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Where is the Collector Car Market Today?

At the 2017 Revs Institute Symposium, I had the pleasure of meeting JR Amantea of GT Motorcars LLC. Seated next to one another at the opening night of Revs, we instantly became fast friends. JR is smart, aggressive, knowledgeable, and honest. Our friendship has grown over the years and I recently purchased a spectacular one-owner 11,000-mile Audi R8 from him. JR and his team at GT Motorcars LLC only deal in the absolute best. They have deep expertise in top-tier Corvettes and Ferraris, but they also transact in a wide array of other premium vehicles. In the following post, JR shares his opinion with TG readers about the current state of the collector market.

SO WHERE IS THE MARKET?

By JR Amantea

This is a question we get asked every day. Our first-time clients ask, sometimes multiple times on separate weekly calls. It’s a very valid question. The collector car market is different than it was two, three, five or even ten years ago.

We are seeing many cars being put on the market from multiple auction houses; there are new sales outlets such as Bring-A-Trailer and new purchase outlets like Rally Rd. We are also seeing new clients come into the market. With so many choices, what are first timers or even seasoned collectors in the hobby to do?

I have been fortunate enough to have grown up in the collector car hobby from a very young age; I consider myself an “outlier” as I started judging Corvettes at six-years-old and became the youngest Bloomington Gold Corvette Judge at 15 and the youngest NCRS “Master Judge” at 17. I have seen the “hobby,” in general transform and go through different cycles.

You can’t go wrong buying the best quality example of whichever car you are looking to purchase. What does, “best quality example” mean? Quality refers to a few different facets from level of restoration, documentation to support the car (service records, restoration receipts, letters from previous owners, photo documentation of restoration, authentication from judging organizations). Even in a down market, you can still sell a “quality” example. There is a saying that goes in the car hobby when referring to a great example, “you can never pay too much, you pay to soon.”

We are seeing many new events being organized from RadWood (80’s & 90’s cars) to, new car rallies and Concours events. Each year it seems as though dozens of new Concours events pop up on the calendar, these Concours events are a great place to get engaged with like-minded collectors, they are typically a one-day event at a five-star resort.

Many of these are events are transitioning to where people are using their collector cars. From an entry level collectible to a Ferrari 250 Short Wheel Base, it’s about enjoying your collector car. We are seeing less of the buy it, park it, never use it, never let it see the light of day crowd and more of the buy, use it, show it, enjoy it. Bruce Meyer had a memorable quote at the “Rev’s, Collector Car Symposium” I attended two years ago, “What are we doing saving our cars, we have to get out there and use them, it’s like saving your wife for the next guy.” (The entire audience burst out laughing when Bruce said this, but it’s so true.

I came from a world (the Corvette world) where it was forbidden to have a car see daylight, I mean, if there was a chance of rain, everyone on the show field was running for the car covers and plastic as if the car should never experience precipitation a day in its life. Conversely, I became involved in the Ferrari world a few years ago and attended Cavallino events; it was the complete opposite of the Corvette judging atmosphere; it rained, the cars remained in place, nobody ran for the hills, and believe it or not, the cars didn’t melt. Cars are meant to be driven, they are meant to be used, it’s our time as their current owners to be their curators and leave our own history with them.

We find that our newer collector base is buying a collector car like the kind they grew up with. Many newer collectors are showing up to these events with their new acquisition and proudly displaying it at a cars & coffee, Concours or using it at a rally. During this early stage, the new collector is being exposed to the vintage cars of earlier generations and during this period of becoming acquainted with the older cars, they develop an appreciation for them.

Let me give you an example of a cycle that I see; a client comes in and has a passion for cars from the past 30 years (Ferrari F40, Porsche 959, Porsche 993 Turbo S, a 550 Ferrari, Porsche Carrera GT); they acquire these cars that are investment grade pieces (meaning they are the best example they can find, low miles, service history, unique ownership, etc.) They take these cars to different events and during these events they see an icon (Porsche 356, Ferrari 365 Daytona, Ferrari 275, Hemi-Cuda Convertible, a 65 Shelby GT350). After seeing these cars a few times they appreciate the artwork and engineering that went into them; the cars begin to speak to them. After a year or two, we see our clients beginning to expand their horizons and acquire vintage cars that have spoken to them.

Let me give you two examples. One of our clients is under 50, we sold him a few vintage Corvettes, he loved them but felt like he wanted to expand into the modern exotics from Ferrari’s to Porsche as well. He did, and after playing the game with the Ferrari and Porsche dealers or buying five cars to get “on the list,” he called me one day and said, “sell everything, sell all of these exotics, it’s not me, my passion is vintage muscle cars, I want the best-documented examples you can find.”

I personally grew up around muscle cars and they have always been my favorite genre of cars. I have a passion for cars I grew up with in the ’90s and 2000s. It wasn’t until I started working with one client that had vintage Ferrari’s, Gullwing Mercedes and a vintage Bugatti type 57SC that I found a passion for pre-war cars. In a million years, I would never envision myself having a passion for these, “Pre-War” cars, but the first time I saw it sitting there in his garage, in all Black, it looked so sinister. One of my very good friends who is my age is a “Pre-War” vintage automobile specialist; I discussed the types of pre-war cars that spoke to me and the styles I appreciate (a French style, as they have a swooping design that looks fast even sitting still). He opened my eyes up to several other pre-war examples that I have on my list of future cars and I feel like I am seeing a new type of car for the first time again. It’s exciting when your passion is renewed and new, fresh chapter opens.

Are the Auction Houses the main price indicator?

This question is asked daily, even by the same prospective buyer, multiple times after they watch an auction. Over the past few years, we have seen some auction houses ramp up the number of auctions they put on each year and we have seen a substantial increase in the volume of cars that auction houses run over the block.

We have been to several auctions this year and this is what we see. The overall quality of cars at the auction houses across the board has been dropping off; repeat cars are selling at auction, multiple examples of a car are being sold at the same auction. The cars at the auctions are bringing what they are worth for the quality they represent. If a car is a great example with a great pedigree and represents the best quality, it is selling for strong money. If a car is an inferior example with a run of the mill type of quality, it is selling where it should.

Picture that you are investing in a corporate bond, you have different levels of quality from a “AAA-Investment grade” bond all the way down to a “Junk-Bond/High-Yield” bond. From the outside the companies may appear the same, they are both public companies and each has a great brand, but when we look into the financials, one is outstanding, and one is leveraged with debt.

For example, let’s compare two 1967 Corvette 427/435’s. One has every award in the country you can obtain, documentation, this car has been seen by every expert and is a (AAA) example, another car that looks exactly as this car, but does not have any judging, does not have any history or documentation and may or may not be, “matching numbers” (could be a “B”, “CCC”, or “Junk”) rating. The average person that is new to the hobby does not know the difference until they are explained this, the only thing they see is the one car that rolled across the block and “appears,” like an example that is a AAA piece. They don’t know why the auction car is valued “x” and the other car is valued at “2x” the price.

Same applies when evaluating a newer Ferrari or Porsche. If a car is fully serviced and up to date compared to another car that is the same year, color and model, the one that is serviced will command a substantial premium.

When investing in a collector car, or any car for that matter, solicit the advice of a professional.

The auction houses are not the only place to acquire a car, if you chose to go this route, you should hire someone that specializes in collector cars to inspect the car for you and look at any records the car may have. Do your homework before you put your hand up. If a car is at a dealer, build a rapport with them, ask them questions and have them give you a background on the car, take the trip out to inspect the car or hire someone locally to do this for you. Make sure to do your due diligence. The hobby is alive and well, for those of you who haven’t dipped your toe in the water, educate yourself, be open-minded, attend a local cars and coffee event and you will start to understand the excitement and passion that surrounds the collector car hobby.

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3 Responses to Where is the Collector Car Market Today?

  1. Bill McLernon August 8, 2019 at 7:24 am #

    Great article!
    Thanks for the insight!

  2. Bob Kahrl July 24, 2019 at 10:39 pm #

    I am frustrated by the two-faced attitude of the writers in Sports Car Market. After someone acquires a very expensive nice car at auction, the commentator usually expresses the wish and hope that the buyer will get the car out there on the roads and enjoy driving the car. But then the same writer in a different article will focus on how a buyer is going to lose so much value by driving the car for any significant distance. These writers should make up their minds. Is it a good thing or a bad thing to drive a low-mileage vintage collectable car?
    I bought a collectible-quality low-mileage testarossa some years ago with the intention of protecting it at all costs and maintain its pristine condition. But after a couple of months, I got impatient with the idea that I must refrain from driving it more than a few miles each summer. What use is it to have a snarling jaw-dropping car that sits in a garage? So now it is a number of years later and I have a different Ferrari and a different attitude. My attitude is, for crying out loud enjoy driving the car. Let others see it and enjoy the experience. I buy a low mileage car in order to lessen the risk of components having been worn out. NOT to keep forever a car with 600 miles on it. If the purpose of not driving the car is to maintain resale business, then the owner is not an enthusiast, but only a passive investor. If it is necessary for him to forbear driving it in order to protect his investment, then he has foregone the greatest pleasure in having one There is no moral duty to maintain low-mileage cars in low-mileage status. So my car may well be worth less when I sell it than when I bought it. That’s the way things ought to be. Waiting for the market to turn for a car that you ought to be enjoying is an often-futile task.

  3. Leslie July 22, 2019 at 10:27 pm #

    This is an excellent piece. I very much applaud the idea of collectors actually using their cars. As a Corvette enthusiast it pains me that so many of these cars are never driven. At Greenwich last year there were two superb C6s with basically no mileage, a fine ZR1 and a rare LeMans Championship Z06, that went for perhaps half their initial cost. The owners never had a chance to enjoy these superb machines doing what they were designed to do. Our Corvette is used for trips to concours events and museum visits and I have never regretted the mileage put on since the car is so much fun to drive.