Buy low, sell high. That’s investing 101, whether you’re cashing in on Tesla stock or letting go of that Chevelle for more than you paid for it. Of course, things often don’t work out according to plan, particularly with cars, which have more moving parts—literal and figurative—than most traditional investments. That’s one of the reasons we advise buying for pleasure over profit.
Nevertheless, the dream of the “flip” lives on. Case in point: 13 percent of the cars offered at the January auctions this year had appeared at auction before. A whopping 42 percent of those had crossed the block in the past 12 months.
These repeat sales offer us something like an apples-to-apples comparison of the market over time—particularly helpful in a moment when typical year-over-year comparisons tell us little.
The flips for January 2021 speak to confidence in the market, overall. Consider that in January 2020, “only” 26 percent of repeat consignments had cross the block in the 12 months prior, and these vehicles had an average return at 6 percent. The return on the quick flips this year was a far healthier 27.5 percent.
Of course, the details behind the sales matter. Let’s look at five cars from the January that already been across the block to see what they can tell us about the health of the collector car market in 2021.
Note: these final prices don’t include seller’s fees
Sold for $5.94M
Last sold for $1.375M in 2016
Rate of return = 332 percent
Note: The car was re-restored and altered after the previous sale
Dollar for dollar, this car likely returned the largest profit of any car sold this January. It’s also high on the list of the most desirable Cobras of all. Represented as Carroll Shelby’s personal 427 Cobra and owned by Shelby from new until his passing in 2012, it was also modified with a roll bar, automatic transmission, and new engine amongst other items.
In 2016, the car was sold by the Carroll Shelby Foundation at RM’s Monterey auction for $1.375M. Hardly a bargain—dead on the #2 price guide value at the time—but perhaps not what you’d expect for a Shelby owned by the man himself. Blame the spec at the time, especially the replacement engine and the automatic.
After purchase in 2016, it was completely redone to how it would have left the Shelby factory. The roll bar was removed, automatic transmission replaced with a 4-speed toploader, the engine Shelby installed replaced by an aluminum-head 427 side-oiler with dual four-barrel carburetors. Finally, it was repainted in the original Charcoal Grey. Only five 427 Cobras were originally painted that color.
Whether it is the fresh look, the return of the 4-speed, or the more desirable original-style engine, the bidders at Mecum Kissimmee swooned and one of them paid $4.5M more than the buyer in 2016. It was the biggest sale in Kissimmee this year and brought more than twice what another 427 in this condition would bring.
If buying a classic with an eye toward quick profit is risky, restoring one for profit can be downright foolhardy. We’ve noted in the past that the math rarely works out. Yet this sale proves there are exceptions. Restorations can be expensive, but we know this one wasn’t four-million-dollars expensive.
Sold for $58,300
Last sold for $34,100 in Oct 2020
Rate of return = 71 percent
What this Corvette has going for it are the rebuilt matching numbers 427/390hp L36 engine, M20 4-speed manual, side exhaust, leather seats, and power windows. But it isn’t perfect. The aftermarket, Baldwin Motion-style stripe and the aftermarket wheels won’t be to everyone’s taste, and it isn’t represented with any of the usual documentation that serious Corvette folks expect.
And yet it sold for condition #1- money. Just last October Mecum sold it in Dallas for $34,100, a price that makes a lot more sense given the car’s shortcomings. This was a big win for the seller, especially considering the fact that the car crossed the block very early on in the Kissimmee festivities this year, when the crowd hadn’t yet come to Florida. Apparently, there were already more deep pockets present than there were in Dallas.
Sold for $121,000
Last sold for $58,850 in 2018
Rate of return = 106 percent
This isn’t a car we would expect someone to double their money on in less than three years. No doubt, the 1957 Bel Air is an American icon. This one is also one of the nicest examples we’ve seen, and it features the highest output carbureted V-8 available—only 13 hp behind the more complex top-of-the-line 283-ci/283-hp fuel-injected engine.
Yet it is an icon from an era that predates many of today’s collectors, and it has been an established car in the hobby for many years. We no longer see substantial value swings for these cars and rarely see sales that are particularly surprising. This massive result, though, was indeed a surprise, especially given its last sale price and especially since 1950s American car prices have, if anything, softened over the past three years.
So what happened? It could have been the buzz in the room. The car crossed the stage at Mecum Kissimmee immediately after Carroll Shelby’s Cobra brought its fantastic sum. It could also have been a case of more eyes, more bids, and more money on the car in 2021 than in 2018.
Another factor is the rarity of a Bel Air in such fine shape. We rated the car in #1- condition (near concours perfect) when we individually inspected it at RM’s Auburn sale in 2018. Out of the 1762 Bel Airs we have inspected at auction, only 83 have scored a #1 or #1- condition. The car looks to be in similar shape and wasn’t represented with any significant recent work, meaning the seller hadn’t invested much.
Sold for $102,300
Last sold for $53,900 in 2019
Rate of return = 90 percent
Like the ’57 Bel Air, the ’57 Cadillac Series 62 is quintessential 1950s American with tons of flash and tons of chrome. And prices are similarly quiet, having stayed flat or even dipped over the past three years, so for this one to nearly double in price in just 15 months was another surprise.
Wearing an older but sound restoration, the same car sold at Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas auction in October 2019 for $53,900, which is about a condition #3 driver-quality price. It looks to be in about the same shape and no major work was represented, but in Kissimmee it brought a condition #1 concours-quality price.
Sold for $269,500
Last sold for $146,300 in 2018
Rate of return = 84 percent
The 1967 Corvette is among the most desirable years for America’s sports car, and this example is said to be 1 of 267 equipped with heavy-duty brakes. It also has a matching numbers 427-ci/435-hp L71 Tri-Power engine, plus the top goes down. It is Bloomington Gold Certified, an NCRS Top Flight award winner, and comes with the tank sticker as well as numerous desirable options. It ticks all the right boxes for serious collectors.
And if the price is any indication, there were plenty of serious collectors in the room at Kissimmee who were keen to have it. The $269,500 it brought at Kissimmee 2021 is a massive leap from the $146,300 it sold for at the same sale three years ago. It is also comfortably more than its current condition #1 (“concours” or “best in the world”) value in the Hagerty Price Guide, which is $231,000. Like the ’57 Bel Air, the Corvette is another well-known, long-established car in the hobby, and not something that typically sees big fluctuations in price or large jumps in price between auctions in such a short period of time. The return of 84 percent ($123,200) knocks this one out of the park.