The confetti cannons will belch their crumpled-paper payloads around 4 p.m. on Sunday, August 20. Best of Show for the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance will have been crowned. And with that culmination of the week’s activities, hundreds of thousands of car fanatics will begin the trek home from Monterey Car Week. While our focus is on the transactions that take place that week, there is more than buy/sell going on. Between the auctions, concours, shows, and general get-togethers, Monterey Car Week has become a modern-day Woodstock for lovers of things with engines and wheels. More than 1,300 cars will cross the block. I predict a 60% sales rate, with 780 cars selling at an average price of $425k, for an overall total of $331,500,000. This represents the continuation of the gentle downward slide that began this market correction in 2015. Barring an unforeseen political or economic crisis of global proportions, the car market has entered a “steady as she goes” state, with minor price adjustments across the board. Demographically, the Baby Boomers still have more money to spend than any other group, and they are going to continue to play a major part of the market. However, there will be more selling than buying from this group, as many are tidying up their collections in preparation for passing them on to the next generation. Gen Xers and Millennials will continue to be a growing force in the market as their buying power increases. Their affinity for modern supercars and classics from the 1980s and 1990s will continue to bring focus to cars that a decade ago no one thought of as collectible. This includes nearly any late-model manual-shift Ferrari such as the 599, and the once-dismissed Lamborghini Countach and Diablo.

What are you collecting?

With so many cars on offer — and so many cross currents in the market — it’s reasonable to ask some fundamental questions about what cars you are thinking of buying, holding and/or selling. Most of my collecting has been experientially driven. “I’ve never owned one of those” was a primary justification for a purchase. During the past few years, that has led me, to among others, a BMW 633CSi, a Saab Sonett Mk III, a Mercedes 220S ponton, a Bugeye Sprite, a Dodge Viper coupe, a Volvo 1800S and a Citroën Mehari. Each offered a unique and interesting approach to motoring. There was no confusing being behind the wheel of the Sprite with accelerating in the Viper. But my reasons for collecting have changed in the past decade, and yours might have as well. I’ve come to face the reality that I don’t have unlimited time to buy and refurbish/restore classic cars. I’ve also learned that every car I buy is going to need something major done to it if I want them to be reliable, usable machines. Of my six Alfas, I’ve had to have the engines on four of them professionally rebuilt. They’ve all had their suspensions and brakes completely sorted. The Sprint Speciale I bought at Auctions America in Fort Lauderdale during March 2015 has yet to turn a wheel under its own power. It’s probably at least a year away from being a scruffy — but charming — driver. I’m not sure I’d undertake a refurbishment of this magnitude again. I am increasingly dubious about any car offered to me as “freshly rebuilt and ready to go,” unless I recognize the name of the car’s technician or shop. Further, a car that has not been driven a few thousand miles — preferably on a vintage car tour — has everything to prove to me. It’s one thing to make a car run, it’s another to make it behave like it did when it was new. As most of these cars are now over half-a-century old, they have innumerable worn-out bits and pieces. Further, many have been subject to well-meaning, ham-fisted, budget-driven mechanical restorations — and sub-standard cosmetic attention. What does this mean for your own shopping in Monterey? As you walk around the cars up for auction, I’m sure you can find a reason to justify buying any one or more of them. In the superheated atmosphere of Monterey Car Week, people are buying and selling cars on all sides of you. Why not raise your hand and join them? I would only suggest that you ask yourself this: What need or purpose will this car fulfill that is not currently being met? Are you looking for a car for the California Mille — something built in 1957 or earlier and that’s capable of cracking off 1,000 miles? Or do you want something to enter in regional concours? Perhaps a Pagani Huayra to drive to your local Cars & Coffee? A vintage Mini Cooper S for some of the European winter rallies? Value in use is my mantra. I only want to have cars in my modest collection that I can drive and enjoy. Any vintage car that can cruise reliably at 80 mph is fast enough for any event in the United States. Modern cars have the capability to maintain much higher speeds. But on public roads, just how much faster than that can you go — and for how far? There is only one mistake you can make in Monterey. That’s to buy a car that you really can’t use. I have bought cars because they were a “good deal,” and it has never worked out well. As the car starts to cost me money, as it inevitably will, I forget the great price I got — and start wondering why I have it in the first place. I end up resenting every penny I spend and can’t wait to get rid of it. If you are smitten with a car and have plans for it, then whatever it costs you is just part of the ownership experience. Even better, if the car becomes your entry into events that you haven’t been to before, then a new world of cars, people and roads becomes accessible. Let Monterey 2017 be your start for fresh experiences, and buy the best car you can that will get you to the starting line. ♦

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