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.
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.
(Editors 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 didnt have any time to upload or write anything new
(youve probably also noticed that work on the car has temporarily stalled. Not to
worry, its 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? Ill 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. Im 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 dont cause any blips on any of our
radarstheyre more of a curiosity: just how high will they go? But
theres 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
Im 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 Im interested in, the big Classics and especially Packards,
have their values dropping like stones. When a car like this freshly-restored 1929 Packard
sedan cant break $50K, and a '33 coupe/roadster goes for only $70,000, I know good
times are just ahead for me. Ill have my Packard before Im 40, and it
wont be a 120 or a Clipper, either. Even some of the mighty V12s are well under six
figures (well, not the convertibles, but theyre 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, its 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 grandmas
similar-looking grocery-getter with a 318 is now a major collectors item and price
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
brothers wasted slant six-powered beater. Sometimes they even make up histories of
the cars, like a certain infamous Florida collector car dealer who
I'd happily pay $47,000 for a car like this.
Or $70,000 for this one.
|claims his cobbled-up 1959/60 Cadillac convertible (its 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
ownerhe 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 marketa 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
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.
E-mail me at email@example.com
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Last modified on 03/12/2006