How does one become a purveyor of taste?
The answer, like the price of a Ferrari 250 GTO, generally falls in the category of “If you have to ask….” but some clues can be found in an unassuming gray building in New Canaan, Connecticut. Once home to a body shop, it now wears a small sign out front reading “The Cultivated Collector – Automobiles of Distinction.” Since 2017, it has helped enthusiasts curate and manage their collections, and the showroom inside specializes in high-dollar collector cars. That means everything from traditional classics like Cisitalias, Aston Martins, and Enzo-era Ferraris to low-production modern exotics, and also the occasional under-appreciated oddity. If you’ve ever been in the market for an ultra-rare Venturi (aka “the French F40”) or a Jaguar XJR-15, chances are you’ve come across this place. It is also not just the kind of dealer that you simply walk into with a check and drive out of with a car.
“I wanted to do more than just sell people cars,” said founder Matthew Ivanhoe. “That’s obviously something I do, but I also help people manage their collections, build and grow that lifestyle factor of their hobby, and refine their passion into a coherent group of automobiles.
Now is when we tell you Ivanhoe is 34. No surprise, he was “born an obsessed car fanatic,” but his experience his experience in the collector car hobby goes farther back than most millennials. He learned the business side of things as a teen, interning at a nearby dealer that specialized in vintage Ferraris and polishing old Italian thoroughbreds until he got tennis elbow. “Then, really as soon as I could drive, I started buying and selling my own stuff,” he said. His first flip was a 1988 BMW (E28) M5, and he soon expanded his focus to other BMW M cars (E30 M3s, E24 M6s, E28 M5s). “This was back then they were a lot more affordable.”
Fast forward to age 25, when Ivanhoe cashed out of an internet startup, then bought an interest in and began selling cars out of a collector car storage facility and clubhouse in New York called Collectors’ Car Garage (now known as Hagerty Garage + Social). After selling his stake in that business, he decided to open up his own standalone business. That was a little over four years ago.
“I wanted to do more than just sell people cars. That’s obviously something I do, but I also help people manage their collections, build and grow that lifestyle factor of their hobby, and refine their passion into a coherent group of automobiles.Matthew Ivanhoe, The Cultivated Collector
It would be reasonable for the sign out front to read something like Ivanhoe Motors or Matthew’s Classic Cars, but “I didn’t want to just slap my name on it. I don’t know, maybe I’m a bit bashful in that regard.” Not too bashful for a name like “The Cultivated Collector,” apparently, but the business lives up to the name. Ivanhoe points clients to certain cars because of original colors or numbers matching, ownership history, etc. But he also wants people to get the most out of their cars, and that involves getting to know people’s tastes, what they want to do with their cars, and where they want to go with them. From there, he can advise on which cars are eligible for and better suited to certain events, and which cars will serve them the best as they become more involved in the hobby. Although his inventory certainly helps attract clientele, he says his “most powerful tool” is a word-of-mouth reputation for simply knowing his business.
“Above all it’s about trust, approach, and knowledge. If someone isn’t able to be more knowledgeable than most to the needs and wants of a serious collector, while also being trustworthy and forthright, one won’t get very far.”
Ivanhoe says his typical client is someone who already has a few cars and is “having fun but looking to take their collecting to the next level.” In other words, not a neophyte just looking to display wealth. Many of these budding collectors are Baby Boomers but, as we’ve seen elsewhere in the market, much of The Cultivated Collector’s recent growth has been with the Gen–Xers and Millennials who are really starting to sink their teeth into the hobby. That hasn’t necessarily changed the types of cars that Ivanhoe works with, but he has seen that the newer cars in his inventory sell more quickly, more easily, and at higher prices than they used to.
Ivanhoe typically has a carefully selected group of cars on offer, usually between 20 and 30, with some listed on the internet but much of “the really good stuff” selling offline. Most of the inventory comes from private individuals rather than public auction. Values of the cars on offer range from high five- to low seven-figure territory. European performance rules the showroom, and blue-chip classics like a Ferrari 275 GTB or F40 are right at home, but Ivanhoe says he gravitates towards cars that are “underappreciated and unique, or what some might call quirky, cars that you’ll never see yourself coming the other way in.” This has Ivanhoe singing the gospel of exotics like the Jaguar XJ 220 and the Venturi, cars that he calls “criminally undervalued” and “too damn cheap.” The Cultivated Collector also claims to have sold more examples of Jaguar’s early ‘90s V-12 racer for the road, the XJR-15, than anyone else. It was once a somewhat obscure ’90s exotic, at least on our shores, but one XJR-15 recently enjoyed a high-profile seven-figure result in Monterey. And the Cultivated Collector’s XJR-15s have featured heavily on social media over the past few years. Microsoft recently even mapped and scanned The Cultivated Collector’s yellow XJR-15 for the newest Forza Horizon video game.
Ivanhoe has, like most dealers we talk to, seen some big changes in the past year and a half. That includes how people find his cars and contact him about them. “Instagram has been absolutely huge, and it’s really changed things,” he says. “The audience is obviously different. I’m going to get a different response if I post pictures of an F40 than I am if I’m posting pictures of a 100-year-old Mercer, but it has been a remarkable tool.” Curiously, Ivanhoe says he has formed more long-term client relationships from people inquiring through social media than through traditional, more two-dimensional listings. “I can’t account for the why, but all I can say is that it’s real.” Ivanhoe considers Instagram a relatively mature, saturated for dealers and has considered other platforms, even Tik-Tok, for getting his name out there, “but I don’t think it’s there yet.”
The Cultivated Collector’s challenges over the past year and a half should sound familiar to anyone who has had to deal with supply chains, international travel, or international shipping recently. Just getting cars from one place to the other immediately became more difficult with the pandemic, and now it’s just plain expensive. “We used to be able to get a 40-foot container for two cars from Yokohama to New York for about $5000 to $5500. Now it’s 20 grand, and that has happened just within the span of a year.” Getting cars inspected, an especially important step when you’re buying and moving cars from overseas, has also become harder.
Another challenge—and it’s mostly a good one for a car dealer—is that cars are selling quickly. “It’s a scramble for what we’re going to have on offer next, and I think that is a situation that’s unique to the time we’re in right now. It’s a buying frenzy and perhaps it will slow down, but I don’t know what that will look like for prices.” When asked if he’s looking to grow, Ivanhoe says that he’s always looking for more inventory. But, given the “cultivated” aspect of the business, it will always be the “right” kind of inventory.