Buckle your seatbelts and tighten your shoulder harnesses. Based on the results from Monterey, the collector car market is in the midst of a wild and woolly ride, with little way of predicting the crests and valleys in the year ahead.

There are a few things we can all agree on as we plow through the voluminous reports by SCM analysts in this issue. First, both American classics and European sports cars continue to climb-some with reason and some without.

For instance, the prices made by the two LWB California Spyders sold, RM's at $4,950,000 and Gooding's at $4,455,000, didn't surprise. These are rare, handsome, and historically important cars. And frankly, in the world of real collectibles, $5 million just doesn't buy you much these days. And it goes without saying, as we watch the dollar sink to new lows against the pound and euro, that even as hammer prices are going up, collector cars sold in America are getting proportionately cheaper for our friends across the Atlantic.

On the American side, it's good to see properly presented and interestingly bodied Duesenbergs, Cords, and Auburns-exemplified by the 1935 Duesenberg SJ Town cabriolet at RM for $4,400,000-hit high-six figures with regularity, and seven figures now and again. While lacking the global appeal of the European cars, the ACDs are a key part of American motoring history, and, in their era, represented the very best product we could produce.

Those of us who have been around the collector car market for 20 years have already been through this once. We know nothing lasts forever, and that the precursor to a market adjustment is second- and third-tier cars making big jumps in price.

Just Say No to Big Ferraris

Take for instance the "Queen Mother" of Ferraris. I'm not a fan of Ferrari 365 GT 2+2s at $150,000. Yes, I know what they cost to restore, and that makes them still a bargain at a buck-and-a-half. But "bargain" is rarely a defining term when it comes to "collectible." For me, the 365 is still a ponderous, visually ungainly car that, until the supersized 612 Scaglietti made its appearance, represented "just too much" for a Ferrari.

And I don't get Nash-Healeys at above $200,000. Okay, let's give them their limited production (506 cars from 1951 to 1954), and the fact that they are eligible for some mouth-watering events including the retro Le Mans and Mille Miglia. They are slow cars with primitive suspensions, and their front-end styling that reminds one of a mastodon wearing bifocals. I'm not going to argue with the market, but if I had $200,000 to spend, it certainly wouldn't be on one of these.

I fully support the soaring market values of Lamborghini Miura SVs, where spending $1,000,000 for one no longer marks you as totally wacked out, it just means you're about 30 days ahead of the market. But 400GTs above $300,000? That's an example of a rising tide that is lifting all the flotsam and jetsam that happens to have a bull on its nose. The 400 is not a super-performance car, nor is it noteworthy historically on a grand scale. And have you ever heard anyone describe the bubble-eye goldfish front headlight treatment as "fetching"?

Let's consider Maserati 3500 GTs. They are handsome, if somewhat clunky to drive, with their long-stroke 6-cylinder engine. At the $30,000 to $40,000 they brought from 1990 to 2004, they were clearly underpriced. But are they $100,000 cars-what a good one will bring today-for the long term? The market may say they are, but I have my doubts.

Certainly, to repeat what SCM marketers are saying, sophisticated collectors continue to step up for special cars, be they the 80-miles only Garrison Daytona Spyder at $2,035,000, or the 1968 L88 Corvette for which Bonhams & Butterfields got $254,500. I like those prices, and I applaud those collectors for making smart buys.

High Values Don't Make for a Better Car

I continue to caution that those who buy second-tier collectibles at inflated prices just because top-tiers are doing well are fooling themselves in terms of return on investment. A mediocre 356B Cabriolet bought at $90,000 today is more likely to drop to a mediocre $45,000 when the market corrects than a stellar $170,000 car is to $85,000.

We wrote two months ago that if you had owned an expensive collector car for a long time, had done everything you had wanted to with it, and could use the long-term capital gains to do something else with your life, it was a good time to sell.

We would like to add now that if you have always wanted a collectible car, and the models you lusted after have soared beyond your means, think carefully before acquiring an example of a lesser model just because you are afraid it too will soar. Buying the GTC/4 you've never really cared about because Daytonas have gotten too expensive is "first-loser" logic; if you didn't buy a C/4 in the past because you didn't like its clown-lips bumper or hunchback rear decklines, it's not going to be any more attractive now that it has doubled from $65,000 to $130,000.

Instead, find another model, of a different marque, that hits your hot button and fits your budget, and buy that instead. Learn to define exactly what it is in a collector car that brings you satisfaction. Those things are different for everyone. Then analyze your budget and take your pick from the resultant group. Few among us have the resources to simply buy what we want at any price. The secret to finding fulfillment in collecting is to realize that collecting cars comes with limitations (like everything else in life), and if you embrace those limitations and strive for the best decision within the parameters you have to work with, chances are you will be much happier when you look into your garage.

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