2015 top stories: No. 3 – Generational shift of car collectors

The iconic Lamborghini Countach has risen in value as a new generation enters the market | Mecum Auctions photos
The iconic Lamborghini Countach has risen in value as a new generation of collectors enters the market | Mecum Auctions

The passing of the generations has a profound effect on the collector car market. As each generation ages and passes on, the classics that they desire gradually fall out of favor, replaced by later models. We saw that as the World War II generation faded, so did popular interest in pre-war classics and ’50s cruisers, replaced by post-war sports cars, GTs and muscle cars as the Baby Boomers came of age.

During 2015, the influence of the next generation of car collectors became evident as the members of Gen X and the Millennials arrived on the scene and sought out the supercars, performance cars and popular sport compacts from the 1980s and ’90s.

The insiders at Hagerty, the classic car insurance and valuation company, tell us they have been struggling to come up with a name for these – “modern collectibles” and “the emerging segment” have been bandied about – but they mainly comprise supercars and sport compacts starting from the ’80s through the remarkable Ford GT of the 2000s, which has become this era’s most renowned “instant collectible.”

The 1993 Toyota Supra from ‘The Fast and the Furious’ went to auction
The 1993 Toyota Supra from ‘The Fast and the Furious’ went to auction | Mecum Auctions

The generational shift was not unexpected but is still surprising, and is meeting with resistance from the old guard, as always, who just don’t see the value. It also lines up with the commonly held belief in the quarter-century effect, that vehicles gain new appreciation and a collectible vibe as they survive past 25 years.

McKeel Hagerty, head of the classic car insurer, said that the younger segment of collector cars was a bright spot in the generally slowed growth of the market this past year.

“The notable exception is rapid growth among younger buyers who have entered the market and are exercising their buying power by spending on the poster cars of their youth,” Hagerty said in a recent news release. “A new era of later model performance cars from instantly recognizable brands have irrefutably proven that the term ‘collector car’ is not synonymous with ‘old car’.”

The rising value of the Lamborghini Countach, a groundbreaking supercar built from 1974 through 1990, is a case in point. Always recognized for its exceptional style and performance, the Countach nonetheless languished as a collector car until most recently as those who once gazed at posters of the wild Lambo on their bedroom walls (usually next to the famous poster of a grinning Farrah Fawcett) now have the wherewithal to buy them. And, thusly, to boost their values.

Production Ferraris and Porsche 911s from the ’80s on up have also experienced a boom in values for the same reasons. So have the sport-compact “pocket rockets,” mainly Japanese in origin, that hooked the young people in the same way that hot rods and muscle cars hooked their parents. The Fast and the Furious movie franchise has done much to raise the profile of these custom performance cars.

Prices spiked this year for 1980s Porsche 911s | Barrett-Jackson
Prices spiked this year for 1980s-’90s  Porsche 911s | Barrett-Jackson

While this phenomenon might worry the older collectors who fear that their favored rides could wither away, they should take heart in knowing that this is the natural order of things and has happened before. Besides, popularity ebbs and flows continuously, such as the recent rise in enthusiasm for older hot rods and custom cars, or the early brass-era cars from a generation that has passed away completely. And don’t forget, tastes mature over time; today’s Fast and Furious fan could become tomorrow’s collector of European classics. Or muscle cars.

Craig Jackson, chief executive of Barrett-Jackson Auction Company, grew up in the collector car business co-founded by his father, Russell Jackson, and he described in a recent Fox Business television interview how the auction changes and responds with the times.

“Originally we sold all pre-war cars, then we got into ’50s cars, then muscle cars, and we’ve broadened it out because we want new buyers that are Gen-Xers and looking towards Millennials,” Jackson said in the interview.

Last year, famed Porsche restorer John Wilhoit of Los Angeles told Classic Car News about his start in the business decades ago, which pointed out how generational changes are timeless. Wilhoit said that his father, a longtime restorer of grand classics from the 1920s and ’30s, had dismissed his son’s interest in restoring and maintaining the simple little Porsche 356 and 911 sports cars from Germany.

“He thought I was wasting my time,” Wilhoit said, noting that he built a very successful business with those Porsches, which soared in value as collectors his age bought what they wanted when they were young.

And so it goes with the upcoming generation, who are pushing up values for everything from production Ferraris to Toyota Supras of the ’80s and ’90s, the cars that they wanted way back when.

18 thoughts on “2015 top stories: No. 3 – Generational shift of car collectors”

  1. While I agree with the general thesis of your article contending that emerging generations will ascend to the rank of collector car market consumers, going forward; my own experience in selling my 2001 Lotus Esprit V8 proved disappointing in attracting those for whom this car was both a James Bond movie icon and the standout performer on the Sony PlayStation video games among the Millennial and Gen-X demographic.

    With a mere 5,243 miles registered on the odometer, my flawless frosted silvery New Aluminium exterior over Black Connolly Leather interior presented in virtually Concours condition. Yet, repeated listings on eBay, Dupont Registry and select other high-end web platforms failed to attract anyone other than the ubiquitous dreamers and bottom feeders. The selling process took nearly five years, during which we had to tolerate a lot of tire kickers and wannabe super car owners whose financial circumstance was more evenly aligned with the Kia crowd than Lotus.

    Notwithstanding the foregoing, a lot of pride had to be swallowed in realizing that the Esprit V8’s exclusivity quotient, benefitting from fewer than a thousand units having been produced for Global distribution, was not going to succeed in recovering even half of my $90K original purchase price. Ultimately, a high tech executive in his mid-40’s purchased the car for a bit under $45K. As is said in Auction parlance, our Lotus Esprit V8 was “well bought!” At present, however, cars possessing all of the elements that have driven Concours quality 1960’s Aston Martins, E-Types, Ferraris, Giuliettas and similar into the six figure and beyond stratosphere are not enough for those of us selling 1980’s/’90’s/2000’s exotica to realize similar profit margins.

    Although the Millennials and Gen-Xers will, ultimately, dominate the buyer’s gallery at auction venues, their current preference for Toyota Supras and similar Asian drift mobiles places them at distance from being today’s buyers of Lotus Esprit V8s, Ferrari 355/360/etc.

  2. Perhaps using an international classic auto auction house would have both been much quicker and probably returned more money to you. I have done so with a very expensive Isotta Fraschini Castagna Tourer, and Bonhams did a great job of finding the right buyer and handled all the details of photos, international shipping, marketing and sale.

  3. I honestly think that pre war classics and the 50s, 60s and 70s cars will always have a market having established their values. The fact that these were also made in much limited numbers will also ensure their values are preserved.
    Yes there will be newer cars that will add to the ranks of classic and car collectors as this is a growing market fueled by the fact that rarity and uniqueness has caused these cars to be among the top 5 investments in the world economy!
    Kumar Balasingam
    Collector from Singapore

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful suggestion.

    I did attempt to have both Gooding & Company and RM Auctions include it within an appropriate North American auction venue (i.e., Amelia Island, Meadowbrook, etc.) but neither was interested. Subsequently, I chatted with Auctions America who were interested but their price guidance actually fell within a range lower than that at which I ultimately sold the Lotus Esprit V8. So, while the ordeal was painfully slow, the end result was the best opportunity; especially since several other higher offers proved to be individuals unable to secure necessary financing.

  5. I tend to agree with you, Kumar. Aside from Lotus’ production figures for all iterations of the Esprit (numbering approximately 12,000 units during the model’s 30-year production timeline), the sub-100 production numbers Aston Martin, Ferrari and a select group of other coach built exotica adhered to throughout much of the 1960’s guarantees such cars will remain highly desirable for many years to come.

    More recently, however, Ferrari has ramped-up its production numbers into the thousands. The F355, F360, etc., were produced at levels never previously realized (e.g., nearly 6,000 units per model/year). Though original pricing figures hovered at the $200K+/- (U.S.), evidence of dramatic price declines of these same models (i.e., many being offered for resale at prices well below 50% of original purchase price) underscores a glut on the marketplace, as well as a fundamental change in Ferrari’s business model. Clearly, exclusivity is no longer central to Ferrari’s inner thinking.

  6. Seems they made more of these “late model ” than lets say the Tri Fives which bring (I feel” more$$ than the “Pocket Rocket” even if they don’t end up at Barrett Jackson. How many basic off the assembly line did we have in the 80s 90s? that will bring some bucks?

  7. j/kumar/bill are you guys talking cars the 1% could buy? You guys are probably unaware that the general public spends a lot of money on classic cars and not your trailer queens.

  8. I am no expert, but sometimes Jon-Q public needs to share his view; here’s mine. Many factors go into what cars are “hot” or not. Bottom line the industry needs to ensure a balanced approached and presentation of ALL cars – and not play market tactics of keep up with the Jones’. 95% of the public out there has disposable income – but not six figures. Prediction? I see a surge in restomod a for years to come as millennials didn’t grow up on manual anything. This surge could include cars from the 30’s on.

  9. A friend told me years ago (and I think it is spot on) that car people want to own/drive what they had or wanted in high school. I’m “muscle car” age, my friends are either dying off or aren’t interested enough to keep their cars going. It’s happened with Brass Era cars, restored Model Ts etc and pre ’49 street rods. It’s happening with fifties cars and this aRTICLE makes it appear the bloom may be coming off muscle cars. And the previous “generation” never sees the value of the oncoming desirable cars.

    It can be boiled down to this; Time passes.

  10. Gentleman, This may be a little off topic, but this article took me here. I agree with what has been said, but can we remember why we bought many of our past “loved” cars…especially our early ones? FUN, what the hell happened to that?
    Most of us knew what those Gullwing’s and DB5’s were going to be worth down the road. What about all the good times in that MGA (that did not have to be a twin cam) or that Bugeye Sprite (that did not have to be a factory car that ran Sebring). Nothing like having that MGB as your daily driver for several years and keeping it alive… let’s tune it up, put new tires on her and drive 1,000+ miles to Ft. Lauderdale on Monday, it’s warmer there.
    We use to let our girlfriend or our wife know that we were dropping a few grand on a “fun” car… now we have to check with our financial advisor after we run a algorithm on the future value of what will probably just sit in the garage anyway. Forget the next best thing for now, buy what you like, enjoy it and take care of it. You just might wake up one morning and find yourself with a lot of good memories.

  11. I have heard people say that you should buy it because you like it, not because you are think it is a good speculative investment.
    Next month look at the tri-5 buyers at the BJ auction, those guys either had or wanted one in high school. What is the practical value of a ’55 Chevy with a blower? The owner spends more time cleaning it than driving it.
    Jay Leno has said that he knew Original Mustangs would always be popular because they made so many.

  12. I am not concerned that those seeking to make mega-profits are finding disappointment. I am enthusiastic that new generations are keeping the interest and focus on collectibles and classics. That keeps us all in the sport. If the market for high-end collectibles is depressed, it means more cars are accessible for the rest of us. Keep those prices down!

  13. Hi Joe –

    Your point is well taken. My first car, a 1963 Tartan Red MGB, turned out to be a long-term companion. I kept it 7 years before transitioning into a ’67 Austin Healey 3000 BJ8. The “B” took us to concerts and vacations as distant as Colorado (we lived in Pennsylvania) and, mostly, the only issues encountered were nonfunctional windshield wipers and a resonator that quickly separated from the exhaust system (doing so actually gave the “B” a much sweeter sound …).

    Detailing it was like a therapy session; I enjoyed doing it as much as racing around town doing errands, going to parties, shopping and going on dates. It was always garaged so its near-new condition was reasonably maintained for many years; eventually giving way to a pleasant patina both internally and externally.

    Years later I bought a $90K Lotus Esprit V8 which, while extremely pleasurable to drive, failed to return that psychic income of the “B”. This was mainly due to fears of having it involved in an incident, becoming stone chipped and, of course, the unconscionable annual insurance premium the auction houses fail to mention that is associated with owning cars that, in many instances, cost as much as or more than the average American home.

    I am old enough to remember the “just out of reach” lovely Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Giulia Spiders of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Sadly, their valuations have skyrocketed in recent years placing me even further from being able to realize ownership of same than I was in the mid-1960’s. I can only hope that sanity returns to the marketplace once the well-heeled have tired of their $80K – $100K+ Alfa Giulietta’s and softening interest will result in bringing prices back down out of the stratosphere of obscene pricing.

  14. The older are passing away and the younger may be stepping up, BUT!!!! The prices are so out of wack fewer and fewer of the younger can afford the hobby. A Packard that used to sell for under 50K now sells for 250K and that only took ten years. WHY? Greed. The Old fogies that own them and never drove them bought them only for Greed and money. I would love to own, fix up, and DRIVE a Packard, Duesenberg, Auburn, Studebaker etc etc. but with the prices as they are, not a chance. The hobby used to be for the average guy, now only the rich seem to have it all. So Bernie will win, the rich will have to sell at a loss and maybe,….just maybe….more can afford the hobby and buy up some good old cars and DRIVE them….after all why have something hidden from view of people and not enjoy it but let it sit so the NEXT owner can enjoy it and drive it.????

  15. Hello Christopher, It sounds like you grew up right, some people jump in pretty close to the top now a day’s. Worrying about my kids and properly providing for them at the time, prevented me from acquiring any of the more refined and better designed cars I wanted to experience. But I did have a good time with a Fiat X-19 when they came out. WOW! 4 wheel disc brakes, a first gear synchro box and damn… someone put the engine in the right spot. I don’t want to use the “F” word here, but I knew I was driving a … Ferra… Fun Car!

  16. Hi Joe –

    It seems you and I walked similar paths. While I pined for an E-type Series I (you know, flat floor, aluminum dash & console, glass covered headlights, etc.) my high school Summer employment only stretched as far as the $2,300 ’63 MGB. As fate would have it, after going off to college in 1965 a fraternity brother arrived with a gleaming Carmen Red E-Type, chrome wire wheels and all. A dagger in my heart.

    Later, in Graduate School it was a ’72 Porsche 911-T that became my poster child. Thereafter, perhaps a bit like your experience, life quickly launched me off in my career and, well, the Porsche was never to be. Sensibility led me to a Lancia Beta Coupe which, despite their notorious penchant for rusting, stayed true to us for 8 years until it was exchanged for an Alfa Spider. Not the Giulietta or Giulia I lusted in my heart for but at least the badge on the nose was heading me in the right direction.

  17. We have the old boys club that is moving on for the new old boys club and we have the exotics club that will stay the same just money changing hands and the the guys that love to find them fix them and then drive them I see lots of fun in the car game in the near and far off future .

  18. I publish a car show magazine in the Mid-Atlantic area, covering classic and muscle cars. My friends and I noticed that eventually the cars that we all love some much will no longer receive the same interest as the hobby gets grayer.We hope to inspire a new generation of enthusiasts by starting a foundation to promote the cars, and restoration knowledge to younger folks.You can find out more about our efforts by visiting the web site : http://www.customclassiccars.org . We willl be sending our first nominee to a summer session of an auto restoration college this year. Custom & Classic Car Educational Foundation

Share your comments