How anxious is the seller to sell? Is he emotional, ready to bail out? How anxious is the buyer? Has he just missed a similar car?

Various Porsche talk boards are buzzing with complaints about the usefulness of price guides for early 911S cars (1967-73). About how the prices are too low, the guides are silly, and the magazines that publish them are stupid. I’d like to say hang on just a minute.

You cannot accurately measure prices when an organized market does not exist. Although old cars are bought and sold every day, that does not an organized market make. A market requires standardized, fungible goods and an orderly central clearing house; for example, shares of stock on the New York Stock Exchange or tons of lead on the London Metals Exchange. We have neither requirement in the old car business, with nearly unique goods and the complete lack of a central exchange. In addition, we have cross-border transactions with wildly fluctuating foreign currency exchange rates, which can markedly skew prices.

I recently saw a very decent 1971 Porsche 911T sell for $15,000. It was a driver, with no serious rust; the color had been nicely changed to red from silver; the seats were good but the carpet was not original; the car ran well but leaked oil; the wheels were 14-inch Fuchs instead of the more desirable 15-inch alloys. It was a hobby car, a project car, a car to drive and enjoy. Nothing horribly wrong with it and nothing especially special about it.

I also recently saw a near-perfect (and I don’t use that term lightly-remember, Porsche Club concours are judged on a 300-point level rather than a more obvious 100-point scale, with tenths of points frequently noted, just to prove how thoroughly a car is inspected) 1971 911T sell for $75,000. It was a national concours winner in great colors with original paint and low miles. It was a car most people would be afraid to drive, it was that nice.

Extremes at both ends of the scale

I recently bought a complete but rusty 1969 911T (which is very similar but not quite identical to a 1971 911T) for $1,000. Even assuming I got a good deal on the parts car and should have paid $5,000, we have a range of 1,500% between low and high values. The parts car didn’t run and was incomplete and rusty, so looking just at the two running 1971 911T cars, the difference was a measly 500%.

So let’s write our price guide for 1971 911T cars: We can set the top, for now, at $75,000. Where do we set the bottom? $5,000 for a parts car? Then we have a range of $5,000 to $75,000. Or do we use $1,000 to $75,000? Does that help you value a 1971 911T?

Lately, I saw a very nice, original 1967 911S Soft-Rear-Window Targa sell quietly for $110,000. I also looked at a rusty, damaged 1967 911S SRW Targa parts car without its original engine, the soft window parts, or wheels, for $4,000. How do we set this range? From $4,000 to $110,000, or an over 2,500% difference from low to high? Clearly, condition of the car is paramount in judging value.

Because we lack an orderly central clearing market and fungible entities to trade, it is not possible to value cars as the NYSE prices stocks. But SCM has tried to do the best we can. If you read the notes to our price guide, prices are estimated for #2 condition cars; that is, strong drivers with no glaring flaws. I have noted that #1 cars can double the prices cited. Obviously cars in lousier condition bring less. Less obvious is that cars “above #1” condition, due to provenance, concours wins, extra low miles, unusual originality, and so on, can bring another additional premium. All these rules apply only to street cars. Race cars have their own special issues.

The best a price guide can do, especially in these wild times, is to set a relative scale between models of the same marque. For instance, does a 911E sell for a price right in between the 911T (one model lower) and the 911S (one model higher)? Generally not-it has sold closer to a T than an S. How much of a premium, in general, does a 911S bring over a 911T? About twice, right now. But of course, there are exceptions.

Price guides can’t capture emotional reasons

Many things matter in the price of a vintage Porsche that can never be captured by a price guide. How anxious is the seller to sell? How hard will he work to make the car go away? Is he emotional, ready to bail out? Or is he very patient, willing to wait to find that perfect buyer?

How anxious is the buyer? Has he just missed, by one hour, a similar car that he really wanted to buy? How emotional is the buyer? Does he have a bunch of other cars, or will this be his first special car? How hard is he willing to work and how long is he willing to wait to find the right car, and price?

How about the value of a special color? I recently bought a 1960 356B in the highly unusual colors of Fjord Green (essentially British Racing Green with a hint of gray) with a light gray leather interior. These colors are rare and to me stunning and would cause me to pay more. But what if you don’t want a green Porsche?

No price guide can ever factor in these items, and over many years of both buying and selling vintage cars, I can tell you these-and many other issues-make a huge difference.

One of the best parts of the old car hobby is the emotion we all feel when we buy, drive, and enjoy our vintage cars. There is no way to put a price on that feeling. While price guides can give you some information, I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to take all the fun out of this pursuit by insisting that all our unique old cars were in fact commodities subject to an exact worth, quickly and accurately measurable on a neatly organized page.

Doing that would turn our personal prized possessions into the equivalent of a fleet of 2005 silver Toyota Corollas. Nothing could be further from the essence of my 1960 Fjord Green Porsche 356B than a silver Corolla, even if we measure both their values in the same units, dollars.

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