Data Driven

Flips tell us a lot about how the market is doing right now

by James Hewitt
29 November 2022 3 min read
Some repeat sales, like this <a href=>VW Karmann-Ghia</a> that crossed the block at Scottsdale and again at Monterey in 2022, are still making out big. Photo by Courtesy Broad Arrow Auctions

We see the question all over forums, Facebook groups, and comments here on Insider: Is the car market pulling back? It’s easy to point to sales that indicate “yes” (like the pair of water-cooled Porsches sold at Mecum Las Vegas) or no (such as Silverstone’s successful autumn auction).

Of course, the direction of any entire market is difficult to parse from a few transactions. Yet with classic cars there’s an additional challenge: No two are exactly alike. Even two 1969 Pontiac GTOs that rolled off the assembly line the same day are bound to have been equipped differently and then treated differently over the decades.

That can make it hard to discern when a sale indicates a market trend and when it says something about a specific car. IE: Is a phenomenal result for one of those GTOs a sign that values are trending up for muscle cars…or was there just something special about that particular Goat?

That’s why, whenever possible—and especially at times when it’s unclear where the market is headed—we like to look at repeat sales. When a vehicle whose VIN we’ve recorded at one auction sells at another, we’re able to get an apples-to-apples comparison of price changes over time. Here’s what we’re seeing right now.

Repeat sellers at auction have reserves; bidders increasingly have reservations

It should come as little surprise that repeat sellers have been making a killing this year. Overall average return increased from 1 percent in 2021 to 4 percent in 2022).

Digging deeper into the data though, there are signs that bidders are starting to balk at those price hikes. The return for quick flips—cars bought the year prior and then resold—markedly declined in 2022, to 6 percent from 19 percent in 2021. And so far in 2022, repeat sales being offered with a reserve found a new owner 71 percent of the time—not bad, but nearly 10 percentage points less than last year. We suspect buyers who previously bought online are now going back to the same platform, expecting the vehicle to sell again for what they paid or more, and are finding they have missed out on the bidding wars of the spring and summer. They might instead be fighting a war with a partner wondering why they still have the car they said they were selling.

There’s also a glass-half-full way to look at the no-sales: Sellers who have reserves don’t need to sell, which is an important sign of stability. If, at a certain point, enough sellers caved and let go of their cars at steep losses, we’d see a serious dip in values. But that’s not what we’re seeing. In 2022, 80 percent of repeat sales at auction had a reserve. That’s basically the same as 2020 and 2021.

Stability at the top

Photo by Sandon Voelker

Although repeat sales data provides a more consistent view of the market over time than raw auction totals, it still has a major shortcoming—what sells one day is completely different than what sells the next. Imagine trying to understand trends in food prices by tracking a fruit stand that sells apples one week, kiwi another. For that reason, it can be helpful to zoom in even closer, on repeat sales of a specific model.

Our favorite car for this purpose is the Mercedes-Benz 300SL. It appears frequently at auction, and has consistent, easy-to-track chassis codes (not a given on pre-1981 vehicles). And because the 300SL has been considered collectible for many decades (unlike, say, a Nissan Skyline GT-R or even an air-cooled Porsche 911), we can look at how repeat sales have fared over a long period.

The latest updates to the 300SL repeat index unambiguously show the market has been cooling since January. That may sound odd given that other metrics, including overall auction sales, were going gangbusters at this time. Yet there is precedent: The 300SL index last peaked in 2013—about a year before the rest of the collector car market.

Yet the 300SL index's 25-year history helps us put these gyrations in context. Over the past twenty-five years—a span that includes three recessions—Gullwing values have experienced ups and downs, but no wild nose dives.

There's still plenty of appreciation on the private market

So far, we've been looking at repeat sales at auctions. That's an important data set but also a relatively small one compared to the private market—that is, transactions among dealers and individuals. Fortunately, we're able to see repeat sales here via our insurance data. In 2022 alone, some 29,000 vehicles came off one customer's policy and reappeared on another.

On average, the new owners are insuring their vehicles for 31 percent more than the previous owner. Yes, that's a lot. It's also one percentage point higher than in 2021, when the market was already pretty hot.

Mind you, many of these private-market repeat sales likely weren't quick flips but rather, had spent years with the previous owner. But that, in and of itself, is telling. Whereas the microcosm of the auction world indicates softening demand, the bigger picture of the private market indicates that everyday enthusiasts—the ones who buy a car first and foremost for the enjoyment—are still winning big.


  • Robert W Severson says:

    Hagerty is the place for me to gather what is new while continuing to hold up the genuine article of the past. The information consumption of this topic has reenforced what has been felt through the effort of trying to sell my cars this year (2022). Though sales were unproductive, and the autos are now tucked away in heated storage (aka the man cave) to await the Spring thaw to once again test the waters of the ever flowing, classic car market. This article does hold a valued truth in that if the vehicle did not sell, they still maintain the enjoyment of ownership.

  • Jason Geater says:

    Finally… the collector car market (like the over-exuberance in the timepiece market) is starting to roll over.

    The 300SL is indeed a good model (eg. enough volume, “gold-standard” collector vehicle) as a leading indicator of where the rest of the market is headed. It’s clear that the dislocation between the “Average Price” and “300SL Index” price is MASSIVE in this cycle compared to previous cycles, which can only mean that a LOT of people overpaid for a LOT of vehicles (aka “bag holders” ;)). Expect negative returns or a long holding period before those purchases are in-the-money.

    Very reminiscent of the residential real estate market over the past few years… long, long way to go down before the bid-ask spread closes. Expect a lot of No-Reserve auctions in the coming couple of years as this market will have it’s “Wile E. Coyote” moment as well.

  • Walter smith says:

    I have had several higher end exotics and collectibles over the years. They are meant to be driven, but I wasn’t driving them because I worried about something happening to them or adding miles which would diminish their value. Last year I started selling them and buying $25-40K cars that are just as much fun to drive without the worries. Fast, gorgeous and easier to maintain like an XKR or SL55. I’m having much more fun now and am no longer interested owning automotive “art work”.

    • Robert Brewster says:

      I like what Walter Smith had to say. My direction is slightly different. It’s the same in that I am collecting cars that we can get in, turn the key, drive hundreds of miles and have no worries. Also, I’m collecting the very best of the best (most recently a ‘63 356 (Porsche) that yes even it, I can drive hundreds of miles without a worry. The car that changed me was an ‘07 911 Turbo (manual)! It’s the reason my collection is now “Corvetteless.”
      -We’re not worried about miles racked up, just that the cars are maintained the way they should be. I’m done with scrambling to buying condition 2 or 3 cars at market value then trying to make them #1 and #2 cars. It’s too expensive and illusive.
      -I’m done making excuses. I’ll overpay at an auction against one or two other bidders for a jewel than buying a turd and trying to polish it! I’d rather “pay too much” get the car home and fall in love with it than pay “market value” for a car, get it home and say, “now what!?”
      – Overall, in quantity, our collection is down by 30% in numbers, 75% up in quality, and a few hundred percent in reliability. We’ve plowed a lot of equity into out assemblage this year, moving from “old man” cars to new and old Porsches that our “kids” really like!
      -Hey, I want the kids to get them, keep and enjoy them!

  • Tim Jordan says:

    I was hoping to avoid flippers and dealers on Hagerty site. But, to no avail. Have you given thought to creating a segment for dealers and flippers only and searate from private sellers that are Hagerty customers?

  • Lisa says:

    We own a Pontiac 2nd Gen parts store. The market for our muscle cars is not slowing down and did not slow even during the pandemic lockdowns. We are excited to see the younger generation (think Radwood and beyond) starting to show interest in these cars as evident in the last 2 previous Bandit Runs. Any car, and collector. A great time to be in the car culture.

  • 4speedoverdrive says:

    Please define the repeat index. How is it calculated?

  • Eric Miller says:

    I believe the car market is oversaturated with auction after auction after auction. And now Hagerty is trying to create its own auction. The quality vehicles are hidden. There are more and more vehicles just being circulated for compensation. What has the car market become. It used to be a lot more fun than it is today. As an old veteran I see the same cars being circulated on a yearly basis. Be careful what you buy educate your dumbass. But as they say be happy with the car that you drive. If you plan on making money buying and flipping cars good luck. Those days are gone.

  • Joe says:

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but many younger folks don’t know even know how to work, let alone work on old cars. I seriously do not believe many of them even know how to change the oil, let alone restore…it’s work! Our generation may be the last to even drive cars with gasoline. Where will the huge collections go then? Many young kids love to see my 1951 Chevy Deluxe Coupe, but it’s got three-in-the-tree, and a carburetor…what’s that? We may be the last to be so passionate…just enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. These are the good ole days.

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    I think things are slowing down but it doesn’t seem to be a bad market for the buyer right now except if they have to finance.

  • MIKE says:

    The problem with the collector car market is a lot of the people buying and selling these cars could care less about the cars. It’s just been a better investment than any other in this economy. As long as they look at it that way the market will inflate and then bust at some point. Of course the supply will never catch demand (they aren’t making any more of the classics) so it will continue to be a good investment.

  • Larry H says:

    I have a small classic car dealership so I’m a flipper. Yes, the market is cooling down which is disappointing but I’m not concerned, it’s just leveling out. How many early Bronco buyers with deep pockets can there be when there are two or three for sale on any given day. The bubble just has to burst, I’m surprised its been as strong as it has for this long.
    What I’m seeing is a lot of RNM auctions where they should have sold. Either the seller is just being greedy, invested to much at the get go, or really just wanted to see what it could bring but not really needing to sell.
    I don’t believe you can successfully buy at BaT for example and hope to make money at the same venue later… it’s buying at full retail. To be a flipper (IMO) you have to buy low, like from a private party or wholesale auction and then there is still money to be made. Those numbers are not obvious in this report.

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