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2012 Market Summary: ‘The collector car market is back’

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Rob Sass

Hagerty

December 19, 2012

It should come as no surprise that the collector car hobby will finish 2012 in much the same place as it began — in a very good spot.

With the addition of Bonhams to the Scottsdale Auction scene and the return of Barrett-Jackson as a viable place to sell million-dollar-plus cars, Scottsdale did a record $185 million in sales. And even that figure pales in comparison to Monterey in August, where more than $260 million in cars changed hands. Other big stories in 2012 were Mecum’s definitive emergence as a force to be reckoned with (particularly in its mega sales in Indianapolis and Kissimmee) and RM’s continued success with its Auction’s America subsidiary.

To the average classic car owner, these mind-numbing auction numbers have considerably less meaning — at least on the surface. Unlike 2010 and 2011, when the collector car market began to wake up from the recession-induced correction, these numbers aren’t just coming at the very top of the market. From the expensive to the entry-level, the collector car market is back. A large percentage of the makes and models followed by Hagerty Valuation Tools are trading at or above their late 2007 peak levels. Even the muscle car market (which was the hardest hit) is looking strong again in ways that look far more rational than in 2007.

But the biggest story of 2012 is likely the degree of strength and interest in the bottom of the market. Cars that seemed like they’d be cheap forever simply aren’t anymore, as anyone who has been in the market for a nice second-generation Corvair or a 5.0-liter Fox body Mustang convertible can attest. The sub-$5,000 cars have simply disappeared.

Barring the direst predictions about the fiscal cliff or a conflict in the Middle East spinning out of control, 2013 should pick up right where 2012 left off. And while the above spells good news for sellers or those who bought in 2008-2010, it will make life tougher on buyers at all price points. Finding a bargain in 2013 may be difficult indeed.

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There seems to be a general consensus that "a rising tide lifts all boats." So when the upper echelon cars get more expensive, so do the ones at lower price points. But I think it only goes so far, since the extremely wealthy aren't as affected by ups and downs in the economy; their substantial wealth is already in the bank, so to speak. For others, who have to work to make the dollars they would like to invest in the car market, the perception of the anticipated rise or fall of the economy in general does color their ability and willingness to spend money on collector cars. It pretty much has to.

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