Don’t Let Record-Setting Collector Cars Fool You

BUYING COLLECTOR CARS as an alternative asset class has an irresistible appeal to wealthy motorheads. A blue-chip Ferrari or prewar Bugatti is a guaranteed ticket to the fairways of Pebble Beach, Calif., during the prestigious Monterey Car Week, and to any number of Concours d’Elegance car shows around the world. Your stock portfolio, however successful, just doesn’t open doors like that.

The appeal of automotive speculation becomes even more intense when attending the auctions at such events and hearing the jaw-dropping numbers being called out before the hammer comes down. The latest darling of the car auction world: a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that RM Sotheby’s sold at Monterey for $48.4 million, including buyer’s premium—a new record for a car at auction. Just weeks prior, another 250 GTO sold for $70 million in a private sale to David McNeal, founder of WeatherTech, a maker of floor mats.

These astronomical figures, however, mask an underlying softness in the classic car market. According to analysis by CarGurus, an online marketplace, all cars 25 years old or older rose in price more than 60% in the past three years, but just 2.9% in the past 12 months. The Historic Automobile Group Index, which measures rare collectible cars, is up just 0.05% so far in 2018. (Even with a slow start to the year, the S&P 500 is up 8.5% year to date.)

Tom Papadopoulos, a Long Island, N.Y.–based classic car dealer with more than 25 years of experience, says he’s not surprised by the numbers. “A couple of years ago you had speculators, not car people, buying up cars, regardless of their condition and flipping them at the auction houses. Those people have now moved on to something else.” Real car people, he says, are more selective: “Condition is everything.”

A version of this article appears in the October 1, 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “Hold Your Horses.”

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