Collecting Cars in a Changing World

We just got back from our annual pilgrimage to Scottsdale for the auctions. As you will read elsewhere in this issue, the collector car hobby–or, more accurately, the collector car business, since we are talking about the massive machine that is the Arizona sales week–is quite the industry. It’s impossible to come away from it without forming a few opinions.

General observations include the sense that RM had more low-priced cars than usual. I am not sure whether that is due to a conscious decision to come back out of the stratosphere a bit, or just a reflection of how much competition there is in the market to find high-dollar cars to bring to sale.

Russo and Steele had some great looking, reasonably priced cars at their new venue. Their sales were up a bit over last year, too.

Barrett-Jackson was, as usual, just an amazing spectacle to see. Looking more like the SEMA Show, this is an event that every one of our readers needs to witness at least once.

Both Gooding and Bonhams seemed rock solid, with a lot of the kinds of classics I would make room for in my garage.

Silver didn’t seem to have their best year, but we had the most fun perusing their auction. This is usually the sale where common sense rears its ugly head just in time to save us from making a purchase, and this year was no different. While they offered some junky stuff (and, oddly, even some late-model used cars), Silver also had a lot of cool, rust-free near classics. Most of these were Western cars that sold for less than $20,000 and certainly appealed to my bottom-feeder mentality. They also had a lot of ’80s up-and-comers like 944 Porsches, Mazda RX-7s and E30 BMWs.

One of the highlights of the week for me was Hagerty’s Collector Car Evaluation Dinner. This is a group of a couple of dozen experts from the hobby who get together with Hagerty staff twice a year to examine a whole bunch of data points and discuss what is going to happen next in the collector car market.

Takeaways? Obviously, the very top end of things has cooled off a bit. Since the market for million-dollar cars is ruled more by Wall Street types than true car guys, simple economics can explain some of this. Owners see perfect examples of Mercedes 300SLs, Cobras and even Toyota 2000 GTs climb over the million-dollar mark, and they quickly rush their lesser examples of the same models to market to try to cash in on the fever. The age-old law of supply and demand, combined with savvy collectors not wanting to pay top dollar for cars with stories, can make the market look like it is turning down.

Another real trend is that the cars of the ’80s and ’90s are on fire. Nice examples of ’80s classics like the 107-chassis Mercedes, Porsche 911, and even the 944 are climbing quickly. E30 BMWs, especially M3s, are rising fast. Even Japanese cars are starting to really catch up: From Integra Type Rs to Acura NSXs to Z-cars and even super-low-mileage clean Miatas, prices are on the rise.

This makes sense; not only are these very good driving cars, with properly working emissions controls, fuel injection and even air conditioning, but they also appeal to a whole new generation of enthusiasts who grew up with them.

My final observation from auction week? Upscale collectors are adding modern super cars to their collections. Why? Where it traditionally has been a certainty that buying a new car and keeping it pristine while waiting for the value to go up was a loser compared to other investments, that’s no longer necessarily the case. Look at the late-model Ferrari market and you see cars like the 575M Maranello from the early aughts selling for crazy money. Other examples include the McLaren F1 from the ’90s and, of course, the modern Ford GT and Porsche 918. A whole gaggle of super cars from the last couple of decades is more valuable now than when these vehicles were new.

So that’s the news from Arizona. Back home we are plugging away on our Lotus Elan project and, of course, getting geared up for our biggest Mitty event ever. We hope to see you there at Road Atlanta April 21–23.

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Vigo UltimaDork
7/23/17 10:35 p.m.

I used to think that the rising prices of the 80s cars i like was a problem for me but i'm realizing that the shrinking supply is having way more of an effect on me personally than the prices of the nicer ones that remain. I usually buy the best compromise of good body/interior and poor mechanicals i can find. So far that's been the cheap way for me to end up with nice cars. I do notice that I'm way more likely to run into people that appreciate seeing my cars on the streets than I used to. So that kind of appreciation i am actually appreciating.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
7/24/17 8:55 p.m.

It seemed like time just stopped for a while and nobody was noticing these great seventies, eighties and nineties cars. Now a younger generation is starting to get some money and most don't see the sense of something like an MGA, when there are MR2s and E30 BMWs around. Mark my words, the much maligned Boxster will pop next. You will wish you bought one of these for less than $10,000 very soon.

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