Like the broader economy, the collector-car market rolls up and down; and like most economic things these days, it's been on the down cycle for the last three or four years. Generally speaking, prices are off their peaks-and, in the case of some "headline" cars, they're off significantly.
Sticking with the economic analogies, Corvettes have traditionally been the blue-chip stocks of the collector-car world, with regular-production big-block Stingrays and sharks always a safe bet to equal or better a buyer's original investment. The same went for '57 Fuelies and other "exceptional" C1s. Pedigreed race cars, factory concepts, and extremely rare production models, such as L88 cars, have been the riskier bets, with high six-figure-and occasionally seven-figure-prices commanded for some.
So, while the riskiest of investments in the economy took the biggest hit in recent years, it's not surprising to learn the cars that were the center of the wildest price run-ups suffered significantly. And just as some entrepreneurs and businesses do better in a recession, many buyers are taking advantage of the market's "correction" period to snap up Corvettes, classics, and muscle cars at prices that have not been seen for a decade.
That's exactly what we saw at a Mecum auction in Indianapolis we attended recently. Savvy buyers were using the market conditions to drive great deals. We wouldn't suggest that $150,000 for an L88 Corvette is cheap, but compared with the prices of only a few years ago, it represented a significant discount. We also found some pretty steady prices for those blue-chip big-blocks. They're soldiering on, trading at relatively steady prices, although discounted a bit from a few years ago. One thing is clear: Discerning collectors are still willing to pay top dollar for the right car.
The top seller of the event was a Bill Mitchell-styled Corvette show car that hammered sold for $925,000 (more than $1 million was bid for a rare '69 Trans Am convertible, but, incredibly, it didn't meet the seller's reserve). Other marquee muscle cars crossed the block and sold for perhaps 20-25 percent less than they would have in, say, 2007.
It's easy to see that the buyer of that one-of-a-kind Corvette bought it at a discount, as compared with a few years ago, but it will likely take a number of years for the collector-car market to recover significantly enough to make a marked profit on it-if that's what the new owner intends.
So it seems we're enjoying an unmistakable buyer's market, but it's a hard time if you're a seller who bought at the pricing peak several years ago. The decision must be made whether to hold onto the car and try to recoup your investment a few years from now, or cut your losses and sell for less than you paid. That's not as easy a decision as it seems, as some collectors were swept up in other parts of the distressed economy-real estate, anyone?-and must sell their collector cars to satisfy other financial obligations.
Encouragingly, we found signs of stabilizing prices, meaning the prices may be off their peaks, but probably won't erode further. It also looks as if it will be a while before prices make significant climbs again. One of the reasons for that is the sheer number of investment-quality muscle cars on the market. During the market's ascension, starting about a decade ago, a great many vehicles were treated to rotisserie-style restorations because it was possible to recoup that large investment and make a profit.
To put it simply, there are unlimited numbers of excellent-condition, concours-style cars to pick from. Big-block midyear Corvette roadsters are everywhere, and it seems as if every Hemi-powered car ever built has been restored.
Perhaps because of the erosion in prices for marquee cars, the prices of clones-also known by a number of other euphemisms, such as recreations, tributes, and so on-are way down. The same seems to go for non-numbers-matching cars and modifieds. Again, however, one man's pain is another's pleasure, as enthusiasts looking for a great deal on cars they can drive and enjoy will find plenty of clean, show-worthy machines at prices that are generally less than the build cost.