The Future of the Collector Car Hobby

Picture of a bright red 1939 AC 16-80 Competition RoadsterA hot topic of conversation at all the collector car club meetings I have attended lately is the lack of young new members. I hear questions like, “Where are they? Why are they not interested? Are they too busy with their cell phones and social media to care?” “Maybe, in their eyes  it’s just not cool to have a collector car… perhaps they don’t know anything about cars… or maybe they just can’t afford them?”

Every club I am associated with wants to recruit young people. They are trying to entice them with discounted or free memberships, mentoring programs, car giveaways, and automotive related scholarships. Also, existing members are encouraged to “Take a young person to a car show.” “Give a young person a ride in your classic car.” and “Teach a young person about your car.” Membership drives are now at the forefront of club activities.

I think the issue is that aging baby boomer car collectors are worried that without younger people joining the ranks their hobby will die. Most are concerned about what will become of their prized automobiles when they can no longer care for them. These collectors genuinely love their cars. For others, it’s about the possibility of falling market values as the number of people vying to buy their vehicles dwindle.

I’d like to make a distinction between what I call a car collector and a car investor.

A car collector collects cars for the enjoyment of the entire experience. They love finding, buying, restoring, driving, and showing their cars. They also like the social aspect and the comradery that goes along with the hobby. The idea that the car might appreciate in value is a secondary consideration.

A car investor collects cars for their monetary appreciation potential. They are in it for what they can make out of the deal. And why not? The value of classic cars has outperformed collectibles such as gold, wine, art, stamps, and coins over the last 10 years according to the Historic Automobile Group Index (HAGI). This index tracks the financial performance of 50 rare and exotic classic cars.

I’d also like to make a distinction between what I call your average car collector and those who have reached stratospheric levels of car collecting.

Your average car collector has a few cars, maybe as many as 5 or so that he/she keeps in their own garages. They are the main caretaker of the collection and do most of their own maintenance. I’m not saying they do all the work such as a full restoration or rebuilding the engine, but they personally manage the projects that they cannot or do not want to do themselves.

Your stratospheric level of car collector has 20, 30, 50, 100 plus automobiles kept in off-site garages and warehouses. They need a caretaker or curator to manage the maintenance and upkeep of their collection. I don’t need to tell you how this can get real expensive in a hurry. The purchase price of the vehicle is just the beginning.

I’m what I call your average car collector. I collect cars for my own personal enjoyment. I don’t care if they appreciate or not. I do all of my own restoration and maintenance, and I would never think of having someone else work on my cars. In fact, it’s working on the cars that I enjoy the most.

Throughout the year I attend as many car events as possible. You could find me at a local car show, at Cars and Coffee, a major auction, an AACA National Meet, a Concours d’Elegance, an auto museum, or at an automotive trade show just to name a few. I can tell you that lately they have all been very well attended.

The interest in car shows and car collecting is very strong right now. In fact, I can’t remember a time when the interest and exposure was greater than it is today. Look at the attention the major auctions have generated in recent years. Most of them are shown on cable TV, and some are streamed online around the world. You can bid by phone or on the internet if you can’t make it there in person. One thing is for sure, if people weren’t watching, and advertisers and promoters weren’t making money these shows wouldn’t exist.

Have you noticed the hammer prices for some of the rarest and most desirable collector cars sold at auction lately? How about 21.78 million for a 1955 Jaguar D-type Ecurie Ecosse racer, or 19.8 million for a 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider, or 18.15 million for a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Competizione Spyder. Seriously, for a car? OK, granted these are the cream of the crop. Let’s take a look at the averages from the Monterey auctions where those cars were sold last year. According to Sports Car Market magazine, there were 769 cars sold for $343,359,956 for an average price of $446,502 per vehicle. That is down slightly from 2015 where 860 cars were sold for $396,732,789 for an average price of $461,317 per vehicle.

Looking at the early market indications for 2017, again according to Sports Car Market magazine, the preliminary sales from the Arizona Auction Week show drops at some auctions despite an increase of 3% in total sales – $259.4 million, up from $251.8 million last year. To quote Hagerty, “But as we predicted, 2017 was one of the strongest Scottsdale Auction Weeks yet seen. The second biggest week in Scottsdale history to be exact.”

These sale prices reaffirm the strength of the collector car market, and the attendance I see at all the  related events available today reflect the popularity of the collector car hobby. I’ve been playing with cars my entire life and I believe that car collecting has never been hotter than it is right now.

However, as I look through the crowd, I don’t see many young people. There are a few here and there, but it’s hard to find them. In part two of this article I am going to look for these “young people” and get their opinion about where they think this hobby is headed.

I value your comments, suggestions, and opinions. Please leave a comment below.

It’s all about the car!

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    2 Responses to The Future of the Collector Car Hobby

    1. Bill Cox March 6, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

      Richard,
      Great Article!!! I sometimes think that the younger generation is put off by the rising prices of the older collectible cars and those of us that own those older collectible cars push away the younger generations by excluding the cars that they find to be of interest since they are not prior to say 1980.. so it’s a lose/lose relationship.. It’ll be interesting to review the findings from your Part II segment of this Article..

      Thanks,
      BillyC.

      • Richard Horton March 7, 2017 at 9:24 pm #

        Hi Bill,

        I hear a lot of different opinions on this topic. Right now I am interviewing a cross section of age groups to find the general consensus regarding the future of this hobby. Of course I’ll put my two cents in at the end of this series! You mentioned the car prices, do you think the run-up is sustainable? I’ll be writing an article on that in the near future……

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