Andy Reid
Andy Reid HalfDork
2/13/14 2:45 p.m.

Buy what you wanted when you were 16 and live the dream. The collector car market is both fascinating and strange at times and has little, if anything, to do with logic most of the time.

While I was in Monterey a few months back, I was talking to my friend, Joe Gearin, and some subscribers after one of our auction tours. Joe said that he thought it was crazy that Early Porsche 911s were selling for more than $100K and that a nice Ferrari 308 could be had for as little as $25K to $30K. I agreed with him.

If you look at both cars on paper, this makes even less sense. In the 1960s, an early 911 cost somewhere around $6500, and by the end of the car’s run in 1973, a fully loaded 911S cost around $13K. In contrast, the Ferrari 308 GTB, when new in the late ’70s, would set you back around $30K and the open top GTS would have set you back around $36K. In the same era, a 911S would have cost only around $18K.

To further illustrate the overall inequality of these cars, also keep in mind that from 1964-’73, Porsche built more than 80,000 longhood 911s. In contrast, Ferrari built only 12,149 308 GTB and GTS cars. Many people believe that scarcity makes things cost more but that is obviously not true in the case of the 911.

The other baffling piece of this is the overall desirability of each marque. Sure, the Porsche 911 is a desirable car, I myself have owned 23 of them. But a Ferrari is a Ferrari. The 308 is one of the most beautiful cars of the ’70s and ’80s, and has performance to match is looks. On top of this, a 308 is used in much the same way as a 911, so it is not an issue of usability.

In most markets—gold, art, antiques—the scarcer something is, the more valuable it is. This is the way things tend to work, and at the top end of the market, this is definitely the case. In the middle ground of the market, however–say in the range of $65K to $350K– this idea seems to break down.

Why does this market anomaly seem to exist in the car markets? At the top tier of the collector car hobby, collectors are buying cars in the same way that art collectors are buying art: looking for the most sought after, beautiful and significant cars available. They are buying the car as an object as much as a car. These collectors will pay what it costs to get that missing piece to their collection. As a result, cars of this caliber–think rare Enzo-era Ferraris, Bugattis and others–are priced in accordance with their demand from these buyers. These collectors also often buy more mid-range cars, such as E-Types and early 911s, but that is not their focus.

The collectors who are focusing on these less expensive cars often seem to be buying for altogether different reasons. These owners are buying the cars of their youth. Whatever car they thought would get you a date with that hot girl in school. That might sound silly, but that is one of the reasons I bought my first 911, my first and second Ferraris, my Alfa Duetto and my Jaguar E-Type. Silly reason to be sure, but driving these cars was a sort of time machine back to that era. I loved driving my Dino while listening to Depeche Mode and The Cure on the stereo. I have seen the same thing with muscle cars blasting Aerosmith and completely understand what they are doing. I am not at all into the whole muscle car thing, but I totally get what those owners are about and think of them as kindred spirits.

Owning and driving the cars I always wanted when I was in junior high and high school, while blasting the music of my youth in the car stereo–just like I would have done had I owned the car when I was in my teens– is one of my more favorite things to do in the car hobby.

Again, this may sound silly to some, but don’t discount the power of being able to relive that time in our lives. People are very obviously paying the price for this, and in many cases paying way up for the opportunity to do so, hence the rise in 911 prices. The people who wanted these in their teens now have the money to relive their past, and as a result the prices are rising steeply.

Will 911 prices stay as high as they are now? Well, a similar thing happened with Healey 3000 prices a decade ago, and while these cars experienced a correction in 2008-’09, they have since moved back up to that level again. It seems that the bull market for these cars 10 years ago caused them to receive the attention they deserved, so other people learned about them and the market grew. The same thing is bound to happen with the 911. We may see a slight correction downward for the early long-hood cars, but long term, no one is bound to lose much money on these cars. They simply touched too many lives in too substantial a way.

So what’s next? My guess is the Lotus Esprit, Porsche 928 and the Ferrari 308. The people who always wanted these cars can now afford them–and they are. If you are a fan of these cars, you had better get one fast, as prices have already started to move. Get a good one and be sure that the stereo works, so you can get the entire experience. Oh, and be sure to wave if you see me drive by with David Bowie’s “China Girl” cranked way up in my Interceptor.

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