Unless you currently reside under a rock at the bottom of a swamp someplace, there’s no doubt that you understand the critical nature of Monterey Car Week. Although, due to its strictly market focused nature, its location on the calendar and the legitimacy of the players involved (I’m not naming names here – or should I say, I’m not naming the name of who I’m leaving out of the “legitimacy” delegation), I’d still pretty firmly consider Scottsdale to be the most important series of stops on the annual collector car marketplace road map. However, Monterey, with its bevy of top tier events, Concours and ultra-premium offerings, remains unmatched in its preponderance from a “lifestyle” standpoint and serves as the primary barometer as to the ultimate heath of the market, for the calendar year.
Also no secret, is my sheer and utter adoration for everything Monterey. I love the energy, the atmosphere, the variety of activities and I love the city of Monterey. It is simply my favorite week of the year, and if you have seen, heard or read basically any Monterey oriented interview I have ever given, you know that nestled right at the beginning of all the madness is unquestionably my personal favorite event of the year: The Carmel Concours on the Ave.
For me, the Carmel Coucours is everything that’s not only great about Monterey, but the collector car lifestyle overall, all laid out on the glorious little stretch of heaven that is Ocean Avenue in Downtown Carmel. Wonderful people, great camaraderie, laid back atmosphere, cute dogs, Donald Osborne’s operatic on mic anecdotals and of course an incredibly diverse offering of extremely well-presented entrants really make Concours on the Ave the ultimate automotive event for me. This year unfortunately, felt a little different.
Nearly from the moment I parked (and subsequently began the six-mile hike, uphill both ways in the snow, that is the right of passage to experiencing Concours on the Ave) it seemed like there was a dark cloud hovering overhead. As I exited my horrendous rental econobox, I was immediately met with a couple screaming at each other about something BMW related in the center of 10th and Camino and the tone for the morning was basically set. Upon arrival, it was clear this wouldn’t be the same event I had grown to love. As I walked up the hill, the general acknowledgement, eye contact, smiles and feeling of excitement didn’t seems as prevalent. Also noticeable, was the highly one-dimensional nature of automotive offerings (I thought Werks Reunion was Friday?) and the all but complete absence of the higher end of the spectrum, which was also exceptionally unusual for this event. Within a few short minutes, it became painfully obvious what was going on: The marketplace was nervous.
This sentiment can certainly be understood. For the past year and a half, every magazine editor, wanna be pundit and self-proclaimed market expert has been warning that the industry was just seconds away from scattering Cirrus, Stratus and Cumulonimbus byproducts down on all of our parades. Hell, even the weird stoner, Santa Claus lookalike dude that works at the 7-11 near my home approached me with genuine concern when wishing me luck, as me and my Uber driver made our ceremonial pre-airport visit prior to hitting the road to Sky Harbor. Point is, there was a lot of forces at play that would lead the even semi casual observer to assume this was the year “the sky was going to fall”.
I’ll admit, I had concerns going in too. Between the variety of collection sales and a few of the higher end “irreplaceable offerings” presented by some of our competitors, I was worried that we were seeing signals of the higher end of the marketplace reevaluating and getting out and that there wasn’t enough air up there, to transfer that kind of weight at this point, in what is unquestionably a transitioning marketplace. I have also become growingly concerned about the stability of some of the traditional, high production “bread and butter” type offerings in the European Sports segment and how they would fair going into their most important week. However, with much less concern I was also very interested in watching the next wave of ultra-collectables and if the market was legitimately ready to make the jump this year and officially embrace these offerings as long term, bankable commodities.
Monterey 2017 by the numbers:
According to the fine work and due diligence preformed at the hands of our friends at Hagerty, we know that Monterey 2017 produced sales results of approximately (I say approximately because who really knows what comes and goes during post sale? – from our perspective it usually works out to about 7%-12% in Monterey depending, but we generally work a little harder and for a little longer after the curtains close than most houses do) $327 million over the four days of auction events, with sell through just below 60% and a median price of about $90,000. These are virtually identical to 2016’s overall results.
So, what to make of this? There were certainly winners and losers this year. I think they reflect, not only an as expected (by the actual experts – who aren’t trying to sell banner ads and increase click through rates), “soft landing” of the current marketplace, but also the beginnings of a smooth generational transition that many were concerned would be exceedingly rocky, or at worse would never come. Bread and butter European sports were indeed down (air cooled 911’s, 190, 230, 280 and to an extent 300 SL’s, anything but the best of the best Series I and Lightweight E-types, etc) and selections from the 80’s and 90’s were up. The Ferrari market, although not the pseudo “mosh pit” that it was a few years, remains the gold standard. A quality Enzo-era car is like owning a Picasso or Rembrandt on wheels. They will always be exceptionally desirable. Premium American Muscle (although obviously limited on the Peninsula) remained stable and the big “Star Cars” largely found new owners at highly encouraging, market correct prices. Once again, Chicken Little didn’t make any new friends this year and I think that speaks directly to the long-term strength of an accurate, stable, realistic market. Bottom line: The world’s admiration of collector cars as works of art and as such investable commodities, although evolving, remains intact.
Advice for Sellers:
Despite what is an increasingly more conservative, buyers oriented marketplace, all hope is not lost. Top level offerings are still producing stellar results. Following a post-boom extravaganza like was experienced in 2014, it is important to understand that presentation and awareness are your greatest assets. The degree of highly (sometimes overly) restored cars likely entering the marketplace will be astounding. Performing 100-point restorations on otherwise average cars become something that increasingly made sense a few years ago to overzealous investors. The turn, today that means that there are A LOT of really nice cars available and thus competition for buyers is fierce. It’s important to not only present well, but to also pay attention to the details. Documentation, documentation, documentation is the name of the game here. Stories don’t bring top level results, a rock solid backbone of proof does. Additionally, special touches like a correct radio, set of tires, or if offering a racecar, making sure everything is in line with the major sanctioning bodies and it’s ready to race before you bring it to market can mean the difference between an average and an exceptional result.
Also, it’s critically important to create awareness for your offering. Quite simply, this means if you know you are going to sell your car, figure out where you are going to do it and get in EARLY. Auction houses spend millions of dollars annually on marketing (Trust me on this one. The sheer volume of stuff we put out per event is why I work an average of 100 + hours a week. It’s absolutely staggering when you put it all on a spreadsheet and stand back and look at it), and you are a fool of you aren’t taking advantage of it. If you don’t have a superstar car, this becomes even more important. Your likelihood of receiving additional exposure is MUCH higher, when there is less competition from the top end, as often becomes reality closer to sale date. Playing games between the auction houses and trying to negotiate quarter percentages off your commission is a waste of everybody’s time. Get in early, get your car seen and get it sold. It really is that simple. Don’t over complicate it. Be a smarter seller and start approaching your sale from a bigger picture perspective instead of nickel and diming yourself on the final result.
With that said, what if you have an air-cooled 911, or a 190 SL or a Series III E-type? The cold hard truth, is that unless it’s your baby (Which why wouldn’t it be? These are all great cars!) it’s probably time to begin preparing to sell in either Scottsdale, Amelia Island, or 2018’s Monterey Car Week. Pick your sale, get your car as ready as possible, to the highest level possible and take advantage of early marketing. I firmly believe that none of these cars have hit their low point yet, but it’s coming (especially on 911’s. Jags have a little more time as they possess the designation of “the world’s most beautiful car”), the point is to act now. With cars like this don’t waste your time at a Midwest, or one-off Texas or Colorado, or some random type sale somewhere. Go where the buyers are and pick a destination location for your sale. You want to sell in Scottsdale, Amelia, or Monterey. End of story.
Advice for Buyers:
If you have ever wanted to buy your dream car, in really great, ready to go condition, you’re in luck! This is the market for you! Are you looking to invest in something, that makes your heart thump every time you look at it, that will likely produce stronger than average returns? You are in luck! This is also the market for you! Transitional markets like the one we are currently entering possess enormous opportunities for a variety of buyers and you don’t want to be left behind.
Nostalgic and/or bucket list buyers (my Dad for example, who has dreamed of 911 ownership basically his entire life) have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for the madness of 2014 to subside and prices to come back into the grasp of mere mortals again for some time and now, we are coming back into that time. As stated above, people went bonkers with their restorations and that means great cars, impeccably restored, going for less than the prices of said restorations in many cases. If you are the guy or gal that’s been sitting back staring at a poster for the last 30-40 years, it’s time to turn that piece of paper into something you can drive and I recommend that you do it soon. The nicest examples will undoubtedly come from the most sophisticated owners, and they are more likely to hit the market first. From a longer-term perspective, those are the cars you want to buy. They will provide a much more rewarding ownership experience and will likely cost you much less money down the road than a number 3 or number 4 car will.
For investors, this is an equally exciting time. Entering into a transitional market means there are plenty of examples of collectible steel that have yet to fully take flight. Just sold your soft window 911 or Series I E-type? Turn that around, make that money continue to work for you and put it into a well maintained, well documented Testarossa, or put a little extra in and get a Countach! Even consider a couple of 308s or 328s, a Turbo V8 Lotus Esprit (HUGE upside with very little risk from my perspective there), or a good, low production 964 or 993 Porsche. For the more aggressive investor consider something with a little more “Hipster appeal” like a 105/115 Alfa, or a DeLorean. Check your kids Instagram pages. That’s what all the cool guy internet influencers are in to right now.
Let’s also not forget that a highly underappreciated, yet very clear shift is not far off the horizon. The video game generation is coming and thanks to games like Gran Turismo, Need for Speed and Forza, they have a fabulous appreciation for specialty automobiles. Cars like the Acura NSX, Toyota Supra and FD RX-7 are high on this generations list of desirables. Muscle cars also provide a lot of financial safety here (for reasons I’ll discuss in a future post, directed solely at video games and their future impact on the collector car market at some point). Looking to go all in? Get yourself some warehouse space in Osaka and start stockpiling R34 Skylines. For this generation, that is the Bullit Mustang, the Hemi ‘Cuda and the James Dean 550 all rolled into one. The feeding frenzy on R34’s once the gray law smoke clears will undoubtedly be epic. If you have the means to acquire and store them now, the returns will certainly be handsome.
So, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here, but the reality remains that Monterey 2017 was hardly the end of days that virtually every dime store automotive “expert” out there was in some capacity dying to break and there are plenty of things to be excited about moving forward. It’s important to understand that the collector car market is just like art, or pork bellies, or precious metals or anything else. The key to being successful is recognizing that the market is like a living breathing thing. It changes throughout its lifecycle and that’s ultimately where winners and losers are made. Those that are observant to cultural changes, as well as basic supply and demand curves are those best suited to stay on top. I think if we’ve learned anything from Monterey 2017 it’s that more than ever, this is holding true. Is Chicken Little correct on any level? Sure. He always is. I on the other hand would rather take his advice with a grain of salt, add a little pepper and have him for Sunday dinner.
Darin Roberge is President and CEO of Motorwerks Marketing and is a Marketing and Media Consultant in the Specialty Automotive and Live Events industries. Darin has been named a Business Trendsetter by Arizona Foothills Magazine, is a two-time nominee to Phoenix Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list and is one of Sports Car Market Magazine’s 40 Under 40 for 2017. Learn more about Darin at www.DarinRoberge.com