Arizona auction week started off the 2014 collector-car calendar with a bang. The six auctions sold 2,312 vehicles for a total of nearly $249 million and an average price of $107,096, all significant gains over 2013 results.
The premium auction houses – RM, Gooding and Bonhams – stepped up with great collections of cars, and the 43rd annual Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale had the highest number of cars and highest total results in its history. Barrett-Jackson was so big, it made the Guinness Book of World Records.
There was even a classy new starting point for auction week, the first-ever Arizona Concours d’Elegance at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.
The Arizona auctions are considered a bellwether for the year ahead, so last week’s huge success bodes well for collector-car sales and values during 2014. As Corky Coker of Coker Tires said during one of the week’s many classic-car seminars: collecting old cars has become less of a hobby and more of an industry.
While there are just about as many stories and lessons learned as there are vehicles on the dockets, here are a few observations from a hectic week:
Rising tide of values goes across the board – There were more than two dozen sales that reached over a million dollars during the week, but prices for more-modest cars and trucks also had strong gains this year.
The $25,000 to $50,000 range shows a healthy market of cars for regular Joes, although the price of entry has sailed upstream, leaving many left behind.
As usual, spending more up front for a well-restored or highly preserved original will pay off in the long run. Restoration costs are through the roof these days and can quickly take the bloom off a bargain purchase price.
“Barn finds” cast magic spell – Preservation verses restoration was a hot topic of conversation, with most savvy collectors heeding the old adage: It’s only original once. A well-preserved car or truck is a thing of beauty, with an air of authenticity and patina that cannot be duplicated.
But there is a flip side to that, as Sports Car Market and American Car Collector publisher Keith Martin observed, “There’s a difference between a preserved car and a nasty old thing.”
And the debate is on after the sales of two rare and valuable “barn finds” at the Gooding auction in Scottsdale. Both results were very surprising, to say the least, because while they were highly desirable cars at the top of the pecking order, neither of them were very appealing. Though original dirt does have its charm.
The first over the block on Friday was a dusty, musty 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing that shocked with a $1.88 million selling price, including auction fee. That should buy you the very best restored Gullwing (steel body, not alloy) and seemed excessive for this survivor. Indeed, several beautifully restored examples sold for much less during the week.
The other one, a 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS Spider, soared to exceed $2 million, including fee. This car was a crispy critter, the victim of an engine fire and many decades of subsequent storage. It was in no way preserved and deserves an extensive – and no-doubt wildly expensive – restoration. According to the price guides, the Ferrari is already fully priced for one that’s in top condition.
So there you go. Such is the romantic lure of the great “barn find.”
Ferrari prices are on fire – Beyond the lofty price tag of the soot-smudged 330 GTS, the top sale of the week was a mighty $8.8 million, including fee, for a 1958 250 GT LWB California Spider, a record result and the highest-ever sale at an Arizona classic-car auction. All the Ferraris were hitting big numbers, going well into seven figures for anything of any rarity and history.
Dinos are rocking the house, with a 1973 246 GTS hitting a lofty $500k at Gooding. Even such high-production runabouts as the 308 climbed into six figures; a 1976 fiberglass 308 GTB sold for $114,400 at Bonhams.
Likewise Corvettes – Barrett-Jackson, always Nirvana for aficionados of the Chevy sports car, hit the ceiling with the sales of two very rare and special Corvettes: the 1969 race-winning Corvette dubbed The Rebel, which sold for $2.86 million, and an ultra-rare 560-horsepower 1967 L88 coupe that hit the heights at $3.85 million, becoming far and away the highest-priced Corvette ever sold at auction.
But Corvettes across the board were fetching premium prices as well. For example, among the top sales at Russo & Steele in Scottsdale were a 1971 454 SS convertible sold for $250,250 and a 1953 roadster for $225,500.
Many classic-car hobbyists are feeling priced out of the auction scene, and with good reason. There still are some worthwhile deals out there, and many examples of American muscle cars seem underpriced, but by and large, it takes deep pockets to buy anything of value.
For those still able to take part, 2014 should be a golden year for classic-car auctions if nothing bad happens to dampen prices, such as war, pestilence or another economic collapse like the one that killed the market in 2008. We have now fully recovered from that downturn.