Inside 4 Star Classics

We make like kids in a sweetshop at retro specialist

4y ago

This is a story about a visit to a car dealer. But it’s also more than that, because in a way it’s about the whole New Era tribe.

The reason we’re all here (reading and posting in this tribe; I wasn’t about to get all existential) is because we all love metal built in the ‘80s, ‘90s and early ‘00s.

Cars that the crusty classic-car set mostly haven’t quite, or have only just, caught on to. Cars that are appealingly that little bit more raw than new cars, but still useable enough to take you anywhere, or even be used every day if you felt that way inclined.

And cars that, thanks to the joy of depreciation, are now usually massively cheaper than their new equivalents.

But it’s a broad church. We might spend plenty of time talking about iconic 1980s hot hatches, or ‘90s rally reps, but we still like drooling over mega-money legends like the zero-miles 911 Carrera RSR that sold recently for £2m+.

Hey, when the E46 M3 you had on your bedroom wall 15 years ago and thought you’d never be able to afford is now on your drive for £10k, you’ve still got to have something to dream about, right?

So a belated welcome to the New Era tribe, and welcome to 4 Star Classics, a company run buy a bunch of guys who make a living buying and selling the cars we can’t get enough of.

Owner and co-founder James Mann is no different to us. He's just got a bigger garage and a much busier keyring. A one-time mortgage advisor, he bought and sold ‘80s performance cars as a hobby, cycling through his list of must-owns, before finally taking the plunge and turning that hobby into a proper business.

4 Star certainly isn't the only outfit doing this kind of thing, or the cheapest, but it's been canny with the branding and it always has interesting stuff floating around. Which is why you'll have seen me post about their cars before, and why we thought we'd go have a poke around for ourselves.

These days the prices of some of those cars James used to deal with has mushroomed, and the 4 Star team has grown, too. But according to 4 Star's sales whizz Jim, the ethos remains the same.

‘The core is still German cars, but not exclusively. We’re interested in interesting cars, particularly the best, low mileage cars.’

And to help grab our interest in those cars he's selling, every one is meticulously photographed in a purpose-built studio behind the ground-floor workshop of the company’s small hideaway unit in south-east England.

Snapping them in a proper studio environment with lights is an expensive, time-consuming process, but it’s become one of 4 Star’s USPs, the images living on to help promote the business long after the car in question has sold. No surprise, others dealers have followed suit.

Unusually, the main showroom is located on the first floor, which you access via a staircase lined with ‘80s and ‘90s ephemera that help set the scene. Unless you’re a car, of course, in which case you access it by a giant lift.

There’s room for around 30 cars up there, but turn up on the spot expecting to immediately cruise out on a test drive in one of the machines buried at the back, and you’re in for a long wait.

Not that you'll want to rush anywhere. Step out through the office into the showroom space and you don’t know where to look first.

On the day we visit, there’s a Mk4 Escort RS Turbo with just 12,000 miles, two Tommi Mak Evos, a Golf VR6, M3 CSL, a Clio Williams and a V6, and a stack of Porsches: 944, 968, 993…

Basically all the New Era button-pushers, plus some rare groove exotic stuff too, including a Ferrari Dino, 430 Scuderia and original 1950s Merc SL.

‘Customers kept asking us if we could sell their other cars,’ James explains.

Looking on the website after out visit I can see there’s even a Veyron. Advertised for £1.2m, it’s a far cry from the £6k 205s that might have been on 4 Star's website a few years ago.

But directly above the Bugatti on the web stocklist is a Lupo GTi (up for a characteristically punchy £8k, but it does have only 35k miles). And just below it there's a BMW E30 advertised for £4495.

Don't know about you, but I could probably find space for all three in my hypothetical garage. It's an inclusive club, this New Era thing.

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