Miles Collier’s Collecting Thoughts in the July issue of SCM discussed a 1989 Ferrari 328 with only 1,200 miles that sold at auction for $140,000. Five years ago, this would have been a $50,000 car. What’s happened?
A 1989 328 is now a 26-year-old car. I sold them new when I was at Ron Tonkin Grand Turismo. I recall learning that the updates for this last year of the now long-in-the-tooth V8 Ferrari included anti-lock brakes and remote rear-view mirrors. Breathtaking.
How have I lived long enough to see cars that once sat on a showroom floor turn collectible?
And just exactly how old does a car have to be before it should be considered collectible? When does a car make the transition from “used car” to “valuable and coveted”?
While the definition of collectibility isn’t tied directly to how long ago a car was manufactured, there are some practical reasons that a model has to marinate in the marketplace for a couple of decades before we start to recognize it as a collectible.
Natural attrition places a role. Let’s use the example of the Chevrolet Vega, produced from 1970 to 1977. Over 2,000,000 were built.
Universally acknowledged as a horrible car, the only question an owner faced was whether his Vega would rust into two parts before the aluminum engine self-destructed.
Today, a nicely presented Vega would attract a lot of attention at a car show. When was the last time you saw one?
However, a Vega is only collectible today because so few of them have survived. It would still deliver a third-rate driving experience, just as a Ford Pinto would. They were bad cars when new and are still bad cars today.
Expensive Then and Now
The 328 is at the opposite end of the driving experience and value equation. They were expensive when new, with an MSRP in the $80,000 range. Just over 7,400 were built from 1986 to 1989.
However, when the 348, 355 and 360 Ferrari models came out, the 328s became “just used cars.” Owning one didn’t give you any swagger at the country club, and the performance seriously lagged behind new Porsches, Lamborghinis and even AMG Mercedes and M-Class BMWs.
They drove well enough but had none of the electronic performance and safety aids like traction and stability control that we have come to expect from high-performance cars.
Further, they were expensive to maintain, requiring a timing belt change at frequent intervals.
So prices declined, just as you would expect of a used car. Soon enough you could buy 328s in average condition with 30,000 or more miles for $30,000 to $40,000. And that’s where values stayed until a few years ago.
As the values of all Ferraris soared, the 328 went from being just an underpowered entry-level exotic with dated styling to a “classic.”
No longer were they measured as “exotic sports cars” that had to perform to a very high bar. Instead, they were coveted for the very same reasons that they were once shunned. Their once-dated lines, classic V8 4-cam that made good sounds, and funky, gadgety interior became things that attracted those looking for an older Ferrari.
It offered a “vintage” driving experience in a package good enough to use on today’s freeways. When properly tuned and maintained, they are reasonably reliable and can be used on weekend tours without fear of failure.
In short, they were a good car when new, and they are still “good enough” today to bring a driver satisfaction when he or she operates one.
While the Vega and the 328 have both become collectible in the past few years, their paths to that status couldn’t be more different. The Vega is noteworthy simply because so few survive. It was a bad car when new and a bad car today.
The 328 has transitioned from a used car to a collectible because its styling has aged well, and it offers a Ferrari driving experience, even if a dated one.
While I think that 328s are now fully priced in the $60,000–$80,000 range for nice-but-not-perfect examples, I think they still represent a very good value per dollar as a vintage driving experience.