gobble up forecasts like candy. I absolutely hate them. For an independent garage like Munich Legends to be able to predict how many rare classic BMWs – in the right condition – are going to arrive in the showroom for sale from across the UK or the World – and who is going to buy them – is almost impossible to guess – and guesswork it certainly is. Sure, you can take the previous year or two and run that forward. But what if one year there was a Brexit? Or a closely fought general election? Or a global pandemic? What if the cars simply aren’t out there? We’re pretty picky, after all.
So, there’s me in March, doing the most tedious job in the world (sorry, accountants) thinking that at least this time, I’m in with a shout. 2019 was rubbish for the classic motor trade, and as we went into lockdown, heading towards the Brexit, I decided to put a few token numbers in the boxes and focus on the restoration and workshop side of the business. Car sales would be pretty well non-existent. Easy job. Except I was completely wrong. 2020 was our best year for car sales for half a decade, and ranks amongst our best ever. And we were closed for a month. And our foreign clients couldn’t visit. And we had to remove the coffee machine from the showroom.
So, what went wrong? How did I make such an error? Well, the straight answer is; I have no clue. I’ve asked people – some of whom know lots of stuff – and they had no clue either. What is the logic behind the largest global crisis for well over half a century – in some ways the biggest ever – and the most draconian controls on the UK population in history, producing a year of bumper car sales. And not daily cars that people need to get to hospital or drive to Barnard Castle – you know, the vital things in life – but collectable machines for weekend use and pleasure.
At first, we thought it might be nefarious use of Bounce Back Loans. Any business person who went through the application procedure will know how easy that was. A series of boxes that you had to tick – they didn’t want to miss out people who couldn’t write – one of which actually said ‘I understand that the bank will not be checking any of the answers given in this application and I’m still happy to proceed on that basis’. Check. Another said ‘only tick the box if your business has been affected by COVID-19, as your application will be refused if this is not the case’. Check. I mean – who hasn’t been affected? It didn’t say adversely affected, so I’m assuming Amazon were eligible.
So, the Bounce Back Loans got spent and the sales kept coming. Maybe it was savings. I remember one customer I spoke to because I genuinely wanted to get some answers. He said ‘I’ve been saving for a rainy day for ages. This isn’t just raining, it’s a bucking monsoon!’ I’m pretty sure he said bucking. Another client explained that as he was now working from home indefinitely, he didn’t need to spend five grand a year on a season rail ticket. Goodbye freezing trains, hello E46 M3.
Of course, there’s also the fact that nobody’s gone out to eat all year because even when the restaurants were open, it was too risky. Nobody went on holiday either because all the staycation destinations had been booked by people called Hugo and Lotti from Hampstead and it was too risky to fly abroad in case Easyjet cancelled your return flight and you ended up quarantined in the last hotel left open – the one with the two stars that are definitely not from Michelin.
It may be a bit of all the above, and you may ask why I care – after all, surely just make hay while you can, and worry about the reasons later. But I’m going to take away from this way more than just increased sales and profits. It shows me just how deep seated our love of classic cars has become. We are in the middle of economic meltdown, death lurks around every corner, we haven’t seen our families for months, and we’ve forgotten what it feels like to be served a meal – or even a pint – by a complete stranger. And what are we thinking? I really fancy an M3.
I now have faith in my fellow man (yes and woman and womxn) that we haven’t got all grown up and forgotten our priorities. We’re daft. We’ll overcome anything you throw at us. Nothing is so bad that we’ll stop thinking about cars. I am not alone.
Well, it’s nearly that time again. In six weeks, it will be a year since the last forecast. So, what do I predict?
I haven’t got a clue. But I do fancy a new M5…
Dan Norris, Straight Six Magazine by BMW Car Club GB (February 2021 issue)