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.