You can’t spend years in close association with automotive memorabilia without realising that the genre has an allure and appeal that can suck in the very hard hearted among us. After all, even a keychain with the flying Bentley wings, a cup with a Porsche logo and a baseball cap with some racing logos counts for memorabilia.
But then, one man’s collectible is another man’s stock in trade. It is all a matter of relative value. And being a member of the automotive press puts one in a unique position. If I remember rightly, when my career began I would get excited in increasing degrees by the value I attached to the logos on the handouts we received. That meant a BMW was always more interesting than a Tata Motors. But after a couple of decades I realise that I’ve become inured to the concept.
Now, a keychain is just that, as is a cup or T-shirt. Now the value is attached firmly to the quality of the underlying item. If it’s something I would like to wear or use, I keep it. Anything else is immediately passed on to someone who isn’t afflicted with my lack of logo envy.
But that’s not how it is always. I know there are some brands that I still value above and beyond. I’ve paid good money to buy branded merchandise from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Lotus. I’ve also bought a couple of motorcycle brand related items. But then I am also trapped by my identity as an auto journalist.
I cannot wear a T-shirt or cap with an automotive brand sewn on it without the automatic assumption being voiced that it is a handout. Nor can I gift anyone I know an automotive tagged goodie without earning the sobriquet of a cheapo gifter. I’ve been trapped out early on in my career, having wasted good money. No more. Now I go the extra mile to ensure that there are no logos besmirching the gift.
Yet the appeal of the car logo is quite strong elsewhere in the world. Branded merchandise makes up a significant part of a manufacturer’s halo. Take a brand like Ferrari for instance. The Ferrari store is definitely mainstream. You can find one right outside their factory gate in Maranello, in the Ferrari World at Abu Dhabi as well as in shopping malls around the world. People are more than ready to pay a premium for the presence of the prancing horse on the cup or cap.
Another brand that seems to be more connected with its merchandise than its core products is Harley-Davidson. The undercurrent of a bad boy image is central to the draw of the brand, although there is nothing overtly bad boy about the bikes itself. What is a Harley-Davidson badge without a skull lurking somewhere in the background? It seems like there a lot of middle-aged wannabe Hell’s Angels out there.
But the true collectors of the automotive world are the gentlemen and ladies who are ready to put their big money where their mouths are. They buy the one-off editions, the collectible supercars and power the extremely large business in classic and vintage cars and bikes. It’s for these big spenders and committed collectors that brands make unique cars. I’ve had the good fortune to see a whole bunch of FXX cars sitting in Ferrari’s garage, kept for the collector who knows that he is onto an appreciating asset. The next shed had retired Formula One cars owned by the same breed.
Of course the very best of the breed also spend on the paraphernalia of collecting. Pour in a few millions into a climate controlled garage, hire a specialist to help you source and maintain the inhabitants of this palace and once in a while take out a particularly appealing model to drive around town. Of course you have to have the money in the first place but you also need the desire and commitment. That is something that can’t be bought. Whether you are in the market for a supercar or just a coffee cup with the logo on it, you have to be a collector at heart to make it work.