U.S. collector car market now returns to pre-recession levels

U.S. collector car market now returns to pre-recession levels

May 26th, 2012 by BY JERRY HIRSCH LOS ANGELES TIMES in Carscruisin

The collector car market, which slumped with the economy, is coming back along with the rest of the auto industry.

Collectors' cars, like this 1956 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwin, are recovering the value they lost during the recession.

Collectors' cars, like this 1956 Mercedes 300 SL...

But don't expect to pick up a classic Tucker or Duesenberg without ponying up money like a Facebook executive. Many of these cars are selling for well over $1 million.

By one measure, the value of collectible cars has surged 33 percent since the depth of the recession in 2009.

By one measure, the value of collectible cars has surged 33 percent since the depth of the recession in 2009.

La Jolla resident Chuck Spielman has been watching the market, waiting for the best time to sell a 1930 Duesenberg so that he can purchase other cars for his collection.

After waiting out the recession, he sold the Duesenberg at auction for $2.6 million this year and completed a handshake deal to acquire another Duesenberg in a private transaction.

Spielman wouldn't say how much he paid for the Duesenberg he purchased five years ago but said he made money on the sale.

Spielman, a real estate investor, said he noticed the collector car market begin to turn up about two years ago, and he believes the rally was fueled by people who had money but had developed "distrust with the stock market and the real estate market. They began to see collector cars as a hard asset."

However, the buyers behind the gains were not speculators but rather "hobbyists with disposable income," Spielman said. "These are people looking to fulfill dreams that they couldn't when they were 18 years old.

More than a dozen collector cars have sold at auction this year for $2 million or more, including a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Alloy Gullwing that went for $4.6 million in January and a 1948 Tucker Torpedo that was purchased for $2.9 million.

"We are on an absolute boom right now," said Dave Kinney, publisher of the Hagerty Price Guide, which tracks collector car prices and produces the index.

The market started to pick up last summer when several "big players" started bidding up prices and has accelerated since then, said Shelby Myers, managing director of the West Coast division of RM Auctions.

The collector car business is rapidly reaching new highs, Myers said.

"Only in 2007, just before the financial collapse, would prices be near what these cars are going for now," Myers said.

The cars selling for megabucks this year represent a wide variety of eras and designs, including rare American classes and a coveted group of race-ready Porsches. Ferraris always seem to bring big dollars, said Dietrich Hatlapa, chief executive of Historic Automobile Group International.

One notable sale was a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider that went for $3.9 million at a Gooding & Co. auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January.

There was the 1912 Oldsmobile that sold new 100 years ago for $5,000 - a fortune at that time - and sold in February by RM Auctions for $3.3 million. The 60 horsepower car was among the most prestigious autos when it was built. The Oldsmobile disappeared into history when the brand was dropped by GM in 2004.