Data Driven

Wheelbase Theory: When 2+2 = 1 great deal

by Stefan Lombard
2 June 2023 3 min read
Image
Getty

In the not-too-distant past, when a convertible would roll onto the block at one of his collector car sales, former auctioneer Dean Kruse would declare: When the top goes down, the price goes up! For the most part, he wasn’t wrong.

At a recent meeting of the minds here at Hagerty Insider, we got to noodling on that theme, until we’d mangled it enough to arrive at our own declaration: When the wheelbase goes up, the price goes down! Specifically, we were talking about four-seat versions of two-seat cars. But were we right?

When British Motor Corporation introduced the Austin-Healey 100-6 for 1957, in addition to shoehorning two more cylinders into the popular 100-4, the company cleverly wedged in two extra seats. Just like that, the jaunty little roadster gained extra oomph and extra utility. In a remarkable feat of packaging, the car’s wheelbase only grew from 90 to 92 inches, without sacrificing its elegant profile or its essential nature. Though the change was minute, it should tell you something about just how useful those rear seats were.

Nonetheless, Austin-Healey had broadened the appeal of a great sports car by making it available to a wider segment of buyers: people with friends. More importantly, the 100-6 (which would become the 3000 after 1959 and feature the same 92-inch wheelbase no matter the seating configuration) lost nothing in translation. It still looked fantastic.

In the decades since, a handful of manufacturers have attempted to capture a bit of that magic by turning their own popular two-seaters into 2+2s, with varying degrees of visual success. It’s a fine line, after all, to mess with something so delicately balanced as the aesthetics of a universally lauded sports car.

Jaguar knows a thing or two about that. In 1966, Jag put its sexy Series I E-Type in traction, taking the wheelbase from 96 to 105 inches, until it emerged as the far less sexy but ever more practical E-Type 2+2. A year later, Lotus pulled the wheelbase of its lithe Elan S3 like so much taffy, from 84 to 96 inches, to create the Elan +2. Ferrari followed suit by injecting 9.7 inches into the wheelbase of its handsome 1968 365 GTC, taking it from 94.5 to 104.2 inches to make the 365 GT 2+2. The car was soon nicknamed the Queen Mary, for obvious reasons. Not to be outdone, in 1974, Datsun messed with a good thing by upping the wheelbase of its perfectly lovely 260Z from 90.7 to 102.6 inches. Sixteen years later, as Nissan, the company did it again when it put back seats in the stunning 300ZX, extending the car’s wheelbase from 96.5 to 101.2 inches.

1967 Jaguar E-Type 2+2. Hyman ltd.
Lotus Elan +2. Getty

I’m not here to call anyone’s baby ugly, or even mildly unattractive, but it’s hard to argue that any of the above turned out as visually successful as their two-seat counterparts. They were all, however, successful in their own right. Jaguar, for instance, sold 5600 Series I E-Type 2+2s from 1966 to ’68, compared with roughly 7800 coupes. The later Series II 2+2 outsold its two-seat sibling 5330 to 4860, though in both series, roadsters trumped all. Datsun buyers clearly preferred the purer lines of the two-seater, snapping up more than 40,000 of them in the one year they were offered, but 9500 people opted for the 260Z 2+2. And between 1968 and 1971 Ferrari sold 800 365 GT 2+2s, compared to fewer than 200 two-seat GTCs.

In other words, in period the longer cars did not lack for buyers, even if the sleeker offerings usually won the sales battle. But how does today’s collector car market view them?

Well, a two-seat 1960 Austin-Healey 3000 BN7 in #1 (Concours) condition carries a Hagerty Price Guide value of $98,900, while its 2+2 counterpart, the BT7, is valued at $95,200, just a 3.7 percent discount. Potato-potahto, right? But keep in mind those two cars share the same wheelbase. Remaining in #1 territory, the fall-off is far more striking when comparing an E-Type with its lanky, more voluminous brother—$288,000 vs. $147,000—a 49 percent discount. For the Elans, the two-seater is valued at $62,300 and the Plus 2 at $43,600, a 30 percent discount. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most eye-popping result lies with the pair of Ferraris: We have the 365 GTC priced at $845,000, while the GT 2+2 clocks in at $290,000—a 66 percent difference. Talk about a child tax credit!

The percentages change slightly as we move down the condition ratings, but in this instance, the theory holds: When the wheelbase goes up, the price really does go down.

That’s great news for buyers unable to, uh, stretch the budget for their first choice. Or for buyers in search of interesting sedan alternatives. If you’re willing to overlook the extra proportions these 2+2s carry, if you’re happy to embrace the added utility even tiny back seats can offer—if you’re a person with friends—then these 2+2s built from their two-seater siblings are absolutely worth considering.

1968 Ferrari 365 GT 2+2. Getty

Comments

  • Malcolm Novar says:

    The nice thing about longer wheelbases is the comfort on long road trips.. The longer the wheelbase; less the ride is choppy. Good for the spine……..

  • David Dalton says:

    Four years ago I paid $5,200 for a 1993 Nissan 300ZX 2+2 with T-Tops. One previous owner, only 92k miles, leather interior and a 5 speed. I feel like I stole it. The dealer was asking $10,900 at first. Trying to get a turbo price for a 2+2 car. I love it so much and it’s so great.
    I know one day I will have to sell it when they come to take away my license or I can’t push the clutch in anymore. But I don’t see me selling it just for the cash before then. I know everyone wants a twin turbo and that’s gets all the money, but I know mine wasn’t trashed out by some teenager before I got it.
    I only wish it had pop-up headlights 🙂

  • Jack Boddaert says:

    I never see my 2001 Audi TT Coupe ever mentioned . Yet, it is a wonderful vehicle to drive, 225 hp turbo engine, 6 speed manual, excellent handling and plenty of acceleration. It is affordable, plenty of room for 2 and with back seats down enough space for weekend luggage and a picnic hamper. Spare parts and servicing are readily available, and reasonably priced. All this for under $15,000.
    Good luck finding someone to service your Lotus or even the Jag. and Healy, and as for the Ferrari !!
    None of these cars shown are for the ” common man”

  • Gerry Moore says:

    The Nissan ZX is definitely an everyman’s car. I’m the second owner of a 1986 300ZX 2+2 non-turbo. Fully loaded with the electronic dash, T tops and 5spd manual. Bought in 1995 for $5000 with 68k miles. Now has 132k. Mechanical parts are very easy to find and reasonably priced. She always starts right up, is fun, comfortable, easy to drive and to this day is the most reliable car I’ve ever owned. Outlasting 2 MBZ and a Lexus.

  • Woodrow says:

    The Ferrari Mondial vs 3X8 GTB/S is another great example. This also used to be the case with the 308 GT4 vs 308 GTB/S comparison, but GT4 values seem to be on rocket lately.

  • Curtis Story says:

    This all really applies mostly to garage queen cars (the ones that aren’t driven, but just purchased and put in the garage). I still would prefer to buy hard tops over convertibles because I drive my cars. It is funny to me how much more popular rag tops are for the people that are going to buy a car and never drive it. I find it odd that they are willing to pay so much more for a car that just going to decorate their garage.

  • paul s murray says:

    Well it depends. Some cars lend themselves to the ‘Stretch Armstrong’ approach more than others when it comes to appearance. Width is ,for one, a determining factor in this regard. Some of the 2+2’s were luxo junked- up a bit too and lost that something in translation. And are those somewhat useful rear seats or is that just a jumpseat back there that gets used more like a package tray. If you’re driving a pure two seater it probably isn’t your primary ride but then again maybe now you’re looking for something that you can put the kids into as well for that Saturday jaunt. There are instances where a longer wheelbase can benefit performance ( I’m suddenly thinking now of the old Gapp and Roush ‘Taxi Cab’ ) and you’ll hear “we’re going, long or short base, because we think.. ” on competition cars. Especially true in real world driving. Much like you see people throwing 22″ rims with rubberbands on them thinking they’ll improve handling when the suspension wasn’t designed for them and they didn’t consider sidewall width needs to be factored in with compliance. ” Sorry.- You didn’t ask sidewall damage.”

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    Most of these cars I prefer the styling without the +2 but I understand why some would want the limited extra functionality of the space.

  • Robert J says:

    Long many years ago, fresh out of college and also a year married, I was bitten by the AH bug. (3000 that is). Consulting with my father in law’s wrench guy, the advice was – ‘ There are 2 camps – in the first one,
    you are wealthy and can afford to have someone wrench on your car and just drive it. The second one is
    that you are not in the first camp, and cannot afford to hire a wrench, so you learn to do the work yourself.’ Not being in the first camp, I purchased the Healey and a factory workshop manual, and then
    began the love affair between man and machine. There are things that I’m still not prepared to do, but I
    am aware of specialists that can help me out, if needed. Also if something ‘goes South’ I can usually recall what I did and solve the challenge myself. There’s a certain satisfaction in wrenching on your car, and it brings you closer to it.

  • Art Suckewer says:

    I can’t speak to the other brands on your list but Ferrari isn’t a good comparison. The changes are much greater than a stretch. The chassis, suspension and overall setup are different and had been diverging since the beginning of the production 2+2 Ferraris. The prior 330GT is easier to see it on; though it holds true for the 365. On the 330GT (2+2) the chassis had a live rear axle (old school) while the GTC (2 seater) was IRS (latest and greatest). More interestingly, the pricing was reversed when new! In 1966/1967 the 2+2 was more than the GTC which was more than the GTB. Only the bespoke cars (500 SuperFast and 365 California were more (both based on the 330GT chassis).

    The production cars were built for purpose – 2+2 was a great tourer, the GTC was a great sports tourer and the GTB was a sportscar. They are all great. From behind the wheel, the difference is most noticeable at the limit. If you are looking at them, the 2 seat Ferraris are better; for most, a well sorted 1960’s 2+2 has the same ambiance from the diver’s seat and is a more pleasant drive. It’s likely why they sold better when new even though they cost more.

  • Eric Lofgren says:

    Because I am rather tall, I have never been able to get very comfortable in most two-seater cars. In a 2+2 I can recline the front seat into a comfortable position. This has the added benefit of providing more headroom.

  • kevin thomas says:

    The 300ZX doesn’t look malformed like most of the others, and I’d take any of the 60’s Ferrari 2+2s. If I wanted a collector car I could put my kids in the back seat of, I don’t think I could stomach the Jag or Z. Then again, my kids are 5’7″ and 6’3″, so I’d need at least a Chevelle, if not an Impala!

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