Earlier this month in London, Bonhams sold a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL for $1.34 million. The sum was about this year’s average for the iconic coupe, which amassed considerable value since similar models started going for $3 and $4 million back in 2012.
But prices, while sure to stay stellar for the next several years, won’t continue their exponential rise indefinitely. So the real question is, what’s next?
If you ask the number crunchers, they say it’s Porsche. Recently in New York, a 1973 Porsche Carrera RS 2.7 Touring sold for just under $1 million.
“Of all of the people who sold a [classic] SL this year, 50 percent of them turned around and bought a Porsche,” said McKeel Hagerty, the CEO of Hagerty, an insurer of vintage automobiles. “Of that group, half bought a 911, and half bought a 356. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
Of course, the other 50 percent of those guys bought another Mercedes, a Ferrari, or a Jaguar, to varying degrees. And Ferrari still dominates the classic market; seven of the 10 highest North American sale prices of 2015 belong to that Italian icon. (No. 1 was a 1956 Ferrari 290 MM Spider that sold for more than $28 million Dec. 10 in New York.) But it is significant that Porsche alone dominates the next-up cull.
Recent auction numbers indicate an uptick. Blue chip cars in general have risen from an average value of $600,000 in 2007 to $2.6 million today. (As with company stocks, “blue chip” autos are the most expensive and consistent in the field, like the above-mentioned Ferrari and Mercedes.) Vintage German-made cars jumped an average value of $150,000 in 2007 to $625,000 today; Porsches in particular have gone from five- to six and seven digits in the same time frame, with even models as late as early 2000s’ Carrera GT’s hitting near the million-dollar mark on a model that used to be worth $300,000.
“European sports cars in general have been on a real rise in the last couple of years,” said Gord Duff, the car specialist at RM Sotheby’s. “Ferraris lead the way and then you go to the next greatest European sports cars, which are Mercedes, and then you get to Porsches. If we are saying Mercedes have peaked, Porsches are the next best thing.”
Hagerty data that combines public auction sales and private sales shows that the 1974-1977 Porsche 911 has increased the most in average sale price of any classic car this year, with a jump of 154 percent in value over 2014. That’s more than anything from Aston Martin, Ferrari, or Lamborghini. Auction houses offered 27 more Porsches this year at the Monterey auctions than they did last year, especially 930s and 911 SC models. (The 930 is a flat-6 engine that was the top of the 911 range during the late ’70s and ’80s.) Searches for Porsche make up 23.5 percent of all queries by collectors ages 30 to 50, according to Hagerty.
Cars of the ’80s
Here’s what’s likely pushing the Porsche passion: Guys who were kids in the ’80s.
“Guys in their 40s now had a poster of that car when they were 10 years old,” Duff said of the Porsche 911, “and now they’re out there finding them.”
In fact, 1980 and newer vehicles have the fastest growth rates of any models; North American classic car auction sales have reached a record $1.45 billion total in 2015, an 11-percent increase over 2014’s $1.31 billion. The growth was pushed by activity among collectors who added 17 percent more 1980s-and-newer vehicles to existing Hagerty insurance policies—versus a 2.3-percent increase for pre-1980s classics.
What’s more, there are plenty of Porsches on the market now that have been owned by one person who bought it for $30,000 20 or 30 years ago and are now worth $150,000. It’s just too tempting not to sell. (Or not to buy, since the numbers seem to keep rising.)
"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,'" Hagerty said. “Porsche is next.”
What Makes Them Popular
Porsches—especially the 911s made between 1970 and 1980 and the 356 Speedsters made in the 1960s—have growing appeal because of several factors. For one thing, they are reliable—more reliable than other vintage cars from the era (Jaguar, Aston, Ferrari, ahem). Their mechanically simple Volkswagen-approved engines run smoothly and easily, and their well-built components are easily sourced the world over. Many owners are able to drive their models on a weekly basis, which is more than can be said for most high-end collectables: The adage about how owning a classic car is like being in a dysfunctional relationship is often, painfully, true.
Secondly, Porsches from this era have a wide entry point for prospective buyers. If you’re savvy, you can find an old 911 in the five-figure range. Or you can find one for more than $1 million, if that’s more in your price range. The same goes for those little 356s.
“The fact is if you love Ferraris, you’re having to spend $100,000 or more just to have something with a Ferrari badge,” Duff said. “If you love Porsche and want to get into something that has that badge, you can get into a relatively good one for $30,000.”
It comes down to numbers—how many of a particular model Porsche produced that year. (The rarer the model the more it will cost.) It also comes down to quality. Sotheby’s can sell a 356 coupe in decent condition for $60,000 and also sell one that has been perfectly restored for $150,000.
And it comes down options. Things like a pristine paint job with the “right” colors on the interior (tan, buff, gold, silver, crème all qualify) and Rudge-brand wheels will boost the price of any given Porsche. (Those wheels are especially important: Their origins trace back to a British bicycle manufacturer in the 1860s; they are among the most highly prized of any accessories in the collector-car universe. A full set can add as much as $50,000 to the value of a car.)
Do the Work
The trick to making a sound purchase is to do your research. Find out where the car originated, how many buyers it had, and what sorts of accidents and maintenance problems it incurred. (Warm climates unlikely to foster rust or salt-lined snowy streets are best; and the fewer the maintenance issues the better. A clean bill of no-collisions is a must.) Find out what garage restored it, too, and where. And it should go without saying that the lower the miles on the odometer the better.
Most importantly, know that even though these things pop on the auction block, the impetus for their success has always been passion. So don’t buy a Porsche only to cosset it away. It’s meant to be driven.
“If a guy spends $500,000 on one, chances are he’s had a few of them already—and there’s a reason he keep buying them,” Duff said. “They’re just finally getting to be worth what they should have been worth a long time ago.”
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