Rare car sales have skyrocketed, thanks to a pandemic-fuelled shortage of vehicles worldwide and a surge in discretionary spending.

By JAMES JENNINGS

THE DESIRE TO collect and possess things of beauty is a very human urge — one that’s as old as civilisation itself. With recent lockdowns and travel largely off the cards, the past two years have seen an accumulation of disposable income, resulting in a boom in high-end purchases, from yachts, private jets, jewellery, fashion and, of course, luxury cars.

Wait times for new cars have stretched out to 12 months or longer, partly due to Covid-related supply chain issues. Many buyers have resorted to paying top dollar for second-hand cars.

Across the world, recent sales of rare cars and motorcycles have smashed records. In May this year, a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé sold for more than €135 million [$AU203 million] at an auction at the Mercedes-Benz Museum and archive in Stuttgart, Germany. One of only two ever made, the eye-watering price tag achieved for that rare beauty was triple the previous record for the sale of a single collectable car: the $US48.4 million [$AU66 million] fetched at an RM Sotheby’s auction in 2018 for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. “That sale gives you a good idea where the top of the market is,” says Jeremy Best of Sydney’s The Best Car Company, which specialises in classic British and European cars.

“With these older cars, there really is a finite supply. They don’t wax and wane in their value much, and good examples are always good investments.”

“I recently sold a 1973 Ferrari 246 GTS Dino, which we looked after for the previous owner for about 10 years. It was maintained really well, because he used it very much like a second car, driving to work, things like that. We sold that car for $650,000.”

The recent surge in demand for rare cars could be partially explained by pandemic-era “YOLO” (you only live once) buying. As the thinking goes: there’s no point putting off those big purchases you’ve always wanted to make, because you never know what’s around the corner.

“During Covid, a lot of the models that were already very desirable, like the 997 Porsche, got to such a high price point that it had a positive effect on other, previously less-desirable models,” says David Nankervis, co-founder of Australian-based online automotive auction platform Trading Garage. “The 996 Porsche, which was the generation before the 997, was not always viewed as favourably as it is now, coming out of Covid,” he says. “As another example, we’ve got a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S in a manual coupé that’s about to start for auction. Previously those were $40,000 to $50,000 cars, but they’re easily more than double that now.”

Matthew Stoupas of ThePorschaDen, a second-hand Porsche dealership in Melbourne’s Armadale, says he’s enjoyed incredible and sustained interest from people wanting to buy the classic and sporty German brand of late. “At the top end — I’m talking $1 million and $2 million cars such as the Carrera RS, beautiful old 356 Speedsters — all the old, collectable Porsches are selling easily and quickly,” he says. “I’ve always said there are enough people in Australia with money that if the car that they’ve wanted for 15 years comes up, and they haven’t been able to get it [in the past] because there are only five or six in the country, they’ll buy it.”

Stoupas says the other issue driving interest in older Porsches is that “you can’t buy a new Porsche at the moment — I mean, literally: they’re saying you’ll have to wait till 2025 to get a new car”.

Scarcity due to limited production numbers is not the only thing driving the desirability of collectable cars: vehicles with certain mechanical features are hot commodities, simply because there are fewer of them around. “Manuals are more desirable than automatics in nearly all models,” says Nankervis. “I know with Porsche 911s, there’s higher desirability for a coupé over a convertible, a manual over a coupé, or a coupé without a sunroof — that’s more desirable again.”

“Another example is Aston Martin —they made a V12 Vantage, and in Australia you couldn’t buy them in a manual in the updated model. So from 2012 until about 2018, there wasn’t a manual option, so they were very sought after,” says Nankervis.

A certain fictional British spy has also helped maintain demand for the legendary English car marque. Sean Connery’s personal 1964 Aston Martin DB5 is up for auction in August with a $US1.4–1.6 million [$AU2–2.6 million] price guide. “They made just over a thousand Aston Martin DB5s and if you have one of those, every time they bring out a Bond film they re-advertise your car to a whole new generation of people all around the world, and make it look like the most glamorous car that was ever made. You can’t buy that kind of advertising,” says Jeremy Best.

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé, one of only two made, which sold for $200 million.

In terms of current trends, Best says that German car manufacturer BMW is starting to make a dent in the collectable market. “The mid-80s was probably BMW’s heyday, and they’ve been strong ever since,” he says. “When you go back and look at the collectable cars they made, it was very few.

You’ve got the new class cars of the 1960s, the 2002 series cars which were raced pretty successfully, and models such as the E9 coupé are particularly popular, as well as the three-litre CSL and the Batmobile version of that [named for its rear wings], with all the aerodynamics on it.

“These cars continue to go up in value as people have that strong pull to BMW. A guy today who’s got money looks back and sees that his father always had a BMW, so he has that strong connection with the brand.”

With electric vehicles now entering the market, it seems inevitable that cars with internal-combustion engines will one day become highly collectable, but Nankervis says that’s a while away, as the phasing out of ICE vehicles is in its early days. “The beginning of the phase-out has meant that finding a naturally aspirated car [one with an engine that relies on atmospheric pressure to draw in air rather than forced induction] is very difficult, so the naturally aspirated cars are more desirable than turbocharged,” he says. “The Ferrari 458, which was the last of the naturally aspirated V8s they made, is very, very sought after — more so than, say, the Ferrari 488, which was the turbocharged model that came afterwards.”

Nankervis has also noticed a lot of new people enter the market for motorbikes, with limited models in well-known brands drawing the most attention. “The Ducati 999R, which is a rare bike, is particularly popular,” he says.

Buyers who collect classic automobiles for the sheer love of collecting are increasingly common, too. “More and more people are going from having a genuine interest in cars, to almost seeing themselves as collectors, and putting things away in the garage — not just for the sake of an investment, but knowing that they won’t be able to get them in the future,” says Nankervis. “So when the opportunity arises and something comes up that’s available, they’ll jump on it pretty quick.”