The Wiley Report

Do car collectors really pay more for rarer cars?

by John Wiley
10 March 2021 3 min read
The McLaren F1 is extremely rare, and extremely valuable. But that connection may not exist across the collector car market. Photo by Cameron Neveu

Like all of us, John Wiley loves cars. Unlike most of us, he also loves math, which is why he’s senior data analyst for the Hagerty Valuation Team. He takes a statistics-minded look at the collector car world for Insider.

Car enthusiasts love numbers. We like big numbers when it comes to horsepower and top speed. We prefer small numbers when it comes to 0–60 times and miles on the odometer. We’re also sure that a car built in small numbers will have a higher value than one cranked off an assembly line in hundreds of thousands. But does lower production really translate to higher value?

People want what they can’t have, and when it is scarce, they want it even more. (Remember how wild we went over toilet paper and sanitizing wipes this time last year?) Carmakers know this. Although they generally aim for high volumes—no one at Ford is wondering how much more profit they could make by halving F-150 production—they also realize that for certain special-edition sports cars and the like, part of the appeal is exclusivity. If they build one less than what the market demands, they’ve sold as many as they can, and everyone is happy—except that one guy. No surprise, we see a never-ending procession of limited runs of this followed by limited runs of that. (We’re looking at you, Porsche.)

Taken to the extreme, a carmaker could plug in how many vehicles it wants to build and know how much less each additional unit will bring on the market. Perhaps they know this because several years ago, they sold 1,000 examples of a special edition, and then a couple of years later, they sold 2,000 of another special edition at 3/4ths the price of the first one. But are enthusiasts really that calculating? 

The chart above plots production numbers and Hagerty Price Guide value for some 200 vehicles. If lower production meant higher values, the data points would show a nice diagonal slope from the top left to the bottom right. Instead, it looks like an L shape. Surely, some vehicles are rare and valuable—that’s a Ferrari 250 GTO in the top left—and many high-production vehicles are worth relatively little—the Fox-Body Mustang sits on the lower right corner. But we see plenty of low-production, low value cars dotting the lower left area of the chart.

Of course, we already know rarity for some brands and cars doesn’t translate to the same value as it does in others. If it did, the 106 produced McLaren F1 at an average value of $19,000,000 would be much closer in value to the 107 produced 1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R with an average value of $90,300. 

Perhaps we can get a better sense of the connection between rarity and price by looking at high and low production runs within specific makes and models. Do Ferrari collectors, for instance, value rarity more than the Shelby crew? 

In the chart above, a lower negative number means more of a connection between rarity and price. So, Shelby enthusiasts value rarity more than Ferrari collectors. Surprisingly, despite the precision with which you can count Hemi Cudas, Mopar fans seem to value rarity the least. Similarly, the build records for Firebirds (but not Camaros or Corvettes) doesn’t translate into a greater value placed on rarity.

It seems enthusiasts do value rarity—but only to a point. Perhaps car enthusiasts aren’t so obsessed with numbers? Check out the interactive chart below to see where your favorite make or model lands on the rarity-value spectrum. What features matter more to you besides production numbers? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  • eighthtry says:

    Of course I do not have the data that Hagerty has, but one such thought of this is at least worth exploring, although it may not be trackable in the data.

    I’m thinking story cars. Cars that gain some form of notoriety from their previous life. Steve McQueen’s Mustang comes to mind. Dukes of Hazard. Maybe Vanishing Point. Clyde Barrow’s bullet riddled Model A, I ran out of thoughts, but I will toss it out there.

  • Jason Geater says:

    Comparing a limited edition Mustang, that shared the same chassis, components, etc. with MILLIONS of other cars, to an F1, which was 100% built from scratch (using a rare BMW powerplant) from extremely hard to manufacture materials (eg. carbon fiber in 1991) is a rather poor comparison to show the correlation between production numbers and value.

    Plus, you are ignoring facts such as builder pedigree, performance of said vehicle during the time it was produced versus the completion, and a myriad of other factors.

    Let’s find an applicable comparable(s) and run this assessment again. 😉

    • John Wiley says:

      Jason, I encourage you to explore the interactive visualization so you can see how the individual makes and models like Bugatti, McLaren and or Mustang, and Corvette compares within each group. You’ll see McLaren has a strong negative correlation between production numbers and value (F1 vs. P1), but Bugatti has a positive correlation between it (EB110 vs. Veyron).

  • Hannes Tanzer says:

    Interesting numbers game so I wonder what my cheapish 1997 Porsche 996 will be worth one day with only 14 made in total that year !?

  • Zmega says:

    Why should rarity matter? In practical terms, it means replacement parts and experienced mechanics will be harder to find and likely more expensive. Shouldn’t the intrinsic appearance and performance of the vehicle be what matters most? It seems to me that it comes down to owner’s ego – the “look at me” factor.

  • Claude says:

    Well I favour the Camaro what you mention on your report and what I hear out here in Ontario is that really you cannot dictate what a Classic is worth every time I ride my 1986 Camaro Iroc Z28 upon my arrival to my destination there are enthusiasts whom are curious about my Camaro and actually approach me to ask if it’s for sale I get highly ridiculous offers for my Camaro they will pay any amount of money to buy it , my Camaro is all mostly original and rare with a 350 small boss 5.7 litre LT1 Corvette motor motor augmented to 600 hp 5 speed they here the sound of the motor and gets excited first Camaro to have breaklight on back window also I have the original Aluminum Louvres on back window believe me I was offered $8,000 for the Louvres could not believe it you see Auctions are for avid Collectors and pay higher prices and puts them away for value but the real buyer for Classic cars wants to ride and enjoy the Classic like I do street value to me is worth more money it’s what someone is wanting to pay just to have the car in my opinion frenchie so Hagerty promotes let’s ride together and that is what we do

  • Claude Mainville says:

    Well I favour the Camaro what you mention on your report and what I hear out here in Ontario is that really you cannot dictate what a Classic is worth every time I ride my 1986 Camaro Iroc Z28 upon my arrival to my destination there are enthusiasts whom are curious about my Camaro and actually approach me to ask if it’s for sale I get highly ridiculous offers for my Camaro they will pay any amount of money to buy it , my Camaro is all mostly original and rare with a 350 small boss 5.7 litre LT1 Corvette motor motor augmented to 600 hp 5 speed they here the sound of the motor and gets excited first Camaro to have breaklight on back window also I have the original Aluminum Louvres on back window believe me I was offered $8,000 for the Louvres could not believe it you see Auctions are for avid Collectors and pay higher prices and puts them away for value but the real buyer for Classic cars wants to ride and enjoy the Classic like I do street value to me is worth more money it’s what someone is wanting to pay just to have the car in my opinion frenchie so Hagerty promotes let’s ride together and that is what we do

  • John Sloane says:

    What no one is discussing in detail is the aesthetic/artistic aspect of evaluating a car. No different than why people value Van Gogh, Dali, and on and on.

    To be blunt, evaluating the “art” aspect of a car is generally beyond almost all collectors. I tried to enlist the support of people I know to purchase a Shelby Daytona coupe in 1971 for $26,500. I did not quantify my opinion but said it would be “worth a fortune”, now some $30 million. Everyone I spoke to then thought I was crazy.

    I subsequently bought a 1967 Corvette roadster, black/black, 435 hp, side pipes, all original everything and complete, including original red line tires that are now essentially unobtainable – in crappy condition.
    In more recent years I bought a 1969 Corvette Coupe, 435 hp aluminum heads, black/black, side pipe car, with 6,800 miles, never restored. Subsequently moved to two 1965 Shelby GT350’s, #’s 028 and 383. #028 is a car I made extra special efforts in my life to connect with and purchase. The relevance is two fold for #028 in regard to the analysis in this article The first 35 cars were made in Venice, and the rest of the ’65’s, 66’s, and 67’s, were made at Shelby’s LAX “factory”. In addition, the first 60 or so ’65’s did not come with Blue Dot tires, they came with Goodyear Power Cushion black walls. No one cared for these tires as they were not as “superficially attractive” as the black walls. Except I was able to find a complete set of NOS black walls, that along with a set of reproductive Ford taxi steel wheels I had made (that were on all the ’65 Mustangs shipped from Ford, and are now absolutely unobtainable) will now be on #028 that was selected for exhibit at this year’s Amelia Island Concours, one of the top concours car events in the world , that I have been lucky enough to have my 1968 Corvette IMSA Trans AM Leldon Blackwell Racing race car exhibited at twice.

    So why did I change focus from Corvette to Shelby ?. Corvettes are great and I have always liked them.
    BUT, Shelby’s are simply much, much more iconic (distinctive elegance, to put it very briefly). That doesn’t diminish Corvettes, but again, BUT.

    I could go on, including an analysis of many other cars, but it might be difficult for some people. So best to leave it here.

  • Hermann J Schaller says:

    If you compare an older car (1954-1963 Mercedes SL) with a newer car (2004-2010 MB SLR McLaren) from the same manufacturer, the older and more famous car has the higher value over the new one.
    If you compare cars from the same manufacturer and the same time period, you’ll find that the rarer car has often a higher value, even if it is less beautiful, which made is sell less. E.g. 2000 BMW M Roadster #2 $25,200 (15,322 built) vs. 2000 BMW M Coupe #2 $45,400 (6,291 built). And that even when convertibles normally have the higher values. The M Coupe was seen as a strange design, but it is more worth today, because it is rare. If you compare apples to apples from same manufacturer, basic design and age, to rarer one will have a higher value.

    • John Wiley says:

      Good points about the BMW, but many would also argue that the M Coupe is stiffer and more fun to drive. The point being, that purely looking at production numbers doesn’t always explain differences in value.

  • Hermann J Schaller says:

    Yes, the Coupe is stiffer, but I can remember, when the coupe was cheaper as a used car then the roadster. Then take the Aston Martin DB2/4 Mk II from 1956 in #2 condition. The 2-door sedan is valued at $206,000 and the Drophead Coupe at $334,000. They built 146 2-door sedans and only 16 DHC. I rest my case.

    • John Wiley says:

      The Aston Martin DB2/4 example still clouds the issue by using cars with different features. Closed roof vs. drophead. Would a Ford Mustang built in February be any more valuable than one in the same spec built in March? Surely, the car built in February is rarer because there are fewer days in the month, but does that make it more valuable?

  • Ted says:

    Having owned a 1971 Datsun 240Z, I was attracted to, and bought a 2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition. Nissan claims that only 50 were made in the red and white BRE livery colour scheme. I paid full MSRP based on the dealer’s position on rarity and very limited availability. My conundrum now is do I drive it or keep the mileage low as it sits under cover in the garage, as I anticipate the possibility of some extraordinary value in the future. Of course the ‘purists’ will ridicule my choice of an automatic transmission.
    I’d be interested in hearing from the experts predictions as to future value or collectibility.
    Fortunately I have a BMW 2 series coupe that is too much fun to drive daily as I contemplate my first world problem.

  • Thom E says:

    Unintended consequences can be a driver of rarity as well. In the mid-fifties Max Hoffman commissioned BMW to build the 507 as a competitor to the Corvette and T-bird in the US, as well as European two seaters of the time. Even with an all aluminum V8, the car was relatively heavy and difficult to produce under BMW’s complex manufacturing processes, and was ultimately priced at nearly double the competition. With BMW losing money on each car and little prospect of increased sales, production was halted at 252 units, well short of the tens of thousands Hoffman envisioned. That said, the few 507 examples that become available as collector cars today are likely to sell in excess of $2 million. Had BMW been able to produce and sell several thousand back in the day, it is highly unlikely that even the best restored 507 would command more than a mid-six figure amount today.

  • Hermann J Schaller says:

    Dear John, you can’t have it both ways. At first you claim that the BMW M Coupe is higher valued, because it is stiffer than the M Roadster. Normally open cars are always valued higher than closed cars, and I doubt that the rise in the M Coupe comes from people, who want to take it on the track. To prove my point I listed the AM DB2/4 closed vs open and you claim that the higher value is due to the feature to be able to drive it open. So if you are correct regarding the Aston, than the M Roadster should be the more valuable, as you see from the Jaguar E-Types as well. Are you so sure that the lower production volume of the M Coupe has no influence on its value? I agree that it doesn’t matter if the car was built in February or March. If the specs are identical – who cares. I personally can’t even follow the importance of production year between otherwise identical cars. But there are plenty of examples, where a low volume special version of an otherwise technical identical car have these very high values. The Zagato versions on Aston Martins were deemed ugly by many people at the time, but there values now are through the roof. But we shouldn’t argue about the taste in car designs. Therefore, I took the Clownshoe BMW as my example at the beginning. You can find examples for rare cars, where the values didn’t go up extremely, but you need to admit that there are examples, where rare versions of certain cars have appreciated better than their higher volume siblings.

  • chrlsful says:

    JW is full of it
    8^ O
    “…go wild over TP…”
    I didn’t. I continued at twice a yr. And so it is with cars.

    No matter volume a car w/provence is often more valued that one w/o (yet back to me – who owned it, what race it won/lost – no difference in value to me, and some other folk). Beauty (subjective) and
    /or utility. However, I am but 1 person. Perhaps the comments skirt me as an oddity and speak about the market in general. No interest for me. I buy for the stated 2 reasons, restore – as I can not afford the better, enjoy the craft, want the vehicle (basically for free, a daily driver) as I sell when seeing my next dream, tired of this, a buyer meets my price…
    Thanks for the write-up !

  • Gary brandt says:

    I have been in the collector car for more than 35 years. And have watched the car market all this time. The word for value starts with what is “the desireabilitiy factor of that car. Rarity applies to some cars but the generation that chases the mark truly is what sets the value. As that generation passes , the cars and interest begins to falter, then the cars of the next generation begin to climb in value.

  • Dave says:

    One example that comes to me is Buick GS cars. For the most part a low production muscle car. So why are the chevelle ss cars commanding a higher price? Every one into those types of cars wants one. Price increase! Buick nobody wants! My thought a much better car that you don’t see everyday. Buy the way good luck restoring one you can’t find parts.

  • joe maggio says:

    I think a lot has to do with the Publicity the car has received whether in Magazines or especially at Auctions. and certainly the preference of the Buyer. An example A Yenko Deuce has always sold for less than a 69 Yenko Camaro. The Deuce was produced in less numbers 175 and around 75 left.

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