If you've been dabbling in collector cars for a decade or more, you've been through the meteoric highs and the dismal, depressing lows. Eight years ago, carbureted Ferrari 308s sold for over $70,000, and Boxers passed $250,000. Porsche Speedsters were bringing $100,000, and flat-floor Jaguar E-type convertibles even more. If you were selling, those were pretty good days.
Buyers have been in the cat-bird seat since 1992, snapping up those same 308s for $25,000, Boxers at $60,000, Speedsters for $40,000 and E-types for $45,000.
But now, as we approach Monterey '98 (and coincidentally, the 10th anniversary of SCM), things are looking up for buyers and sellers both. It's an old adage that a rising tide lifts all ships, and the buoyant American economy has created an atmosphere of confidence and free spending that has brought renewed vigor to the collector car market. Prices for $25,000 - $100,000 sports cars have firmed up, and activity is increasing.
However, the current rise in collector car prices doesn't exhibit the mindless greed or uneducated purchasing that we saw ten years ago. In those days, any car painted red whose name ended in a vowel was immediately chased down by investors who were planning on doubling their money in sixty days or less. How else can you explain Alfa 2600 Spiders ("They're the next PF Cabriolet," said one Bay Area Ferrari dealer, just before his turban was confiscated by the IRS and he was chased out of the country by the Feds) selling for $50,000, and diminutive Abarth 750s for over $45,000.
The market today is exploding at the top end, due mostly to the purchases of the newly-minted Seattle-area Microsoft and telecommunications billionaires. But that's as it should be. Just like the art market, the vintage car arena has a few certifiable grand masters that will always have a six or seven digit value, cars like the pre-war Alfa 8C2900s, the Maserati monopostos, and the grand competition Ferraris of the '40s, '50s and '60s. The rapid price changes of these cars is reflected in the Price Guide in this issue, with some cars jumping 20% or more in the last 90 days.
These cars, and those like them, are the wheat, and nearly every other car made is the chaff. This isn't to say that a 308 GT4 isn't a hugely enjoyable car to drive, and that it doesn't deliver a powerful dollop of the Ferrari experience for less than Honda Accord money - it does. But the 308 GT4, and the standard Porsche 911s, and the BMW M series - all the interesting sports cars built in relatively large numbers are unlikely to ever go up significantly in value.
On the other hand, if you have the pockets deep enough to reach for a D-type or Porsche 917 with unblemished history and no stories, you can rest secure that whatever the cost, it will be a bargain a year from now. At the ultra high end, there are suddenly, for the first time since 1989, more people chasing cars than there are cars to be had.
THE THREE RING CIRCUS
Monterey has always been a chaotic jumble of concours, racing and auctions, and just when you thought there simply wasn't enough room to squeeze anything else in, along comes another attraction.
The Robert Brooks auction company is having its American debut on Saturday, August 15 at the Quail Lodge in Carmel. In response to this Anglo challenge, the Monterey Sports Car Auction (formerly the Rick Cole Sports Car Auction, and now owned by Rob Myers' RM Productions) has engaged Aston Martin enthusiast Jack Boxstrom to coordinate their entries, and he has assembled a mouth-watering, and hopefully bidder's-paddle-raising selection of cars. And majestic Christie's, in their weekend-ending position on Sunday evening on the grounds of Pebble Beach, have not been resting on their laurels. Their just-released catalog has something for everyone, from a barn-find XK-SS to a restored Willys Jeepster.
A decade back, it was Monaco that was the center of collector car activity, with auctions by Brooks, Sotheby's and Christie's all on the same weekend. Now that the economic epicenter has shifted to the U.S., the world and SCM will be watching as these three companies each try to outdo the other in terms of attractive cars at reasonable reserves.
THE TOUR DE FRANCE
A quick update here. In the last issue, we issued an invitation for anyone interested in joining a "Team SCM Historic Racing" group, and participating in the Tour de France Auto Historique to contact us. We've been gratified by the response, with Chuck Wagner (Ferrari TdF), Ed Mettelman ('73 Porsche Carrera RS) and Anatoly Arutunoff (Lancia Flaminia Zagato 3C) among many others submitting inquiries recently.
We're still getting details together, but are hoping for an all-inclusive package that will get us and our cars to the start, in Northern France, a few days before the event for a variety of social events before the competition begins. To be put on the list for more information as we receive it, please call our office at 503-261-0555, or fax 503-252-5854.
ON THE COVER
This being the year of Porsche at Monterey, it seemed only fitting to have one on our cover. Hans Herrmann is the pilot of this mid-engined 1500cc works 550 Spyder, demonstrating the tail-happy attitude that Porsches have traditionally been known, respected and feared for. He is depicted racing through the mountains of Mexico, in the final, 1954 Carrera Panamericana, on his way to winning the small-displacement sports car class, and placing a remarkable 3rd overall against the first place 4.9 liter Ferrari 375+ of Umberto Maglioli, with Phil Hill second in a 4.5 liter 375MM.
The artist is Nicholas Watts, and the prints are signed by Hermann. Of the 500 prints originally made, less than fifty are still available, at $225 each from Steve Austin's Automobilia, 503-643-8080, fax 503-643-1302 (OR). Artist Watts, along with eleven race drivers featured in his paintings, will be at Austin's booth in the infield at the Monterey Historics.