Market Finds: What Does The Collector Car Market Look Like After The 2016 Arizona Auctions?

What Does The Collector Car Market Look Like After The 2016 Arizona Auctions?

By Benjamin Shahrabani
February 2, 2016

Photography Courtesy of RM Sotheby’sGooding & Company, & Bonhams

Note: The images in this article are the Arizona best sellers, ordered from #1–10

Taking place early in the year, Scottsdale is looked to by many as a barometer of the state of the collector car market. Now, as the auction tents are being dismantled, exhausted enthusiasts journey home, and transport trucks haul away millions of dollars of precious cargo, it seems like a good time as any to conduct a post-mortem on the 2016 edition of the event.

$251-million changed hands with the help of the auctioneers from the major auction companies after a full week of sales: Barrett-Jackson, RM Sotheby’s, Gooding, Russo & Steele, and Bonhams. But while impressive, this is a 15% pullback from 2015, when almost $293-million in sales were reported. Average sale prices suffered an almost corresponding amount as well, to just over $100,000 from almost $115,000. What happened?

One major event that cannot have escaped notice just before Scottsdale this year was the stock market pullback. Based partly on fears about China’s economy, and dropping oil prices, the Dow Jones plunged almost two-thousand points in the month of January. Certainly not good news if you were planning to buy a collector car, as you might be feeling less flush. Along the same lines, overseas buyers weren’t out in the Arizona sun as in past years. With economic woes of their own, and the Euro hovering somewhere between $1.07-1.09 Usd. to 1 Euro, cars purchased in dollars may quickly become overpriced for those bidding from the EU.

While global economic troubles hung in the air, the cars that were available for sale play into the end result. While 80% of cars did sell—and Barrett-Jackson’s “no reserve” format helps mightily with this percentage—it is still a drop from the 85% sold last year, and many cars that did sell fell short of their estimates by quite a distance if they were cut loose.

Looking at this, one might conclude another set of factors at play. First, that the estimates were too ambitious, and set too high. Many cars were bid to amounts that would have purchased them but six to nine months ago. Second, we have finally realized the overheated market after steady expansion and rising prices as many pundits were musing about. Third, a new overall Arizona auction record aside, perhaps the overall quality of the cars was not as inspiring as previous years; owners have seen the high selling prices and are coming out of the woodwork, and bringing less choice examples to market. This all suggests sellers are still optimistic, but that buyers aren’t as bullish that prices are going to continue to rise.

If it all sounds like doom and gloom, it isn’t.

The market is maturing, and buyers are becoming more astute and educated: and that is good. Several cars set new records, reminding us that quality will always be sought after, and the pre-war market showed significant signs of life.

Cars missing their estimates also mean there should be some good buys out there for those who are patient and willing to do a bit of legwork. And let’s not forget that our hobby is much bigger than the auctions: 95% of collector cars are bought and sold elsewhere, besides auctions. The next few months should be telling about the true direction of the collector car market. Was this just a blip, or a trend? Rétromobile in Paris, France will be taking place, so we will be able to take another reading then.

Until that time, listed below are the top 10 results across all auctions at Scottsdale. These numbers include the appropriate buyer’s premiums, and serve as a reminder that blue-chip collectables are still hot:

  1. 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster by Sindelfingen:
  2. 1950 Ferrari 166 MM/195 S Berlinetta Le Mans:
  3. 1960 Ferrari 330 GTC Speciale:
  4. 1929 Duesenberg Model J Disappearing Top Torpedo Convertible Coupe by Murphy:
  5. 2003 Ferrari Enzo:
  6. 1929 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton:
  7. 1995 Ferrari F50:
  8. 1965 Shelby 427 Competition Cobra:
  9. 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB by Scaglietti:
  10. 2015 McLaren P1:

What are your predictions for the collector car market year ahead? Please share them with us below.

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Bruno Lovrinov
Bruno Lovrinov
8 years ago

Too bad manual GT3 RS are still getting more and more expensive 🙁

Ben Deneweth
Ben Deneweth
8 years ago

I think there’s a few issues at play here. First I think that the Mecum Kissimmee Auction this year the week before was bigger and drew more big time cars than it did in the past. It would be interesting to see a YOY comparison on $ sold for that auction and see if that plugs some of the gap seen in Arizona.

Secondly, I think B-J had trouble filling their Saturday catalog with the unrelenting onslaught of mid six figure cars that they used to. There were several primetime Saturday cars selling in the $50k-$150k range. You didn’t used to see that. I think B-J was up as a whole due to volume and the rising tides of 80’s cars (for example a few years ago there were no $50k 2nd Gen Trans Ams, $30k 3rd Gen Camaros, or $80k Grand Nationals) and of restored trucks (the fact that some restored trucks are approaching six figures is mind boggling). B-J didn’t have to accept as much 4-figure crap as they have had to in the past, but also got fewer heavy hitters.

Brad Du Coing
Brad Du Coing
8 years ago

Well said review,but I also think the market has gone up way to fast in to short of time in the last few years. To me the market needs this (more realistic prices).

Matthew Lange
8 years ago

I pretty much agree with your assessment and well done for mentioning exchange rates which are often overlooking in these market reviews.

I would add I think a lot of sellers who saw a record price for certain models in 2014/15 and assumed their own car was worth the same might have gotten a wake up call. look at the price variance between the Daytona sold at Bonhams vs the two sold at RM. Buyers are being more choosy and only paying the premiums for the ‘show ponies’ not the driver or lower quality cars.

Eric Atoian
Eric Atoian
8 years ago

This is when your $60M Ferrari erodes down to $46M. The market has spoken.

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