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Spinning My Tires   is one man's view of the world of cars. Random thoughts, ideas and comments pop up here, all of them related to owning, driving and restoring cars. I've been doing this car thing as long as I can remember, and have enjoyed a great many car-related experiences, some of which I hope to share with you here. And I always have an opinion one way or another. Enjoy.

E-mails are welcomed--if you have thoughts of your own to share, please send them.

Additional Spinning My Tires editorials can be found on the Archives page.


(Editor’s note: I actually had this issue of “Spinning My Tires” ready to go for February, but since everyone else was writing their rants about the auctions at that time, I decided to hold off. In addition, because of personal and professional woes, I just didn’t have any time to upload or write anything new (you’ve probably also noticed that work on the car has temporarily stalled. Not to worry, it’s temporary). So here it is, better late than never, right?)

My Auction Rant (just like everyone else's)

Are all these auctions good for our hobby? I’ll admit that I really enjoy watching the Barrett-Jackson auction on TV each year and have my buddies over. We treat it like a Super Bowl party and make it last all day. I’m the guy who invented the Barrett-Jackson drinking game, too. Sometimes we laugh at the doofus who paid way, way too much for an Amphicar, sometimes we agree that someone got a decent deal. The million-plus dollar cars don’t cause any blips on any of our radars—they’re more of a curiosity: just how high will they go? But there’s that fat middle section, the five-figure cars, where I think a lot of damage is being done to regular Joes in the hobby.

There's a part of me that says exposure to the old car world will attract new hobbyists and another part that says it discourages people because of the apparent costs involved. Is this good or bad? If it keeps people out, that means more great cars for me! But if nobody else is playing the game, it kind of stinks to be the owner of the ball. I try to remind myself that these auctions are not a complete reflection of our hobby, but only a small part of it.

However, I will say up front that I’m really glad you Baby Boomers are going nuts for the muscle cars right now, because I have exactly zero interest in them. My 5.0L Mustang is a lot faster than the baddest factory 427 or Hemi and goes around corners with the A/C on, too. So enjoy your big-dollar muscle cars and collecting them like kids collecting and trading baseball cards. Just be sure to ask the Ferrari guys what happens when prices get out of control.

Anyway, the reason I say this is because the cars I’m interested in, the big Classics and especially Packards, have their values dropping like stones. When a car like this freshly-restored 1929 Packard sedan can’t break $50K, and a '33 coupe/roadster goes for only $70,000, I know good times are just ahead for me. I’ll have my Packard before I’m 40, and it won’t be a 120 or a Clipper, either. Even some of the mighty V12s are well under six figures (well, not the convertibles, but they’re not a quarter-million bucks anymore, either). Maybe it's a little unfortunate for their current owners, but ripe picking for the next generation of these cars' caretakers.

Depending on your perspective, this evolution of the “majority” of the hobby can be good or bad. As I pointed out above, it’s good for guys like me who can benefit from cars that are losing popularity. But what about guys who do lust after a Camaro Z/28 or a Boss 302 Mustang? The prices are getting nuts on these, sorry guys, garden-variety cars. Because of the huge dollars paid for the unique ones, say a white Plymouth Belvadere post sedan (albeit with a Hemi), everyone thinks grandma’s similar-looking grocery-getter with a 318 is now a major collector’s item and price them accordingly.

Worse yet, these prices encourage fraud. Muscle cars are just so darned easy to fake because they literally made millions of them. An unscrupulous seller and a talented restorer can make a numbers-matching Hemi ‘Cuda out of your brother’s wasted slant six-powered beater. Sometimes they even make up histories of the cars, like a certain infamous Florida collector car dealer who

2005BJCCA2_407_34.jpg (784048 bytes)
I'd happily pay $47,000 for a car like this.

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Or $70,000 for this one.

claims his cobbled-up 1959/60 Cadillac convertible (it’s a ’59 with a ’60 body on it) was a prototype GM Motorama car. He spent a good amount of money restoring the car, even going so far as to install a vintage TV in the dash like the show car. Fortunately, the clever and meticulous guys at the Cadillac-LaSalle Club called him on it and nobody lost their shirt (except for the owner—he ended up buying his own car back at the auction and paying both the buyer's and seller's premiums on about $60K).

Is this the direction our hobby is headed? A playground for really rich guys who view grabbing an old car as another alternative to golf clubs or a speedboat? Is it just a place where being seen spending a wad of cash is more important that what you get for your money?

I'm afraid that the day of owning, driving and actually working on these cars well and truly gone, replaced by a manufactured environment designed to pull every last dollar out of every attendee. I'm highly amused by the phenomenon of the crowds cheering at these events, egging people on to pay more and more for the cars, as if they're cheering for their favorite slugger to bang one out of the park. And the absolutely brilliant marketing minds at Barrett-Jackson figured out that if they put their name on something (remember, they're just an auction company) and call it a "limited edition," the value practically doubles. Nobody can say why except maybe that P.T. Barnum was right.

My opinion is that these guys are buying "investments" at the very top of the market. These prices just can't keep going up. There are "blue chip" cars such as the 300SL "Gullwing" Mercedes that always seem to worth about the same relative to the market—a lot, but not ridiculous numbers and always consistent. The muscle cars have owners that paid a big pile of money for them, then will be wiped out when the market corrects. This year's sales are, I'm guessing, the top of the market or very near to it. We'll see how many enter the market next summer.

In the short term, yeah, it might hurt the little guys like us Joes. Prices will be artifically inflated for every clunker out there. But the market always self-corrects. There's a big scramble now to react to last year's trends (fake Hemis, Lincoln Zephyr rods, etc.), and by next year, that trend will already be over and the market will be flooded with has-been cars that were created just for that moment in the marketplace. You can already see the momentum leaking from the Hemi bandwagon. The market will be ruined by guys trying to get a quick cash-in on their investment, and values will drop. And sooner or later, every single one of these guys will have that same, dark moment: "I paid how much for what?!?"

This, too, shall pass. It always does. Just ask the guys who bought Ferrari 330s for $1.5 million in 1987 and are now watching them trade hands for $65,000. It won't last. It can't.

To be sure, the auctions bring out some really spectacular hardware. Seeing GM prototype cars in the flesh is a thrill, and the all-original cars with absurdly low miles are always interesting to speculate on their history. The restorations are astonishingly good in most cases, and if you do buy a car at one of these auctions, you're probably getting a very good product. But that doesn't equal value if you overpay for it just because you can or to grab your moment of celebrity.

I also realize that there are a lot of cars being sold that are probably good bargains. I wish we could see those cars on TV, because that might give us a better idea of what's actually going on at these auctions and do a lot to diffuse the growing anxiety that collectors have about these prices. Plus, how many red, mid-year, big block Corvette roadsters do we really need to see to get an idea of what the car is worth? Jeez, if I never see another one again, it'll be too soon (fortunately, they all seem to be making the auction circuit full-time, with each owner trying to make a few bucks by immediately auctioning it off to the next sucker, so they're easy to avoid). Maybe the logistics prevent it or the broadcasters don't think there's much interest in cars selling for $20-40K. I think they're wrong.

So enjoy the auctions, but remember (and remind your friends) that it's not the real world. Hold on to the belief that there are still affordable hobby cars out there (because there are!) and don't let people get carried away. Some won't listen to common sense and you didn't want to buy their car anyway. But if we, the core of the hobby, the Average Joes, band together and stake out our marketplace, I think the hobby has a bright future.

See you next month.

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Last modified on 03/12/2006

Thanks, Fidget!