Analysis: It’s become a buyer’s market, but for how long?

Cars such as this 1971 Pontiac Trans-Am are popular with a new generation of bidders | Auctions America photo

Monterey Car Week is coming up quickly and a lot has been happening in the classic car auction marketplace leading up to what serves as the Super Bowl of the auction year.

In recent weeks, we have had the Auctions America sale in northern Indiana, the Mecum auction at Indy, RM Sotheby’s at Santa Monica and the Barrett-Jackson Northeast sale in Connecticut.

Our analysis: If you are in the hunt for a car priced at $150,000 or less, including a lot less, this has definitely become a buyer’s market.

Prices for W113 Pagoda Mercedes-Benz roadsters seem to have dropped from the $80K-plus level to $50,000 to $60,000; early long-hood Porsche 911 are struggling, many selling for less than $50K; and scores of nice little British sports cars can be had for less than $10K – all day. Even bigger dollar cars such as the Austin Healey 3000 and Series 2 and 3 Jaguar E-types are down quite a bit from where they were as recently as the sales at Amelia Island — Healeys available for around $40,000, and Series 2 and 3 E-types for $45,000.

Other bargains I have seen out recently include the ’55-’57 Ford Thunderbirds, which are selling in the mid-$20K range, with C2 Corvettes without special powerplants and even Ferrari 308s in the $40,000 range.

What seems to be hot are late ’70s-’90s cars including the Buick Grand National, Pontiac Trans-Am, Porsche 964 and 993-era 911s, Porsche 928s and 944s, and the Datsun 240Z. Those and just about any supercar from the 1990s to present day.

At Mecum’s Indianapolis sale, we saw a number of MG TD cars sell for no more than $15,000, a 1963 Corvette roadster for the bargain price of $35,000, a nice 1953 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn for only $15,000, and a numbers-matching and nicely restored 1969 Corvette coupe for only $22,500. Mecum’s sell through rate was 73 percent, which in this market is a solid figure.

1987 Buick Grand Nationals have strong following
1987 Buick Grand Nationals have strong following | Auctions America

Auctions America found new owners for only 69 percent of its docket. Some of the standout low prices included the 1967 Chevrolet Corvette 427/390 convertible for $79,750, a 1961 Mercedes-Benz 190SL for $63,250, a beautifully restored 1970 Volkswagen Westfalia camper at the bargain price of only $23,650, a ’56 Thunderbird for only $18,700, a 1963 Studebaker Avanti R1 for a mere $5,775, and a nice 1973 Jaguar E-type Series III V12 2+2 Coupe with a 4-speed manual for $44,550.

At Barrett-Jackson, we saw a similar trend. Some examples: A 1963 Bentley S3 for $17,600, a 1977 Porsche 3.0 Euro Carrera Targa for only $57,200, and the pair of top condition Jaguar E-type S1 Fixed Head Coupes that failed to meet reserve, as did a yellow 1988 Lamborghini Countach, one of the stars of the auction.

At the RM Sothebys auction in Santa Monica, we saw more of the same. A stunning 1960 Porsche 356 B 1600 roadster by Drauz sold for the bargain $170,500, a 1934 MG PA for only $28,600, and two very nice chrome-bumper MGBs sold for less than $7,000 each. Among mid-range cars, a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS sold for only $44,000, and a nicely restored 1967 Austin Healey 300 went for $50,000.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about this sale was the sheer number of no-sale lots, many not getting bids close to the prices we expected.

However, all is not doom and gloom. Consider the previously noted Buick Grand Nationals, ’70s muscle cars and various Porsches. And perhaps surprisingly, some full classics seem to be drawing the interest of younger buyers.

So why is all this churn? My gut tells me that this downward trend is due to a number of factors.

First, the cars most affected are older cars that were built in fairly large numbers. This means that there are quite a few of them to choose from. These are also cars that rode the wave of the drastic price increases in the market and in many cases piggybacked on the more valuable cars from the given manufacturer.

For example, when the 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS started to cross the $1 million threshold, the early 911 S cars, especially the 2.4 liter cars, became worth $225,000 seemingly overnight. This dragged up the 911E and 911T cars and made just about any early 911 worth north of $100,000.

Well, the 911 RS touring is now worth somewhere around $750,000 and as a result the market has responded in kind. All of these cars were built in the thousands and are not really that rare. Prices have corrected and will likely continue to do so

1992 Ferrari F40 and other modern supercars are popular choices
1992 Ferrari F40 and other modern supercars are popular choices | RM Sotheby’s

Second, the real estate market and stock market have heated up in the past few years, so there are other places to put your money to work. This takes certain buyers out of the market.

Third, despite the upturns in the financial markets, there are many out there who are simply sitting on their hands to see what is coming next. We are still dealing with quite a lot of economic uncertainty, both here in the U.S. and across the globe. Until we see this settle down and define what the new trends are, I feel that many people are simply waiting.

So with all of this going on, why are 1970s and ’80s muscle cars and modern supercars selling for record prices? It seems that those cars are being bought not by people speculating but by people who simply need to have their dream cars, the cars they wanted back when they could not afford them. This is a good thing and makes for a market where end users are buying the cars, to drive, to show and to enjoy as all classic cars should be.

There is an additional positive point concerning the cars that have fallen in price. These cars, while worth less money, are now accessible to a larger number of potential buyers. If you thought that the Ferrari 308 or early 911 was beyond your budget, this may no longer be the case. If you have always wanted a VW Westie, they might be more in the range of $25K than the $85k-$100K they cost in years past.

If you are in the market for one of these cars that has dropped in price, now is the time to buy it and to hold onto it as this market correction is likely to settle down soon. When we actually begin to see how the world economy is going to shake down, people will be raising their hands again and sell-through percentages and prices will rise. When this will happen is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure: if we keep seeing these bargains, dealers and brokers will start to buy them all up, and prices will rise as a result.

If you are going to Monterey in August and have never bought at a collector car auction, you want to study carefully all the catalogs, take the time to thoroughly examine your potential candidates and register to bid on the car of your dreams, as it just might fall into your budget.

Looking ahead to Monterey, I’ll quote my friend and appraiser Dave Kinney and let you know that “my Crystal Ball is powered by Lucas Electrics, and mid-1970s Lucas Electrics to be specific, so who on earth would trust that?”

But my guess is that the big cars, such as the unbelievably gorgeous and storied 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 offered by RM Sothebys, and the ex-Team Cunningham Le Mans-entry 1963 E-type lightweight and the 1964 Porsche Carrera GTS at Gooding & Company, will sell for top dollar with multiple bidders vying to be these cars’ next caretakers.

Cars under a $1 million will be basically where they have been, with 300SL Mercedes holding steady and super-nice Series 1 Jaguar E-types holding at north of $250K for the best examples. However, 1974-77 model 911s could take a hit, while Pontiac Trans Ams continue to be a hit with bidders.

As always, if you buy a car because you love it, it is hard to go wrong no matter what the market says.sigandy

5 thoughts on “Analysis: It’s become a buyer’s market, but for how long?”

  1. To me,the idea that you can have the term “buyer’s market” and $40,000 Austin Healeys, $171,000 Porsche 356’s and Mercedes 190SL’s, a car we laughed at in period at $63,000 is the real anomaly. This isn’t a “buyer’s market”: none of the cars mentioned in this article were worth anywhere near the $ they have been selling to fools for over the last ten years.

  2. Still has to improve considerably to be a ” buyers market”. Most cars I’ve browsed or looked at are still way overpriced.

  3. I’m agree with “spirit” the market raise anormaly fast and high, and even now with the prices correction, the prices are still too high compare to the quality and volume of the majority of the so call collector cars on the market, specificaly compare with the prices and buyer’s interest that make 10 years ago. For Example porsche 912

  4. Finally some of the rich collectors offering their cars up for sale are finding out they are NOT made of gold. Seems the prices have been way over priced and priced the little collector out totally. I am one of those little guys. I want to buy but can not afford a $100,000. price for a car worth $1.98 !!!

  5. I agree! Not to mention that these auctions represent only the tiniest fraction of sales. It takes months and in some cases years for the general sales market to reflect these trends.

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