The market has redefined itself over the past decade.

We’ve watched it happen from the SCM crow’s nest. From multi-million-dollar catalog auction sales to text-only postings on Craigslist, we keep a finger on the ever-changing pulse of the market.

Prices have soared in the category we follow most closely — sports cars from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Yet, we find a logic to most of these high fliers, and I believe they are indicative of a healthy, thoughtful market.

Collectors, voting with their dollars, have neatly divided all collectible cars into three primary categories.

I call them “The Immortals,” “Restoration Priced” and the “Bargains Forever” groups.

How are these groups defined?

Let’s begin with “The Immortals.” These are cars that have become so valuable that reconstructing them will always make financial sense — no matter how badly they have been damaged. For instance, let’s suppose you rolled your Ferrari 250 SWB into a ball, and it caught fire and melted to the ground. All you had left in your hand was the chassis tag.

Given that the value range of SWBs is $8m to $12m, you could afford to spend a lot of money having your car re-created at a professional shop, at full-bore hourly rates.

“For $2m you could have just about anything you wanted built,” said SCMer Bob Ames, a noted car collector and former investment banker. “Aston essentially scratch-built their 12-cylinder One-77, and they had a price tag of £1.15m (about $1.75m).”

If your car is worth just $6m reconstructed — taking into account the knock to its value for having been made from thin air — it still makes sense to bring it back to life.

That might not have been the case 10 years ago.

When the market value of a car reaches multiples of its “full replacement cost,” that means that the car will never die. No matter how great the damage, this car will live again.

A fair number of cars now live in the land of the immortals. At the lower end, it has the usual familiar faces, including the 289 and 427 Cobras, and the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing and Roadster.

Over the past 10 years, a new group of cars has joined this group. They include the BMW 507, Siata 208 and Lamborghini Miura S.

Take the 507. Prior to 2007, it was a $350k–$500k car. It was regarded as kind of an outlier in the BMW time line — a reasonably successful styling exercise with a moderately powerful V8 engine — but it lacked significant racetrack experience. That changed on October 31, 2007, when RM sold s/n 70015 for $893,104. From that point on, the car has trended up strongly, and it will cost between $1.75m and $2.25m to put one in your garage. No BMW 507 will ever again be scrapped and buried. It is now an Immortal.

The cost to make one nice

The “Restoration Priced” cars have seen the most value growth.

These cars have increased dramatically during the past decade, and they are now worth what it costs to restore one to a proper standard.

A good example is a Ferrari 250 GTE. For many years, these were selling in the $85k–$125k range.

Assuming you are starting with a salvageable, complete example, you can expect to spend $175k to $250k to have the car completely done — to a very high and correct standard at a shop that knows what it is doing.

In the past, when values of GTEs were low, these cars were often restored by owners who loved them and had some mechanical skills — or in shops that were not marque specialists.

Often, the restorations were eye-pleasing from a distance, but little more.

Now, with their values in the $250k–$300k range, it makes sense to have a complete restoration done to very high standards. It also makes no sense to buy a mediocre restoration for $150k, as you’ll just end up redoing it anyway and be completely underwater.

Cars that have joined this group in the past decade include Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciales and Montreals, third-tier Maseratis, such as the Khamsin and Kyalami, Mercedes 190SLs (soon to be joined by the Pagoda-roof 230/250/280 SL series), Austin-Healey 3000 BJ8s, Fiat Dino Spiders, Sunbeam Tigers and the like.

Own it because you love it

The final group, “Bargains Forever,” consists of cars whose market value is below — often significantly below — what a first-rate restoration would cost. Examples include the MGB and Triumph TR6.

These are all reasonably competent cars, and they are easy to maintain. Yet they lack an exotic “kicker” that would catapult them from the ranks of the mundane to that of the highly collectible. You won’t find a twin-cam engine, limited production numbers or breathtaking styling in the group.

Consequently, the “Bargains Forever” cars will always represent affordable classics. Nice ones cost one-half or less of the cost of restoring them. If you’re willing to live with amateur, semi-correct restorations, these cars are a great buy. They aren’t outstanding investments — and never will be. However, these cars provide a vintage motoring experience for not much money. In most cases, they can be found for under $20,000 — sometimes for much less.

We are in a new era of car collecting. There are more cars valued as “worthy of restoration” than ever before. There are more cars that are “immortal” that will never be destroyed. And there are still plenty of entry-level cars that can be bought for pocket change — and offer a good introduction to the world of old cars. There’s something for everyone. ♦


Comments are closed.