Low inventories and high prices are depressing sales of new cars and trucks, but in the world of collectibles, too tony to sport stickers and attract customers with deep pockets and a deeper love of vehicles as art, the market reached near record levels in 2021.
“It’s probably one of the top two or three years of all time,” Gord Duff, Global Head of Auctions for RM Sotheby’s, the world’s largest collector car auction house by total sales told Forbes.com.
For 2021 RM Sotheby’s reported $406.57 million in total auction sales and “in excess” of $150 million in private sales, more than double those in 2020.
The auction house’s boffo year started with an appointment-only, live event last January in Scottsdale, Arizona booking just over $35 million in sales moving 90% of the lots.
Relatively small change compared to how things escalated In Monterey, Calif. last August, where RM Sotheby’s grossed $148,528,300 in total sales with a 90% sell-through rate—its biggest event of the year.
“The prices were just unbelievable,” said Duff. “There were some you would never guess they would bring in that kind of money. People were just interested in buying cars.”
Talk about “unbelievable” prices. The star of that event was the the Paul Andrews Estate Collection led by a 1962 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato, which sold for a whopping $9,520,000.
“It’s the ultimate Aston Martin. If you’re looking for most desirable, most special road-going Aston that’s the car. They don’t come up often for sale publicly. When you have every other Aston that’s the one you want. That’s the best,” Duff said.
As further testament to the appetite, and willingness among collectors to pay stratospheric prices for a unique collectible, Duff becomes animated relating the sale of what he termed “an incredible one-off” in a unique setting—a Formula 1 race-winning 2010 McLaren MP4-25A, chassis no. 01 driven by Lewis Hamilton.
“We did it right after practice at the Formula 1 track in the U.K. in front of 140,000 people live and we had the car racing around the track as we auctioned it off,” recalled Duff. “I believe it brought a world record for a McLaren Formula 1 car— 4.5 million pounds. That was something no other company has done, selling a car while it was driving around the track.”
Why the spike in sales and prices of collectible vehicles? Like many things these days the Covid-19 pandemic played a role—for one, moving what were traditionally in-person events, such as car auctions, to mainly online events, making it convenient to participate without traveling.
“A lot of people are sitting at home and had nothing else to do,” surmised Duff. “Just like people buying homes or renovating places they have, they had extra cash because they’re not traveling, they’ve got more attention around home.”
However, one doesn’t decide to spend millions on a single vehicle merely because they’re bored. Duff estimates 90% of buyers are not necessarily speculators, but rather enthusiasts who consider certain vehicles objects of art like sculptures or paintings. At the same time, they can be sound investments for those with patience and financial resources.
“Just like stocks there are ups and downs in the collector car market but I think there are specific areas you can look at that you can feel safe putting your money and if you’re willing to be in it for the long haul so to speak there definitely are good investments for you but you need to find storage and you need to insure them and if you’re not driving them,” Duff explained.
For those who want to jump into the collectible car market but don’t want to own an actual vehicle, RM Sotheby’s is going crypto.
The Blenheim, Ontario, Canada-based company has entered a partnership with BitPay, a major provider of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency payment services, which saw RMS begin accepting cryptocurrency payments in November.
It is also partnering with NFT PRO, a company that deals with non-fungible token (NFT) and blockchain services provision, leading RM Sotheby’s to enter into a number of new collaborations to mint NFTs for its clients. The first announcement will come in January regarding a project for its upcoming auction in Arizona.
“It’s a direction the market is going and we want to be one of the first people in the collector car business that is getting into it as well,” Duff said.
Looking into the future, the question comes up as to whether electric vehicles will eventually become sought-after collectibles. The answer—they already are, but not carrying Tesla
“They had electric vehicles in early 1900s. We’ve sold some of them,” said Duff. “They’re actually, funny enough, coming back into favor a little bit where people are out looking for specific Detroit electrics or Columbia. It will be interesting to see where our market goes in another 10-15 years. But I think there will always be a passion and love and desire for all things that need gas.”