I’ve only ever bought classic cars because I really love them,” says Karsten Le Blanc, the Dutch-born, London-based, former head of Credit Suisse’s ultra high-net- worth team and part-owner of a classic car dealership specialising in Aston Martins.
Talking over a well-made espresso in a discreet hotel bar in Kensington, 51-year-old Le Blanc is smart, charming, but also focused, a man used to doing deals that mix business and pleasure, head and heart. And he’s a massive Aston Martin fan, as his own classic car purchases confirm.
His first was a DB4, since sold, that he bought with a friend in 2000 for £25,000 to restore and race in. But the incredible increase in classic car values since made him get more involved, by buying a share in a West London classic car dealership in 2006 (coincidentally the same garage that former Aston chairman Victor Gauntlett once part-owned).
“We saw an opportunity to expand into used, but new-era cars,” says Le Blanc. “Now our 4,000-plus client list is global, mainly in Europe, but also the Middle East, Asia and the US. If you have a good internet strategy, a guy in Milwaukee is just as likely to find your DB5 for sale as someone in Clapham.”
More personal Aston purchases followed, including a DB5, DB7 Zagato, a few recent Vantage V8s and a DB9 Volante.
Despite the boom in classic car values — as investors after the economic crisis sought real assets rather than financial ones — he still says he has to really like each car to purchase it. “As these classics now cost multiples of the price of my first DB4, you need to make sure you have a fighting chance of preserving your capital alongside it being a fun and beautiful car. And probably, until now, the heart always had the final say. With my latest Zagato, the head had equal say.”
Le Blanc is referring to the late-1980s V8 Vantage Zagato he’s recently bought and which he readily admits “is something of a Marmite car”. For readers who have no knowledge of the peculiarly British yeast extract spread he cites — and which divides opinion in equal measure — in simple terms, it’s a car you either love or hate.
The V8 Zagato — of which only 52 coupés were made between 1986 and 1989, together with 37 convertibles — is certainly not the most naturally beautiful Aston ever designed, full of angular lines and bold graphics. But Le Blanc believes that it has to be a good bet because it’s been something of a sleeper so far.
“If you look at Aston Martins and its various Zagato models over the years, starting with the 1960s DB4 GT Zagato right up to the 2011 V12 Zagato, every model trades at up to six times the price of a non-Zagato version. The DB4 GT is about £2.5m, but the Zagato versions start at £10-20m depending on which one of the 19 you have. It’s the same for the V12 Vantage. You can buy a normal one for about £85,000, but the Zagato version costs £600,000. Curiously, the 1980s standard V8 costs about £450,000 and so does the Zagato version. It makes no sense. It was a genuine Aston Martin collaboration with Zagato and we sell them very quickly when they come up. There is no reason, provided the car market stays as it is, that this price anomaly won’t readjust.”
Le Blanc currently owns another Aston Martin that couldn’t be more different — a 2010 Vantage GT2, which won the Aston Martin festival race at Le Mans and competed in European GT racing, but which Le Blanc also concedes he bought at auction after “a liquid lunch”.
“It’s an obsolete modern race car, but too new for historic racing, so I was really scratching my head as to why I bought it,” he recalls with a chuckle. “But the happy ending has come, as Masters Historic Racing just announced a new race series called Le Mans Legends, for cars that raced at Le Mans between 1995 and 2011. Mine is almost the most modern of that era, so I should have a competitive car.”
Le Blanc makes no bones about owning a variety of classics — his collection is about a dozen-strong and also includes very rare Porsches and Healeys — but Aston Martin still holds a special place in his heart. “Aston doesn’t shout flashiness, it’s more about style,” he muses. “I owned a first-generation Vanquish and when you park it, people say, ‘Wow, that’s a beautiful car’ and ‘May I take a photo of it?’.
Until now, the heart always had the final say. With my latest Zagato, the head had equal say
With an equivalent-era Ferrari you often hear far less flattering comments. The whole Bond thing doesn’t hurt and that’s a global franchise, but I also think that Aston Martins are more beautiful.”
This feel-good factor is as great for classic Astons. “My best example was driving our DB4 from west London to Kent on a Friday afternoon at about 5pm. It was like a hot knife through butter. I was in the wrong lane in Piccadilly, but this van driver waved me through and was like, [at this point Karsten adopts a pleasingly Dutch version of a cockney accent] ‘Go on, son’. If I had tried that in something suitably flashy, I think I would have waited a lot longer.”
Le Blanc now splits his time between London and Somerset with his wife and three almost-grown-up children, although he’s still on the boards of various big companies and very much involved in the classic car dealership. As to the future, he seems to be enjoying his current slightly less frenetic lifestyle, seeing more of the world — he recently visited North Korea with his 21-year-old son and wants to see the southern half of Argentina, too — while also keeping an eye out for more potential Aston Martin purchases, using head and heart like always.
“Having been involved with the marque for so many years, something is missing,” he concludes. “I can’t not own a DB4. So I’m going to address that. I’m going to sell a number of non-Aston cars to pay for it. I’ve seen the error of my ways.”