Collectible Cars Are No Joke. Just Ask Jerry Seinfeld

After a feverish runup in sales collectible car owners worried the market had topped, but celebrity sales like Seinfeld’s Porsches proved them wrong

A 1967 Ferrari valued at $1.3 million. A 1967 Ferrari valued at $1.3 million.

Porsche. There is no substitute.

That immortal marketing line used in the classic 1980s movie Risky Business rings even truer today in both the gearhead and car collector worlds. At the Amelia Island Auction in Florida on March 12, comedian Jerry Seinfeld parted with 16 of his treasured Porsches for a total of more than $22 million.

Mathiew Heurtault, Courtesy of Gooding & Co.

Some highlights: His blue 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder (above, photo by Mathieu Heurtault, courtesy of Gooding & Co.) went for $5.3 million, the 1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder went for $3 million, and the 1974 911 Carrera 30.0 IROC RSR Coupe sold for $2.3 million.

Prior to the auction, Seinfeld said he had never bought a car as an investment. “I don’t really even think of myself as a collector," Seinfeld said in a statement. "I just love cars. And I still love these cars. But it’s time to send some of them back into the world, for someone else to enjoy, as I have.”

The iconic comic definitely put a smile on the face of the new owners, as well as some jingle into his own pocket.

Seinfeld wasn’t the only big draw at the auction, nor was his the only big take.

Ferrari 250 GT Spyder (by Mathiew Heurtault, courtesy of Gooding & Co.)

A red 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California SWB Spyder (above, photo by Mathieu Heurtault, courtesy of Gooding & Co.) sold for $17.2 million, a 1937 Bugatti Type 57 SC Sports Tourer sold for $9.7 million and a 1931 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Convertible Coupe went for $2.6 million.

Total sales at the Amelia Island Auction were $134 million, with a sell-through rate of 65% and an average sale price of $437,834. The 2015 Amelia Island Auction brought in $115 million, with an 87% sell-through rate and average price of $324,466. This was a good year, showing a healthy market in collectible cars overall and Porsches in particular.

Some collectors were cautious before the auction because of what they called a “feverish run-up” of collectible car prices the last few years and felt the market had plateaued.

“There wasn’t a lot of discretion,” says Reid Bertolotti, whose family has been collecting cars for three generations. He’s echoed by others who say that those who purchased overpriced, less desirable cars the last few years would feel the resale pain most.

After the Amelia Island Auction, Bertolotti noted: “The market certainly appears to be strong for the right cars. The prices obtained, both low and high, were warranted based on the overall quality and integrity of the cars. I also think there were premiums placed on some of the Seinfeld cars based on his ownership.”

Most likely he’s right. One of the aspects that goes into pricing a collectible car is its provenance, or history of ownership, including how many owners it has had, who those owners were and even if the car was raced. Tyler Gagnon, whose firm Gooding & Co. handled the Seinfeld sales, says those sales set five world records.

Alain Squindo, chief operating officer of RM Sotheby’s, notes, “What really makes a car collectible is its marquee (brand), originality/condition and provenance…. Knowing a car’s complete history, along with having the factory-issued paperwork or original documentation to back it, can certainly add value.”

Squindo says marquees with a famous heritage such as Ferrari and Porsche are sought after most by collectors. “Low production numbers and survival rates can also positively impact values and determine collectability,” says Squindo. “Fewer than 100 produced is good, fewer than 50 is even better.” Even more desirable is a rare “fresh-to-market” car that comes out of long-term care, says Squindo.

Calvin Kohli, a collector and independent dealer in Florida, says, “Porsches are always in huge demand, especially the older models since they can be driven like a daily car. Even the ones with slightly higher mileage tend to maintain value versus Ferraris, which need to be maintained with much lower mileage.”

Porches and Ferraris are his top two cars for collectibles, followed by vintage Mercedes Benz.

Squindo agrees that Porsches are “very well respected, and often times, more accessible,” but notes that their prices can fluctuate and some models are more desirable than others.

“The best of the best 911s, which count rare, air-cooled, limited production examples such as the 993 GT2 and 993 Turbo S, remain very attractive and are commanding strong prices at auction," says Squindo. At the Amelia Island Auction, RM Sotheby’s sold a 1997 Porsche 911 Turbo S, one of just 193 produced for the U.S. market, for $495,000.

That said, collectors do have a preference for models, but all believe they are  “pieces of art,” says Rick DiNapoli, a collector in California who has Porsche 356s. Why? “The beauty of it,” he says. “Beautiful with curved lines. Works of art.”

“It’s like a piece of art except in a mechanical form,” says Kohli. “Collectible cars are a global phenomenon so the values can maintain and grow with time.”

Gagnon recommends that collectors “buy what you love. Don’t worry about it as an investment. If it goes up [in price], great, but a car is something you can always take out and enjoy; it’s something tangible.”

Squindo agrees and recommends that potential buyers do their homework, research on the internet, talk to car club members and get to understand the value of the cars they’re interested in. Then “purchase the best example you can afford within its class.”

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