Meet the masters of modern classics at Image Automotive

Image Automotive might operate via four distinct sub-brands, but one thing remains consistent throughout – superbly presented low-mileage modern classics. We visited founder Lucas Hutchings and Sales Executive Nick Maingot, at the Surrey-based company’s new 4,000-square-foot premises…

The Octane Collection, Millennium Heroes, Fast Classics and Great British Classics. These are the four brands that slot under the Image Automotive umbrella, each specialising in different types of (predominantly modern) classic cars. Founded by Lucas Hutchings, the company has become known for its second-to-none presentation, thanks to an in-house professional photo studio in which its cars are thoroughly (and lovingly) documented.

What is your earliest automotive memory?

There are photos of me sitting in my father’s Jaguar E-type aged two, though I can’t honestly say I remember that. I’ve always loved going fast – even in my pushchair – and it was this combined with my enthusiasm for how things work, such as the internal combustion engine, that led me to cars. Exploring the heritage of automotive companies that were born from similar passions is something I’m really enjoying at the moment.

Have you always gravitated towards low-mileage modern classics, or only recently?

From a business point of view, yes – I’ve always liked modern classics, simply because they are both easier and better to drive, and generally less problematic.

What prompted the decision to create a business with four distinct divisions?

When I started 4 Star Classics, our presentation of stock in a photo studio became our USP, as not many other dealers were doing it. Now many have caught up, so I needed a new selling point for Image Automotive. The idea of separate and distinct brands was something a bit different, and it distinguished us from other dealers. We were always great at marketing at 4 Star Classics, so I wanted to apply that to more areas of the business.

What are the advantages of operating from these different sub-brands?

It allows us to stock a variety of cars, without losing our specialist status. We can cater to more types of customer, as we can specialise in different areas. The majority of our customers favour a specific area, so either MGBs and Triumphs, or track-special Ferraris and Porsches. On the other hand, there’s a small number of collectors with a wide range of tastes, so we can appeal to them, too.

It must come with its difficulties?

It does. There is some crossover between the brands, so deciding from which to offer a car can be difficult. Also, explaining our set-up to customers can lead to confusion. I had my concerns at the beginning, but I’m happy with how it’s turned out.

Most of the cars you stock have low mileage – is this something you purposely look out for when sourcing a car?

Yes, we’re trying to operate in the top tier, so we like the very best, cleanest cars. We get really excited when we find a time-warp example of a car that is 20 or 30 years old. It’s important that cars like this are well looked-after and preserved for future generations, so we take finding them new homes particularly seriously.

Doesn’t that make your job more difficult?

Finding good stock is hard, and prepping cars to our accepted standard is time-consuming, but our four brands help us to increase our catchment net. We turn away a great many lower-quality cars that don’t make the grade.

What can customers expect from Image Automotive that they wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere?

Our expertise is our marketing and advertising skills – if we can present our cars in the best possible way, we can appeal to the most discerning of customers. Much as you find at Classic Driver, the way something is presented is very important to us. At the end of the day, we’re out-and-out car enthusiasts, and we’re just as fascinated with these cars as our customers are. Building long-term relationships with our customers is also massively important, as we are always keen to get back any cars that we sell, as we already know that they meet our high standards. 

How has the market for modern classics changed in the last five years, and where can you see it heading in the future?

I think the secret that these cars are providing a good return is out of the bag, and investors are now buying, as well as collectors. The market knows that limited-edition cars will be popular, and that the normal depreciation curve has drastically decreased. Take the Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale for example – it suffered eight-ten years of depreciation, until now when prices are soaring. The economic landscape doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of turning, so while the change won’t be as drastic as it has been in the last five years, I think it’s going to be a case of more of the same. That said, I’m not a financial adviser.

What single car from your career do you wish you’d kept?

I think we all wish we had filled a barn with low-mileage exotics a decade ago. Alas, that’s not how it worked out.

What do you drive at the weekends?

My BMW M3 CSL – it has over 100k miles on the clock. It's completely stone-chipped, but this means I can drive it properly without having to worry about ruining it. 

Photos: Tim Brown for Classic Driver © 2015

You can find stock from The Octane Collection, Fast Classics, Millennium Heroes and Great British Classics listed for sale in the Classic Driver Market.