Stewart Reed, chair of the Transportation Design Department at Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design, owns a modest collection of classic automobiles from numerous genres and eras. Such an eclectic collection is fitting given that Reed, an ArtCenter graduate himself, designed and developed more than 30 concept vehicles during a career in transportation design that spanned more than three decades. A lifetime of automotive design experience has given the 73-year-old the ability to appreciate stunning automotive architecture in all forms.
Although he’s searching for a Jaguar E-Type to reinsert into his assemblage of classic cars (he owned one in the 1990s), Reed recognizes that other classic British sports cars are defined by similarly striking (albeit distinctive) aesthetics as the E-Type and can provide equally thrilling driving experiences. In many cases, they can also be had for more affordable prices, which makes them ideal acquisitions for prospective collectors who are looking to get their feet wet in the hobby.
In Reed’s estimation, the original Lotus road car, the Elite, is “like a baby E-Type.” The car’s hammer prices are smaller, too: RM Sotheby’s sold a 1962 Series 2 in October for $72,800.
Other Lotus models that supplanted the Elite, such as the Elan and the Esprit, are desirable for different reasons. “I have a 1977 Esprit,” says Reed, “and it’s got a sturdy little backbone chassis and a fiberglass shell. It’s the beginning of that era of radical wedge-shape automotive architecture.” RM Sotheby’s sold a 1978 Series I example for $36,400 last January.
The Elan, which preceded the Esprit, is a front-engine sportster that Reed believes is beginning to heat up with collectors. “It’s an amazing little lightweight sports car,” he says. “The body is a very simple shape, but the chassis was really advanced for its time in the ’60s.” RM Sotheby’s sold a 1965 Elan S2 roadster for $39,200 in October.
The feeling behind the wheel of an MG TC from the late 1940s, according to Reed, is unlike anything that a more modern, postwar sports car can produce. “It’s a fragile, flexible little thing,” he says of his 1948 example. “I can feel its chassis flexing under my seat as I’m driving. It’s just old technology and I love it.” RM Sotheby’s sold a restored 1947 example in 2019 for only $30,800.
Finally, Reed points to the MGA—both in roadster and fixed-head coupe form—as a classic that’s starting to gain traction in the marketplace. As proof, RM Sotheby’s sold a 1957 MGA 1500 Roadster for $31,350 in late summer 2019; more recently the auction house hammered down a 1960 MGA Twin Cam for $67,200 in October. “They were undervalued for years,” Reed says. “They’re still affordable and just nifty sports cars. You will not go wrong on the money.” artcenter.edu; rmsothebys.com