I recently came across a photo taken just after the 1992 California Mille. It showed me in a Ferrari PF cabriolet S2, along with my grandmother, Dorel McDowell.
I recall exactly how she came to be in that car. When I finished the tour, in my 1958 Giulietta Spider Veloce, one of the participants asked if I’d like to take his PF cab for a drive. I said yes, went to the family home on 20th Avenue in San Francisco, got Grandma Dorel into the car and took her for a spin.
It was a typical San Francisco day, clear skies with fog rolling in from the ocean. I remember that Grandma thought the car was pretty. She liked the sound of the engine — and thought it was perfect weather for a convertible.
At that time, the PF cab was “just a car.” Worth somewhere around $100,000, it was regarded as a Ferrari boulevardier more than a sports car. With 200 built, it wasn’t rare by Ferrari standards, and the heavier coachwork combined with the flexible chassis of an open car meant it wasn’t designed to be pushed hard.
It was a car to be seen in, more than a car to set lap records. All things considered, I was glad I had driven my Giulietta on the California Mille rather than the somewhat ponderous Ferrari.
Worth more today
At RM’s Amelia Island auction last March, the ex-Malcolm Pray PF cab S2, s/n 2093GT, sold for $1,760,000. It had been lovingly and properly maintained during its 46-year tenure with Pray, and unlike so many other Ferraris, it had never gone through the identity-erasing indignity of a complete restoration. It had an authentic, comfortable feel to it, like a well-oiled catcher’s mitt.
In fact, it was probably very similar in condition to the car I drove in 1992.
Now that a PF cab is worth $1,660,000 more than it was 22 years ago, does it drive 16 times better? Does it provide 16 times the ownership pleasure? Is every mile covered a 16-times-better experience than when the car was worth $100,000?
The question of price versus value is one that is not asked frequently today — or not frequently enough. While there are many discussions about price, there are few about what you are really getting for what you are spending.
A new breed of owner
I maintain that the price of a car has very little to do with the value that an owner gets from a car. In fact, as cars become more expensive, the new owners who can afford these new, often stratospheric prices are less likely to use the cars than the prior owners. Many of those previous owners were enthusiasts whose dream had been to own a 12-cylinder Ferrari or 6-cylinder Maserati, and they did most of the work on them themselves. Many of them owned only one exotic car.
Someone who is spending $1.8m for a car probably already has a collection, and this new acquisition will be slotted in with the others, to be taken care of by his or her resident staff. Perhaps once a year, the car, if chosen for the duty, will be pulled out and prepped for an event such as the Copperstate 1000 or the Colorado Grand.
The owner will enjoy his four days and 1,000 miles with the car, then it will be trucked back to join the rest of his collection, put on a battery charger and go back into suspended animation.
These new owners are also enthusiasts, but they are much less likely to be involved with all aspects of the ownership of their cars. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s a change in our hobby.
Let’s revisit the PF cab S2 for a moment. For many years, it was simply an open V12, not remarkable in its styling or performance. From the 1970s through the mid 1990s, they were not regarded as a first-tier collectible, and people owned them not for their investment potential, but for the fact that they were convertible V12s.
As Ferrari mania gathered steam in the 2000s, PF cabs took on a new identity. They became “the last open V12 from the Enzo era, with a 250 engine that shared bits with the SWB and the GTO.” They became a last chance to own an “affordable” convertible V12. Consequently prices began to climb, and it won’t be long before we see the first $2m PF S2 cab.
Where’s the reward?
I have no quibble with what new owners are willing to pay for PF cabriolets, or any other car. What buyers wish to pay — and what sellers wish to accept — sets the market. So I won’t find a $2m PF cab remarkable, and perhaps not even noteworthy, except as one more data point on the upward march of the Ferrari market.
But for a user, is there $2m worth of value here? Is a PF cab twice the road car that a Daytona is? Or eight times what a Ghibli SS is? Or does it offer 20 times the excitement of a 356C cabriolet? I think not.
The rapid rise in prices of some collector cars does not mean that enthusiasts are being priced out of the market. If your goal is to drive and enjoy a car, there are many cars in the $25,000 to $100,000 range that can still give you 90% or more of the driving sensation of a PF cabriolet at a fraction of the cost.
The value of having fun
Several years ago, SCM refurbished three chrome-bumper MGBs, and our contributors drove them from Portland to the MG National Convention in Reno, NV. Miles Collier, who has owned more than a few collectible cars in a variety of price ranges, commented, “There’s nothing more fun than driving an inexpensive car, with limited performance potential, to its maximum.”
I agree with Miles. So let’s stop complaining that 250 GTEs are now $300,000 cars, and that means we’ll never be able to afford one. Let’s look at it a different way. Ask yourself what your plans are for your next collector car. Ask yourself which events you want to experience. From MGAs at $25,000 to Lotus Elites at $125,000, many fascinating, high-value sports cars are available.
If you define satisfaction with your collector cars by how much you paid for them — and what you hope they will be worth next week, month or year — that is just one measurement of value.
If you find your fulfillment from the tactile and emotional experiences that a collector car can deliver for you, then you’re choosing your cars from a different universe, and you will be measuring satisfaction with a gauge that’s calibrated very differently. ♦