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Poster Children: A Survey

by | June 2015

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Many car enthusiasts had a poster on their wall of the car of their dreams. Although you may have forgotten what you imagined yourself driving in those idyllic days of your youth, it’s clear that David Gooding and Rob Myers, and the folks at Bonhams, Russo & Steele, Rick Cole, at Barrett-Jackson, and Mecum have been trying – very successfully – to remind you. The lavishly illustrated catalogs these houses have published over the past five years are intended to lead the buyers down memory lane. Perceptively, too, if not everyone’s yellow brick road is paved with bullion bars, the auctioneers have developed and introduced graduated steps. If you missed the swell in RS 2.7 Carrera Lightweights, there still are Touring versions. If you underestimated the surge of Ferrari Daytona Spider prices, there still are Berlinettas. There is an old axiom – a rising tide raises all ships, and that is especially true in the collector car world. But just how far have the cars from our youth climbed since the Scottsdale auctions in 2012?

A Google search for 1970s car posters shows more Lamborghini images than any other single car. The 1960s’ search yields more Shelby Cobras than E-Type Jaguars or Corvettes (along with a smattering of American muscle,) while the 1980s loads up on Ferrari F40s, 288GTOs, and Porsche 959s. But most of these sites show posters published recently that focus on cars of those eras and they may not faithfully represent what was offered decades ago. Our study of 69 auctions in North America, London, Paris, Monaco, and Erba, Italy, from January 2012 through late spring events in 2015 looked at every single car sold – literally thousands. Eventually it yielded a list of poster children that regularly appeared in 58 of these auctions.

A Caveat

One caveat is necessary with the information assembled here: This is rather like comparing Golden Delicious Apples to Granny Smiths, or to apple sauce, or to René Magritte’s painted apples or to Claes Oldenburg’s giant apple core sculpture. Or oranges. Because extremely few of the individual cars charted across 69 auctions appeared a second time, it is possible only to observe trends and not chart precise changes to a single vehicle (except in limited cases; please see the following story.) Nearly all the auction houses post not only sale results but also serial or vehicle identification number and we carefully tracked those; sale reappearance is subject of the story following. Still, some “trends” are pretty clear. (All prices quoted include the fees.)

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The list: Porsche 356 Speedster, 911 RS 2.7 Carrera, 1989 Typ 911 Speedster, and 959; Shelby 289 and 427 Cobra: Ferrari 275 GTB, 365GBT/4 Daytona Berlinetta and Spider, 246 Dino GTS, and F40; and Lamborghini for its Miura (and Countach) variants. The last is the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing and Roadster.

Methodology

Our unscientific method recorded every sale price (and noted no-sale estimate ranges – although these did not calculate into our results) and simply averaged all 2012 sale prices. For contemporary prices we included Monterey 2014 through Spring 2015 sales, through the May 23, 2015 RM sale at Erba, Italy. Yet studying the prices in between showed consistent change. Every one of our poster cars had a minimum of two 2015 sales; some had seven or ten. Here is what we found: (A summary chart is below.)

Porsche’s 356 Speedsters, from 1954 models through 1958, sold 30 times in these 69 auctions. This includes cars freshly restored or original, matching numbers or not, racers with provenance, and one- or two- or three-owner family cars. Average sale price through nine 2012 sales was $267,233. Interestingly, the average price returned so far in our “2015 period” climbed to $329,332. Three sales topped $400,000. We have said this before in this magazine: the good cars sell for good prices.

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For RS 2.7 Carreras, results were consistent among Touring M472 models and Lightweight M471 cars. Lightweights in 2012 averaged $495,000; one sold in Erba in May for $1,118,000; average 2014 prices were $1,402,500. Average Touring prices in 2012 were $284,500. Prices thus far in 2015 have averaged $707,160! The average of six Touring versions shot up, helped by a special, match-number car with ducktail delete that reached $935K. RM in Paris in 2015 tested the waters with a Touring model estimated between $1.0 and 1.4 million. It did not sell.

The 911 Speedsters from 1989 presented a startling growth. A single car sold during the 2012 season, at $110,000 including fees. Four of them changed owners during the “2015 period,” averaging $215,875. (See the next story for a follow up on that 2012-2015 sale.)

Prices for Komfort 959s averaged $478,500 in 2012 and rose to $1,265,000 so far in 2015. The rarer Sport models averaged $1,100,000 in 2012 and in 2015 a single car sold for $1,705,000.

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Carroll Shelby’s 289 and 427 Cobras remained a continuing heartthrob. Through five sales in 2012, the 289 models averaged $836,100, helped by a $1.32M sale for a racer with significant history. Through “2015,” the number had jumped nearly $200,000 with five sales averaging $1,031,344. Bigger displacement worked for Shelby in racing and it has lost no appeal with collectors. Prices across five sales in 2012 averaged $1,021,900, which included a full competition model at $1.485M. Though “2015,” five sales surged to $1,495,500, aided this season by a semi-competition model sale at more than $2.1M.

Ferrari’s 275GTB for some years seemed as it if were the company’s fair-haired stepchild, beloved of drivers but not yet appreciated by collectors, perhaps because the more visible Daytona coupes sold for less; for 275GTB money, collectors could buy a Daytona Spider. In 2012, five GTBs crossed auction platforms, selling for an average $1,183,300 (less than the Daytona Spider). But that has changed as celebrity-owned cars and those with exceptional racing history have straddled the $10M price point, and ultra particular cars – a 1964 275GTB/C Speciale coupe and one of the 10 N.A.R.T. Spyders sold for $26.4M and $27.5M respectively, both at RM Auctions. Two other 275GTB/C models brought $12M at Rick Cole and $9.4M at Bonhams. The remaining six GTB coupes averaged $3,471,250. (Typically, the 1967 GTB/4-cam variations brought 30 to 50 percent higher prices.)

Ferrari’s Daytonas revealed equally predictable growth. Four Spiders sold during 2012, averaging $1,178,250. Three sold during “2015” (including one resale; see next story) and the average price was $3,080,000. Coupes sold 35 times over these 69 auctions, including six times in 2012. These sales averaged $390,708. In “2015” so far, from 11 sales, the average this year is $771,853. We followed both versions because it gives proof to the theory that the Spider’s prices have pulled up the Coupes.

Readjustment

Another auction behavioral truism in this decade is that bidders and buyers are readjusting their ambitions down one tier as prices continue to increase. A very popular Ferrari alternative is the Dino 246 GTS, which puts owners back in an open car. Where Daytonas sold 35 times during this period, the seven auction houses sold 32 GTS Dinos in the same period. The average price of seven sales in 2012 was $292,600. The average of 15 sales so far in 2015 has reached $413,453.

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For those who still can reach for the F40, it’s an exclusive club with only 14 sales during this time. The 2012 average of two sales was $748,000. The ‘”2015” period has been more active and after eight sales, the average has risen to $1,374,408, boosted by a F40LM model at $2.2M.

Lamborghini’s Miura S and SV models continue to inspire. Eighteen of these cars sold during this period and while the SV is the most coveted and most expensive, its performance mirrors the P400S models: Average sale price through 2012 was $932,850. Through 2015, the number is $1,743,400. Lamborghini’s other invention, the Countach, was the only one of the cars we watched that did not fare as well. Fourteen examples sold during this period – and this is the hardest of all these vehicles to characterize because there were so many variations during its long life. Still, 2012 average price came to $660,000. After eight sales in 2015, the average price was $647,253. Described in one auction pre-sale publication as “the quintessential poster car,” it enjoyed a swell in prices from roughly $250,000 to this $600,000 region just before this period started. Does that suggest it has flattened? Well, perhaps. Or it hasn’t begun its next run yet?

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Mercedes-Benz’s venerable 300SL “Gullwing” coupe enjoyed an average sale price for nine cars in 2012 was $988,278; Average for nine cars in our “2015” period was $1,305,506. The roadster price average of eight sales through 2012 was $895,500, while the later period came in a $1,297,267 over 14 sales. The sale price increase is not surprising; what is startling is that this car is not a traditional “poster” candidate. Its timeless style clearly has captured imagination. Rudge wheels, fitted luggage, and fresh restorations appeared on nearly half the descriptions. However, two of the 1955 models were unrestored originals. Two alloy coupes and a single alloy roadster appeared with sale prices between two and three times their steel siblings. In reading the auction house descriptions of these cars, one fact appeared frequently: many of the sellers had owned these cars for 25, 35, or even 40 years. The sales represent the passing on of the guardianship so many collectors talk about.

The New Routine

In a month when Christie’s Auctions sold more than $1 billion worth of artwork during a three-day period, it is clear that investments once thought as non-traditional now are the new routine. As art consultant Abigail Asher said when interviewed in the May 13, 2015 New York Times, just after Christie’s latest auction of the series, “A new class of buyer has entered the market and they’re prepared to pay staggering sums for trophy pictures.” The story’s writer, Scott Reyburn quantified it: “It also reflects the globalized popularity of big-name art as a status symbol, and the increased seriousness with which the worlds 170,000 or more ultra-high-net-worth individuals – those with at least $30 million in cash to spend, by one estimate – take art as an alternative investment.” With the Bonhams sale at Pebble Beach in 2014 of the 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO with significant racing history for $38,115,000, and the previously described RM sales of GTBs approaching $30M, and with 10 of the 16 “poster cars” we have examined in this survey increasing in value by 50 percent or more in just three years, some unique automobiles are nudging some fine art pieces in value. For many collectors there is greater joy in going for an invigorating drive with a friend in their “artwork.” And who among us hasn’t fantasized about owning the car of our dreams and selling it for more than we paid?

Please keep in mind that these are very crude calculations made from a very small sample. The margin of error is substantial. This is not investment-quality advice. Rather it is merely an interesting snapshot of some highly visible collectibles. And that we understand that time and maturity change our tastes.

What is on your wall now?

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Pricing Trends from 2012-2015

Summary 2012 Average 2015 Average Percent of Increase
Porsche 356 Speedster $267,233 $329,322   23%
Porsche 911 RS 2.7 LtWt $495,000 $1,118,000 126%
Porsche 911 RS 2.7 Tour $284,500 $707,160 149%
Porsche 911 Speedster $110,000 $215,875   96%
Porsche 959 $478,500 $1,265,000 164%
Shelby Cobra 289 $836,100 $1,031,344   23%
Shelby Cobra 427 $1,021,900 $1,495,500   46%
Ferrari 275GTB $1,183,300 $3,471,250 193%
Ferrari Daytona Berlinetta $390,708 $771,853   97%
Ferrari Daytona Spider $1,178,250 $3,080,000 161%
Ferrari 246 GTS $292,600 $413,500 41%
Ferrari F40 $748,000 $1,374,408   84%
Lamborghini Miura S, SV $932,850 $1,743,400   87%
Lamborghini Countach $660,000 $647,253   -2%
Mercedes-Benz Gullwing $988,278 $1,305,506 32%
Mercedes-Benz Roadster $895,500 $1,297,267   45%


All photos © 2015 Randy Leffingwell; All rights reserved.

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