Where do we go from here? A question about what the future holds for automotive auctions


A lot of your favorite automotive journalists are hunkered down in Scottsdale, Arizona at the moment. The reason, of course, is because the Barrett-Jackson circus is back in town, and millions of dollars worth of sheet metal will cross the block over the course of a few days. I myself am heading to Florida next week, to once again take in the Mecum experience with my car-buying friend (Yes, I’ll provide interesting updates while I’m there… the goal car? A ’67 Corvette convertible with the 427).

I have auctions on the brain right now. Not necessarily because I’m interested in what’s for sale now, but more for what we’ll see on Speed HD in the future. Also, what will people pay for the machines that will invariably filter into the mix as muscle cars get ever more rare. It’s interesting to see what people will pay for machines. Especiall.y what the ultra-exclusive vehicles can command, such as the ones featured in a list put together by The Street’s Jerry Kronenberg. This list highlights the most expensive vehicles to cross various auction blocks in 2012. It’s an impressive list of unobtainium, and it shows that those who are truly wealthy will remain so regardless of any change in the world’s economy. Also, it shows that the Ford GT remains a devastatingly beautiful race car.

Again though, I’m not really curious where those cars will wind up in twenty years with regards to the auction block. I wonder who will be the first person to pay $45,000 for a stock 1986 Nissan 300ZX Anniversary Edition. When will a special-edition Fox Body Mustang fetch $50,000? Is there a person out there looking to spend serious dough to put a “classic” Subaru Impreza WRX STI in their garage, because their dad had one?

I’m very curious to see how the auction landscape changes as we all grow older. I’m also curious to read about what you think might become an auction darling down the road. Sound off in the comments.

[Linked Article: The Street | Image courtesy of Barrett-Jackson]

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66 responses to “Where do we go from here? A question about what the future holds for automotive auctions”

  1. PotbellyJoe Avatar

    <img src="http://regmedia.co.uk/2007/12/26/gm_electric_ev1.jpg&quot; width=450>
    Am I naive in thinking that collector cars is a recent phenomenon? I mean there was always the antique market, but the money getting thrown around now on the 1950-1970 iron is a little astonishing.
    I see it going like baseball cards went in the 1980s-90s. There are so many packages, cars and "Collector's Dreams" that we will have a decent selection of clean, low mileage cars like SVT Cobras, Camaros and Vettes, etc. that the market will never be in the obscene amounts.
    It's the truly obscure that will be future collector items. GNX's, or Turbo Firebirds. Maybe a clean Mitsu Evo (Because who has ever seen one?) The G8 GXP with a manual since so few were ever imported and they were good cars.
    But let's also think of the future market in terms of gasoline.
    The GM EV-1 will be the future working man's collector car. As they were supposed to be destroyed, they hold an inherent rarity to them. And they will be useable in the future since I can't think of anyone complaining that batteries were replaced…

  2. rkw Avatar

    According to Antiques Roadshow, old stuff that was expensive and exclusive when new remains so. Stuff that was crap when new never really gets collectible until it's like archaeologically old.
    Acura NSX
    Ford F-150 SVT Lightning
    Volvo S60R
    Mercedes R63
    VW R32
    BMW M5

    1. Syrax Avatar

      Not just expensive, they need something else too. I don't see W140s, XJRs, or BMW 8ers reaching that status. From that particular category I don't know yet but I'd put my bet on the E38 Sport only.

    2. Sjalabais Avatar

      I just love that you included the Volvo. But considering that even a 242 GT can be had for peasant money, I don't think the S60R will take off that much.

  3. lilwillie Avatar

    I hope the televised auction fad dies, fast and horribly.
    I really dislike the televised auctions now. Not because I dislike the cars rolling across but the people, the "celebrities" that are ruining the market and the hobby by paying stupid money for cars that really aren't worth what they are rolling out for. I know it is all for show now, it is like a reality tv series but in this case we all get hosed. Why do we get hosed? Because it artificially inflates the price of cars. I know it is a free market and if they want to pay it they can, it is their choice, but some of these guys are bidding up just to get tv time and look important….
    Gah, damn it, another hobby all screwed up by reality tv…
    edit…I need to rant more. The BJ auction was so much better when it was just about cars, period, but now the Nascar channel will spend most of the time with the cameras on some has been or never was actor or sports figure. Talk to them about how they are "into the car scene" and then watch them outbid for a car they likely will garage for the time they own it. Grrrr.
    Get the cameras on the cars, I don't care who wins the auction, I don't care what his upcoming or past status was, just roll iron across and let the bidding go on.

    1. Devin Avatar

      Given the rumors going around that Speed is going to get a major, less car-centric overhaul, you're probably going to get your wish.

    2. danleym Avatar

      I agree. I remember hearing people talk about how the higher prices were good for the hobby. I disagree. They make the hobby exclusive. They prevent entry. They scare people away. I'm sure some of the people paying stupid amounts of money really like cars, and will really drive them. I'm also sure some of them think of them the same way they think of the paintings they buy- something else to put in their house to impress people. But, whatever, people would probably do that with or without the auctions, so…
      I think the worst thing that comes from the auctions is all the cheap, quick, restored with the intent to make a buck at auction cars. Even if I had the cash, I'd be very hesitant to buy anything in the $50,000 to $100,000 range, just for that reason.

  4. longrooffan Avatar

    This is an interesting question and one I think about every time B-J is on Speed with another one of their parties.
    I think just looking back at the History of Barrett-Jackson will demonstrate where the automobile auction process is going. When Craig Jackson’s dad and his partner initially started B-J they started out selling “open fender” cars of the 20’s and 30’s. As the buying market changed, so did the style of automobiles they offered at auction. Now an open fender vehicle is the rarity while muscle cars are all the rage.
    Jeff suggested in this post that muscle cars are going to become rarer. I disagree. With the prices that aging baby boomers are paying for muscle cars these days, I believe they will always be around due merely to the prices commanded. However, like the standard 36 Fords and Chevys back in my Dad’s days, muscle cars will fall out of favor with the general buying public as the boomers age and start liquidating their collections. I believe, as suggested, vintage 300Zs and NSXs and even a vintage 510 wagon will be crossing the auction block with those of my generation and younger as the buyers of these cars of our youth.
    Sure, there will always be a market for a 65 Mustang shoebox or a 66 Chevelle but it will be a much more limited market as those are not the dream cars of my or the next generation.
    Having said that, don’t any of you Hoons outbid this olelongrooffan on that 510 wagon at Barrett-Jackson in 2025, ya hear?

  5. engineerd Avatar

    It'll be interesting to see what becomes truly collectible, for sure. Will the tape packages of the '70s and '80s increase a vehicle's value? The next few years may tell.
    Interestingly, there is something else hitting the auction blocks…

  6. JayP2112 Avatar

    At one of the BJ last year put up a 2003 or 04 Mach 1. Came across with what seemed delivery mileage. Sold for less than MSRP.
    Someone stored a car for 8 years and sold it at a loss. A very good buy for the winner.
    The old cars were used and put up wet. People caught on and have been storing unique cars.
    I bought a black 2001 Bullitt because some guy took the last 3 green ones to squirrel away.

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      I remember attending my first Mecum auction a few years ago, and a SVT Focus rolled up to the block. It was earlier in the week, earlier in the day, and not a TV car. It went for $8k. I was kicking myself that I didn't have money to spend, because it was in downright exquisite shape.

  7. Devin Avatar

    Generally, the stuff that gets super expensive is the stuff that people want as kids but can't afford. So, what are the best cars in Gran Turismo? Could we see a sudden spike in the values of Mitsubishi 3000GTs and clean Toyota Supras?

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      I think you're probably right

    2. longrooffan Avatar

      my point exactly…today those cars are 60's muscle cars, tomorrow it will be these….

  8. Joe_Btfsplk Avatar

    Auction money is made, for the most part, on 1955-1974 sports and muscle cars. The exception to this rule is well-done hot rods. There are so many auctions now that many cars spend years being shipped around the country looking for a bid above the crazy high reserve price. I see more owner-to-owner trades and deals as auction related costs continue to go up. It's a shrinking business.

  9. MVEilenstein Avatar

    "what we’ll see on Speed HD in the future"
    You mean FOXSports1. The bastards.
    Yes, I'm bitter.

  10. mdharrell Avatar

    Some idiots will spend insane amounts on the most amazing pieces of junk, even when sight-unseen.
    My money is on auctions continuing to do well for the foreseeable future.

    1. Devin Avatar

      For that amount of money, you could have bought a car!

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Ah, but don't forget shipping and handling.

        1. Vairship Avatar

          If it fits it ships… https://www.prioritymail.com/flatrates.asp
          We all know KV1s are really origami pieces of cardboard, so they'll fit nicely.

    2. dukeisduke Avatar

      Looks like they still don't have one in their collection.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Oops. I completely revised my comment about outbidding the Jesada Technik Museum, leaving your comment dangling. I think they do have a KV but it doesn't appear to be featured; it used to be in a group picture of the collection before they revised their site. I assume either they wanted a parts car (as did I) or theirs is a Gad'Jet and they wanted a Mini 1 to go with it.

  11. VolvoNut Avatar
  12. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    I predict the sort of rabid car collecting to which B-J caters will fade, slowly but surely, in the coming years. They say that you want to collect as a rich old man what you dreamed of owning as a poor young man. That's why I don't think the upcoming generations will be all nearly as much into collecting cars like the boomers are. In 1971, all a teenage boy thought about was musclecars and girls. Today, cars do not get nearly as much attention from the average teenager. In 40 years it will be the Barrett-Jackson-CES vintage electronics auction:
    "Up next is this parallel-port Creative NOMAD music player. It has all-original circuitry and a flawless housing, but has been inspected, cleaned and re-batteried by the famous Tokyo-based Agency Of Oldskool restoration house. And of course, later in the show we'll see what is believed to be the world's only unused, new-in-box Casio QV-10 cross the block…"

    1. Devin Avatar

      Some of that's already happening, check the insane prices for Stadium Events on the NES. Somebody paid $22,800 for it. It's not even a good game! Though I suppose that doesn't matter since it'll never leave the box, but still.

    2. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      That is actually a brilliant thought… It would be awesome to shoot a parody video of something like this.
      "Presenting the original server that Reddit started on… Let's start the bidding at $100,000"
      "Up next, an unboxed iPod first-generation with earbuds… lets start at $25,000"

      1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
        Peter Tanshanomi

        Yes, I was trying for parody; music players and their ilk have always been inexpensive enough that teenage boys DO get them…they are not the lifelong "dream purchases" that cars are. But I can see some of the more expensive, landmark electronic devices such as the Canon EOS D30 DSLR being legitimate high-end auction items someday, along with historically significant homebuilt stuff, such as perhaps a very early RepRap 3D printer (with well-documented provenance, of course).

    3. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      That's a magnificent thought. I might well end up bidding against you on the QV-10, assuming it comes with a few error-free floppies…

  13. Preludacris Avatar

    <img src="http://autocognito.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/1997-honda-integra-type-r.jpg&quot; width="600">
    Pure auction gold in 15 years. If numbers matching, of course.

    1. danleym Avatar

      Are current cars capable of numbers matching? I'm not nitpicking your post, just an honest question. I know the numbers matching thing comes from some of the big 3 stamping unique identifying numbers on the body and the drivetrain, so you can know exactly which engine left the factory in what car. I find it funny when AMCs are advertised as numbers matching, because they never had that level of distinguishment- the best they can do is "date coded" parts, meaning this part was built at about the same time this car was.
      So, do modern cars have that level of distinction, that each engine has a unique code stamped into it so you can tell which exact chassis it left the factory in?

      1. Preludacris Avatar

        You know… I have no idea.

      2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
        Peter Tanshanomi

        Actually, the VIN is stamped all over new cars; the Federal government requires it on lots of parts:
        Not-so-fun-fact: VIN-marked truck axles helped solve both the first WTC and Tulsa truck bombings.

        1. danleym Avatar

          That's interesting. You can always count on the collective knowledge here to answer just about any car related question. Thanks!

  14. Jim Brennan Avatar
    Jim Brennan

    Watch for this weekend… I will be posting about how much some of the lots reached for the Barrett-Jackson auction, as well as some of the other auctions going on about the same time (Russo & Steele, Gooding and Company, RM Auctions, Silver Auctions)…

    1. engineerd Avatar

      That sounds like fun!

    2. longrooffan Avatar

      as always, can't wait..

  15. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    I can see original, non-hooned AE86s going for big sums. They already do fosho but in 20 or so years time, when My Generation has a few quid to rub together, they'll do what Mk1 Escort RS1800s are doing now.
    Also Rover 825Si. I'm pretty much hoping mine to be my retirement fund. That £700 will need to stretcb a long way.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      I want it, but I'm older than you so that doesn't count.

    2. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
      mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Do you have an SD1 brochure? Did they claim it would be a future collector vehicle cherished by generations? Either way, please create a RASH post along those lines. I need to have my wife convinced somehow to let me buy one finally.

      1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

        Do I have an SD1 brochure? Is that even a question?

        1. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
          mr. mzs zsm msz esq

          Well would you look at that, there are stupid questions! Sorry about that. But please do one about the SD1, preferably VDP!

          1. mdharrell Avatar

            I recently learned upon joining the Vanden Plas Owners Club* that, despite common usage, the preferred abbreviation is VP.
            *When it comes to my cars, I'm an unstoppable club-joining fool.

  16. pj134 Avatar

    Up next is an exquisitely clean Civic Si hatch with only 50,000 miles. Back then these cars were very popular in the tuner crowd. This one has no modifications or its restoration was absolutely perfect. It was kind of an odd duck in the model line when it came to the US. Harkening back to the legendary CRX Si, this little guy really is a gem.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/10/Honda_Civic_Si_hatch_–_10-12-2009.jpg&quot; width=500>

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      I actually liked that generation of Si. Even though they didn't go or handle well enough to earn the Si badge, I was glad the States got a decent Civic 3-door hatch again.

  17. I_Borgward Avatar

    Will there be mass hyperbuck nostalgia for today's cars decades from now? I seriously doubt it. With few exceptions, they are are not going to be viable as anything but metal sculptures, or as repositories for someone's memory of lost youth. Sure, they may look swell and perform great now, but as they are underpinned by electronics for each and every subsystem in the vehicle, there's little to no chance they'll still be fully operational or, even more critically, repairable in 40 to 50 years time. If it won't run, it won't be much fun.
    Sure, Bubba can set you up with a billet gas cap for your '65 Mustang, no sweat. But what of an engine control unit for, say, your 2010 Mustang? Maybe he'll have one that still works in his basement somewhere, but he's sure as hell not going to turn one out for you on his lathe. Add several decades to this scenario and it'll be even more of a nightmare.
    So far as the current trend for boomer nostalgia goes, I can't say it any better than this: money ruins everything.

    1. danleym Avatar

      I disagree with this idea. I hate electronics on my vehicles, and want nothing to do with them, but there are lots of guys who are really good with them. Yes, right now, Bubba can turn out billet aluminum bits, and if you're lucky, tune a carb. In 40-50 year, Bubba's gonna be a lot more high tech. Bubba is going to bust out his best tuning software and reflash your whole onboard computer to hop up that classic 30 year old electric sports car you have. And companies will be turning out new, aftermarket ECMs. They may be pricey, but then again, maybe those prices, after 50 more years of development, will have come down a lot, too. Yep, I'm sure a lot of the electronics will have broken, but they'll be fixed, at least on the more exciting and fun cars, just like a lot of the mechanical stuff has broken and been fixed on current 50 year old collectables.
      I'm going to stick to my older cars, because that's what I know and like. But I look forward to seeing the performance that comes out in the next 50 years (I'm 25, btw, so I should hopefully be around to see it).

    2. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      ECUs are relatively easy from a EE perspective. There's already no shortage of aftermarket EFI systems, and most current race cars run off-the-shelf (but insanely expensive) whole-car management systems. For a few grant you can run a variable-wastegate twin-turbo V8 with coil-on-plug ignition.
      Most under-35 car guys these days can diagnose and tune a multi-port EFI system but have to read to book to figure out WTF is going on with a carburetor. (myself included)

      1. Dean Bigglesworth Avatar
        Dean Bigglesworth

        I'm not particularly worried about engine management, more so about the infotainment system that is also used to control a lot of the systems and how everything is connected, also most of the ESP, ABS, EBD, DSG, SRS, DSTC, VSA, ASR, HSA, EDL, HID, MFD, and OP systems.
        As for carbs, the only experience i have with them is tuning nitro rc-engines. Finicky bastards.

        1. danleym Avatar

          They're finicky, but there's quite the feeling of accomplishment when you get one working right. I'm by no means "good" with carbs, but I'm quite happy that I at least know where to start.

    3. Devin Avatar

      Software is easy. If an ECU fails, someone's going to figure out how to get a substitute, either by fixing what's in there or just replacing it with a new unit and emulating the functions of the old one. I mean, you can't do it on a lathe, but a bit of soldering and a laptop and someone could totally fix old tech. A used phone in 2020 could probably be altered to effectively operate a 2010 Mustang.

      1. jeepjeff Avatar

        Probably not the phone itself, but a used phone from 2010 has about a 1000x more power than the microcontrollers used in 1990s MPFI systems, and probably still well over 100x the power of what's in that 2010 Mustang. The problem with the phone is that it doesn't have the I/O hardware to do the job. Otherwise, no need to wait for 2020 to get cheap hardware for that. Hell, most feature phones from the past decade have plenty of grunt to run an engine management system. Microcontrollers that do have enough grunt and the right I/O hardware sell for a few dollars apiece, and for $25-$150 you can get embedded boards with the I/O hardware broken out to power a home-brew EFI system.
        The problem is, right now, it's illegal to write your own code for boards that would go in emissions controlled vehicles. It constitutes tampering with an emissions control system, and is against Federal law. We're already where you envision. That future is today, but for the current structure of our legal code. It's a side-effect of how things were worded in the '70s before anyone realized just how deep computers would be embedded in everything now. I'm not sure the law would be any different given some foreknowledge or that it is particularly changeable now. Anti-tampering software is still a big industry (if an ultimately flawed one).

        1. Devin Avatar

          Granted, but what's technically illegal and what people will actually do are not always in line – so long as the car meets emissions standards, nobody's going to care too much about how it's actually getting the job done, and that would be easy enough to program well. I imagine that if the aftermarket wanted to lobby for changes to that law, possibly by arguing for aftermarket software that could theoretically improve emissions, they could pull it off.
          I used the 2020 example just because of the deep future part of the question, plus it's my favorite distant year.

          1. jeepjeff Avatar

            That's definitely true. Particularly in light of how often "Will it cause any problems if I remove my cat?" on JeepForum (the answer is: "It's illegal, no asking that here." Quickly followed by people arguing it's the dude's Jeep and no it won't hurt anything, and missing the liability point for the forum operators….).
            Also, there was a bill to push the smog check requirement forward 5 years (Tim, correct me if I'm wrong, but that's still floating around Sacramento, right?). So, if enough of those happen, more and more models of EFI vehicles will be smog exempt over time, and open to legal hacking. There's also the resto-mod/kit-car route, which is where I'm likely to end up.
            I love 2020 as a deep future date, but we're already to 2013! It's near future now! Which I try not to think about, because it's frightening: in 2020, I'll be fast approaching 40.

          2. Devin Avatar

            But then the next fun repetitive date is 2525, and who knows if man will still be alive?

          3. jeepjeff Avatar

            I like 2061, personally. It may not be neat and repetitive, but it's the next Haley's Comet fly-by.

          4. danleym Avatar

            You and Barbara both!
            <img src="http://www.aesthetics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Barbara-Walters-2020.png"&gt;
            Sorry, I'll leave now.

  18. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    Who here doesn't read Bring a Trailer?
    Even today there's a clean 300ZX twin-turbo for $13k. Check out the pricing of the miscellaneous Japanese cars (easiest way to find 80s-90s cars): http://bringatrailer.com/category/japanese/
    $20k for an RX7 is rare collector item pricing, and they're only going to get more expensive as Gen X gets into prime earning years.
    Stuff that people will be paying big money for in the future:
    (with the caveat that they're in great unmodified condition and probably with a manual transmission)
    –Pontiac's Last Stand era cars (G8 GXP, Solstice red line)
    –Any and all 80s-90s Turbo Japanese cars
    –BMW M-cars
    –04-06 Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      I was totally with you until Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, but I see what you mean. Agreed on everything else.

      1. jeepjeff Avatar

        Are you kidding? The 04-06 Rubicon LJs are already quite valuable, and finding unmolested examples in 20 years is going to be difficult. They're in the "just cheap enough to smack 4"+ of lift on 'em and run 35" tires" price range these days, and plenty of people do just that. Also, sawzalling the fenders, lifting motor mounts and putting a shorter lift on them is the latest fad (also gets you to 35" tires, but with a lower center-of-gravity, and tears up the original body work). The LJs also have a hair more cargo space and a bit more stability, which also adds to the desirability.
        (I'll keep my TJ though, I don't like the proportions of the LJ, but that doesn't blind me to why people like 'em.)
        EDIT: Think of them as today's iteration of the original Broncos.

      2. Tim Odell Avatar
        Tim Odell

        It's newer than the rest, but it's the '66 GT350 of Jeeps: last era of the good engine and body style (stretch TJ), in the top-level trim.
        Maybe not as universally appealing (though, who doesn't love a Jeep?), but they're nearly 10 years old and are still selling in over 20k: http://sfbay.craigslist.org/pen/ctd/3542027586.hthttp://monterey.craigslist.org/cto/3439516444.htm
        And, to put a finer point on it, I'd buy one if I could swing it.

        1. danleym Avatar

          Wranglers as a whole keep their value pretty well. I was really surprised to see what 10 year old examples were going for when we started looking for one.

          1. Tim Odell Avatar
            Tim Odell

            CJs/Wranglers are among cars that basically floor at ~$5k, so long as there's nothing major wrong. Rubicons (particularly stick shifts) must be one of the least-depreciating vehicles of the last 10 years.

      1. jeepjeff Avatar

        At some point, you'll be able to break the habit by just going out and fixing something on one of your fleet every time you think about loading BaT. You may be already well past that point.

  19. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
    mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    Only one I can think of is Ford Raptor. It's expensive. It's desirable to the youth. After three owners most now nice ones will be beat and used-up. Then the survivors will command a price.

  20. Jay_Ramey Avatar

    I think we're gonna start seeing a gradual dive in muscle cars over the nex 10 years (this is coming from a guy who has every isue of Sports Car Market for the last 7 years, which I hope doesn't disqualify me from rendering a sober opinion). The more expensive pre-war stuff has peaked I think, as the gentlemen trading in that stuff are in their late 80s.
    Like everyone above has mentioned, Japanese cars and anything sporty from the 80s with a turbo. We're already seeing this generational shift as people (okay, just really men in their 40s making 6 to 7 figures) are paying top dollar for BMW Batmobiles which the market was kinda meh about just 5 years ago. 10 years ago they were used sports cars.

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