Russo and Steele auctions hosted a seminar Friday designed to help some car owners understand how to extract the most value from their classic vehicles when they decide to sell at auction.
Barn Find cars
With so many “barn find” cars in the news lately, the panel began with that subject and how to treat them, their values — which seem to be at an all-time high — and what they mean for the collector hobby in general.
“With barn find cars, what you do with it depends totally on what kind of car it is,” said Jim Menneto of Hemmings Motor News. “If you find a 1937 Mercedes tucked away in obscurity that’s in operational condition and original, I’d think twice about doing anything to it. On the other hand, if you find a similar 1977 Chevy, that’s a totally different story.”
“You have to ask yourself what you want any classic to be,” said McKeel Hagerty of the insurance company that bears his family’s name, “because putting some things right on certain older cars swill be prohibitively expensive, like chrome on 1950s cars like Cadillacs. Rechroming parts is so expensive now. Redoing a ’59 Caddy will run you $30,000 in chrome-plating alone.”
“It’s rare to find a car in a barn that’s worth a damn,” chuckled Wayne Carini, owner of F40 Motorsports and host of the television show Chasing Classic Cars.
“They’re great as long as they’ve been maintained to some degree,” he continued. “Sometimes, I travel to look at a barn car and I can’t even tell what kind of car it is, it’s so dilapidated. And then it’s clearly not worth the time or effort. I’d say that if you are in the market for a collectible car, don’t expect to make the find of the century. It’s not going to happen and you’ll have wasted time you could have spent enjoying your car.”
“I think we need to make a distinction between a preservation-class car and a typical barn find,” said Hagerty. “I’ve been judging preservation-class cars at Pebble Beach for about 15 years and there are differences. Barn finds are often too far gone to keep as you found them. Also, Europeans appreciate preserved cars quite a bit more than we do here in the U.S., so if you’re interested in marketing your car abroad, don’t overlook that fact.”
All the experts were unanimous on one overriding fact. If you have a car that can remain well preserved without a restoration, think hard and long before restoring it because it can only be original once. And this goes to the main point of the whole discussion panel’s purpose: An original car will see greater value and appreciation over the long haul than a perfectly restored car.
You can find 50 highly restored cars in concours condition. But a preserved or survivor car is simultaneously original-spec and unique. Preservation cars wear years and use nobly.
Hagerty said another way to think about selective restoration work on a car and how it affects value.
“If just some work is done,” he says, “like a partial repaint or a repainted body but the interior retains its original, highly aged upholstery, does everything still appear to have aged together? That is something I look for personally, but something that also matters to a car’s value. I think the marketplace will note that and the car’s value will suffer.”
With the Obama administration recently making the historic decision moving toward opening official relations with Cuba, the panel turned to the question about whether this opens up an opportunity to find older classics.
“Well, under communist rule, if the Cuban government found out you had a valuable car or one that post-dated Castro, they’d come and take it,” said Carini. “At one time, there were significant interesting cars in Cuba like Gullwing Mercedes, Ferraris, old race cars and rare American iron. But it’s very likely all those were extracted decades ago.”
Carini said that special cars were broken apart back then.
“Special interest cars in Cuba just after the revolution were often dismantled with the engine tucked away in one place, wheels in another location, bodies in yet another and so on, so that they wouldn’t be noticed by the government and taken away.”
Hagerty said that old American cars still running in Cuba — and often are featured in photos on the news or Internet, but are held together with chewing gum and bailing wire.
“The people running those old cars have gone through several generations of major repairs and parts,” said Hagerty. “And these are field repairs, for sure, often done without lathes to fabricate new parts – only using manual files.” It’s truly remarkable how Cuban mechanics and drivers have kept those old cars going, but it does not bode well for the collector seeking opportunities.
“It makes Cuba the Galapagos Island of the car world because of that isolation,” Hagerty says. “What they have there now bears almost no relation to the progenitor car species.”
Buy them now
There are some modern cars that will have collectible potential, and the panel couldn’t resist talking about them. The BMW Z8 and the already-rising Ford GT are fairly well-known as collectibles, but the experts also had some new suggestions.
“Both the Ferrari 550 and 575 Maranello are cars that will likely ascend in value,” remarked Hagerty. “And just watch what happens with Ferrari 308s and Testarossas.”
Indeed, the whole group agreed that cars from the 1970s will rise in value, and in some cases, have already started.
Menetto continued that thought: “On modern cars, it really comes down to low production numbers,” he said. “If there were few to begin with, there will be even fewer to end with.”