Auction Report

Even in this market, you can find bargains

by David Zenlea
2 September 2022 4 min read
Image
Photo by Bonhams

Some of my receipts from Monterey: $6-a-gallon for regular unleaded, $6 for a can of soda at an auction house, and $7.50 for a hard-boiled egg(!) at the airport. The place ‘ain’t easy for bargain hunters. What’s true for room, board, and fuel during Car Week was doubly true at the auctions this year, which set records for total sales and million-dollar cars. They also confirmed the ascendence of several cars that had, until recently, been the province of budget-conscious enthusiasts—$56k for a Honda Z600, anyone?

Yet even amidst the ritziest auctions and in a red-hot market, there were deals to be had. In fact, roughly a quarter of the cars Hagerty personally inspected sold for less than their condition-appropriate values in our price guide. Many of those would have been less than their price guide values in 2019, before the latest run-up.

What’s changed in recent years is not necessarily the amount of money one needs to play in the collector car market but rather, the level of focus and discipline. More than ever, you have to know what you want and what you can do without. It also helps to pay attention to which cars are drawing a crowd and which aren’t.

Herewith, some of the more interesting buys at Monterey that brought less than we expected.

1967 VW Beetle

1967 beetle
Courtesy Gooding & Company

Sold by Gooding & Company for $30,800 (24 percent condition-appropriate Hagerty Price Guide value)

The Beetle has been creeping up value in recent years. Credit Porsche-fueled enthusiasm for air-cooled engines, widespread appreciation for affordable classics during the pandemic, and the relentless march of attrition, which is slowly but surely making the most popular vehicle in history less common.

The Monterey auctions provided evidence of that rise—a ’63 Beetle sold by Broad Arrow brought $106,400. Yet they also reminded us that, as with many fast-rising, once attainable classics, there’s a wide gap between the best and the rest. To wit, Mecum sold a 1955 Oval Window Beetle for $37,500, and Gooding’s 1967 Bug, shown here, got $30,800. Both those cars presented as better-than-average drivers (the Mecum car was a #3+, Gooding’s a #2-); they just weren’t unrestored, low-miles unicorns like the Broad Arrow Beelte was.

The ’67, which crossed the block early in Gooding’s sale, struck us as particularly well bought. It’s coming off of a recent restoration and is represented as having just three owners. Feels weird to be calling a 30-grand Beetle cheap, but here we are. For about the price of a new GTI, someone got what looks like a nearly-new Beetle.

1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith by James Young

Courtesy Bonhams

Sold by Bonhams for $42,000 (63 percent below condition-appropriate Hagerty Price Guide value)

Let’s be clear that although this car is a bargain, it’s probably not the best idea. Even extremely well-maintained old Rolls can be expensive to maintain. This example was…not extremely well maintained. The catalog notes it “will require mechanical recommissioning prior to actively wafting about,” and our auction specialists rated it in fair (4+) condition, adding that the catalog photos were—ahem—flattering.

And yet it’s such a bargain. One of the rarer, large coachbuilt Rolls-Royces, the car sold for some $60k below our Condition #4 value in our price guide—enough, one thinks, to get wafting again. Plus, this is a left-hand drive example from new and has a nearly modern four-speed Hydramatic transmission (original equipment on later Wraiths). It also helps that even a tired Rolls looks prestigious and expensive.

2001 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Courtesy Mecum

Sold by Mecum for $11,550 (2 percent below condition-appropriate Hagerty Price Guide value)

Later F-bodies have, by and large, been left behind in the gold rush for modern sports cars. Having grown up in fourth-gens, I must say I kind of get that. The “problem,” as I see it, is that whereas the Japanese and European performance cars of the era in many cases represent high water marks for their particular niches, the early 2000s F-bodies live in the shadow of the 1960s and 70s muscle car greats and, just as important, have been dramatically surpassed in performance by the Camaros, Mustangs, and Mopars of the 2010s. (Some day soon, we’ll realize we’ve just lived through the true golden age of muscle, and our Hellcats, GT500s, and ZL1s will appreciate accordingly. But I digress.)

Nevertheless, end-of-run Firebirds remain underrated, just as they were when new. Restomodders regularly swap LS1 V-8s and Tremec 6-speeds into stuff that neither handles as well nor looks as distinctive as this car does out of the box. Meantime, JDM-enthusiasts plow four- to five times as much money into Supras and 300ZXs that were, back in the day, barely any quicker.

This one seems a particularly good score. It had some 85k miles on the odometer and displayed all the usual fourth-gen flaws, like a completely flattened driver’s seat and mile-wide panel gaps. But try and find something faster for $11,550.

1928 Ford Model A (Truck) 1/2 Ton

Courtesy Bonhams

Sold by Bonhams for $20,160 (31 percent below condition-appropriate Hagerty Price Guide value.)

If this year’s Monterey auctions put on clear display the ongoing transition toward Gen–X collectors tastes, with 1980s and 1990s exotics breaking our price guide, this Ford shows us what lies on the other side of that—and it’s not bad for enthusiasts. Although they have appreciated slightly in recent years, Model As are no longer in the glowing hot center of our hobby. This one, a relatively uncommon pickup. sold for what would have been a good deal even in 2019, not to mention for less than what many 1970s and 1980s trucks go for these days. A Model A is no doubt a more elemental experience than a Radwood ride, but it remains a useable entry-level classic, with modern pedal arrangement and a conventional manual (as opposed to the planetary band-type gearbox on a Model T).

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Comments

  • Captain Fury says:

    This was a fun read. Thanks.

    • Russ says:

      I’ve been looking at BAT and other places for a particular car for my wife. We had one and sold it for around $4k about 10 years ago. Late 80’s Germanic. The car asking price went nowhere from about that time to 2019 then started rising. In the last years it’s selling prices had catapulted to between $20 and $30k. One guy on BAT bought several in the same color, one at $34k. In the last month – most haven’t met reserve on BAT and the ones that did were between $9k and $20k. It’s a nice car but it doesn’t go fast, isn’t sexy. Some might call it a ‘hairdresser’ car. I’m finding more examples on the net outside BAT going for around $10 to $15k. Sure seems to me like the bubble has burst for non concours “ used cars”.

  • Maestro1 says:

    I think I’ve already commented on this but if not the article represents auction hysteria and herd lust.

  • Maestro1 says:

    I also want to say to Sajeev or anybody who did this, thank you so much for my Birthday Card.
    Today is the 4th day of my 85th year. And I’m still above the grass.
    Many Blessings to Hagerty, its Staff, and commentators. You folks are terrific!

  • Paul Ipolito says:

    I remain amazed by the 1995 LT1, 6-speed Corvette Coupe (NCRS Top Flight) I was able to find for under $13,000 three years ago. Plenty of performance for this Boomer with outstanding reliability. I suggest a base 1995-1996 C4 will bring joy at a reasonable price.

  • Mark says:

    You guys are so out of touch….$30k for a beetle and call that a low price?

  • jane don says:

    Sometimes I think peoples’ expectations are way too high for the money they have– Weather it’s a house/ car or whatever they want to Start at the top-

  • Bill Traeger says:

    I own a 28 Tudor completely restored. I also own a 73 bay window Type II . Thinking I’ll sell the 28, the VW is a mouse house after 12 plus years in barn storage. I’m 73, what would you do?

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