Drew Shipley ©2014, courtesy of RM Auctions The collector car market is steamrolling along with the largest price increases we’ve ever seen. From 2009 to 2013, combined sales of all the auctions in Monterey jumped from $120m to $308m. That $188m increase in four years represents a 157% change, and a return of 26.6% per year. For Scottsdale, from 2010 to 2014, combined sales went from $126m to $253m. That’s a 101% increase, and an annualized return of 19%. The Dow Jones Index, which has reached record heights this year, began 2009 at 8,776 and ended 2013 at 16,576. That’s a 90% increase, and a yearly increase of “only” 13.6%. If you bought a passel of cars in Scottsdale in 2010 and sold them in 2014, you could have beat the stock market by 50%. If you decided to do the same thing — but bought and sold your cars in Monterey — your investment would have more than doubled compared with the same amount invested in the stock market. By comparison, standard savings accounts have yet to reach the grand benchmark of paying 1% a year.

Expert opinions

There’s no question that significant changes are happening in the market. But are they long-lasting, and do they reflect a basic change in the way our society and investors value automobiles? Or are they a flash-in-the-pan, a “bubble” that is nothing more than a temporary Beanie Baby-style feeding frenzy that will eventually collapse upon itself in a flurry of plummeting prices? It’s a question that’s on all of our minds; more so as record prices are set at nearly every auction. So, SCM decided to bring together some of the key players in the collector car market — auction company representatives, investors, dealers and brokers — and put the question to them. How long can collector cars increase at 26% per year or more? Are cars overpriced, or simply making up for lost ground since the crash of 1990? Are all cars skyrocketing, or just the cream of the crop? Are outside investors with little collector experience skewing the market? Will enthusiastic collectors with limited resources be squeezed out of the market? Their responses to these questions and more — unvarnished and direct — begin on p. 46. We’re not saying that we agree or disagree with their varied analyses of the market, but at the very least they are providing you, our informed readers, with information and perspectives that you simply won’t find anywhere else.

Ride and drive

I’ve been busy the past few months, and I savored a lot of seat time in some very special cars. As a part of shooting new episodes for “What’s My Car Worth,” which will be shown on Velocity starting in early summer, I had the opportunity to drive a diverse group of cars. Each drive lasted only 30 minutes, so it was like a four-wheeled wine tasting, having small samplings from an extremely varied offering. We shot at RM’s Amelia Island auction, and then traveled south to Fort Lauderdale to cover the Auctions America sale. I had the chance to drive a pair of 289 Cobras, a Maserati Ghibli SS 4.9, a Healey 100-4, a Morgan Plus 4 roadster, an Allard K3, a 1960 Corvette, a Mercedes 300SL Roadster, an alloy-bodied Jaguar XK 120, a Fiat 600 Jolly, a Willys Jeepster — and more. Each car spoke with its own voice, and the better prepared the car, the clearer the statement it made. The difference between the Cobras was telling. The Amelia car, CSX2421, consigned by SCMer Dan Mershon, drove brilliantly. It had the feel of a car that had been owned, driven and loved by an enthusiast for an extended period of time. It wasn’t a concours car, but it had a consistent appearance, and was very attractive in white. It sold for a very respectable $990,000. CSX2023, the silver Cobra I drove in Fort Lauderdale, was solid but just not as well put together. The body panels weren’t to the standard of the RM car, the interior showed more wear, and it felt like it had not been recently owned or loved by a Cobra fanatic. It simply needed some care and feeding. It had been upgraded from its original 260-ci engine to a 289, and had worm-and-sector steering, which is less desirable than the rack-and-pinion steering on later cars. If I hadn’t driven the white car, I’m sure I would have been more enthralled. But in a direct comparison, it was the white car I would have taken home. However, the silver car sold for $825,000, and I could do a lot of fettling for the $165,000 difference in price. Aside from the Mershon Cobra, the cars I would have liked in my garage were the Ghibli (sold at $181,500), the Healey ($62,700) and the Morgan ($30,250). All three were extremely well sorted, and a pleasure to drive. Test driving a car you are interested in buying at auction is critical. To the frustration of auction company specialists, it’s not unusual for a car to show up unsorted. Shiny paint and fresh chrome are sometimes paired with less-than-perfect brakes, sticking throttles, inoperative gauges and other challenges. None of these things should stop you from bidding on a car, but you’ll be much happier if you are aware of issues before you bid than if you discover them after the car is shipped to your home. Trust me, I know this only too well. The Healey, Ghibli and Morgan all started, stopped and handled well. While none of them were perfect cars, they had a friendly feel to them, as if they had been properly taken care of and maintained to a good standard. I had a brief affair with each of these cars — and said goodbye in the morning with a smile. They each taught me something, both about the marque and how a nicely maintained example should drive.

Desert Concorso

From Fort Lauderdale, I crossed the country to share emcee duties at the inaugural Desert Concorso with SCM contributor Donald Osborne and historian Michael Lynch. March in Palm Desert is a very nice place to be, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s, and not even a hint of rain. The event, modeled after Monterey’s Concorso Italiano and with the same owners, was a great success. The setting at Shadow Mountain Resort was superb, the cars, ranging from a classic Maserati 450S to a brand-new Pagani Huayra, were outstanding, and both participants and audience alike smiled all day long. ♦

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