Data Driven

Which automotive brand is most valuable? It depends how you ask.

by David Zenlea
21 November 2022 3 min read
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Photo by Sandon Voelker

The key reason Elon Musk gets to be Elon Musk is that his car company, Tesla, is worth more than half a trillion dollars on the stock market. That sky-high market capitalization—roughly ten times General Motors’—has long drawn exasperated sighs from traditional auto industry types, who like to point out that companies should be valued based on what they actually sell rather than what Wall Street thinks.

We’d go a step further: Why not value a company by the very best of what it has sold? Consider it a kind of lifetime achievement award for an automotive brand.

You’d think it be relatively straight forward to value an automaker by its classic cars. And in some ways, it is, because cars are immutable and tangible things. No amount of salacious Tweets will impact the value of a Ford GT40 or a Porsche 930 Turbo the way it might a company’s stock price.

Yet here, too, there is more than one perspective. Is Mercedes-Benz the most valuable brand in the world because its 300 SLR brought a record sum this year? Do we give Ferrari the nod because its cars so frequently hit seven figures and beyond? Or do a few special cars—and a few deep-pocketed collectors—not really speak for an entire brand? We thought of a few ways to measure a brand’s value—four actually.

1. Who rules the Hagerty Price Guide?

Our price guide is, in some ways, the closest we’ll get to an apples-to-apples comparison, as it assigns dollar values to significant cars from a vast array of brands using a common methodology. It also accounts, to some degree, for the quantity of significant models each brand produced. So, even if a McLaren F1 somehow, someday surpasses the Ferrari 250 GTO as the most valuable car in the world, the Prancing Horse will still have many more valuable models and will remain the most valuable brand in the price guide.

2. What sold at auctions?

What things are theoretically worth is one thing. What someone will actually pay can be quite another. That's why auctions are worth paying attention to. As noted, the Ferrari wins here, too, on the level of individual bragging rights.

Yet auctions are about more than just the most expensive car on the block. That's especially true in 2022, when cars are being sold every day online. If we measure a brand's value by total sales at auction, the picture changes considerably. Ferrari hands its crown to Porsche.

4. What's in peoples' driveways?

If you've spent much time here at Insider, you've probably heard us say that auctions, while important, represent only a tiny slice of the car market as a whole. To get a sense of what the most valuable brands are, you'd want to know what people bought privately. It just so happens that our friends on the insurance side of Hagerty's business track just such information. (Note, they aren't good enough friends to share exact numbers. Just note that in the chart below, the vertical axis is the total insured value of a brand, and the x-axis is how many cars from that brand we insure. The size of the dot gives you a sense of the average value of each car.)

What have we gained here? Aside from bragging rights, what these charts really provide is a glimpse at the composition of the collector car market. At the level of specific cars and individual sales, the prestige brands dominate. The most expensive vehicle sold in any given year is often a Ferrari, sometimes a Mercedes—and never a Chevrolet or Ford. Yet cumulatively, the masses of cool Chevys and Fords tend to be worth vastly more. So, which collector cars matter? We say, all of them.

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Comments

  • George E Newman says:

    Excellent analysis. Keep them coming!

  • Bruce Stocker says:

    The car that is most valuable is the one that stirs your heart with passion every time you see it. When you look back at it after the drive is over just to get one more look at a real beauty. And as always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • David O. says:

    I very much agree with you, Bruce.
    For me, it’s the 2019 ZR1 Corvette or the 1969 Corvette L88.
    Needless to say, I’m a Corvette fanatic.

  • Don Homuth says:

    Just as I was preparing to age out of the car hobby, I stumbled across the One car that was most special to me in my lifetime – a 1966 Corvair Corsa convertible I had first purchased in Fargo, ND in 1/68 the night before I went to Viet Nam the second time. It was a basket case after I got it stripped. But I dumped a Ton of money into a concours restoration, not so much of the car but of the memory. I have No regrets about doing it. I catch some occasional flak from clueless car owners about it, but to my eye it really is the prettiest US domestic car to come out of the 60’s. As I approach 80, I’m thinking about where it should go next, so that its story will continue. But for the time being, there is No other car I’d want of any marque or year. If someone gave me a 64 250 GTO, I’d sell it and make someone a good deal. Same with anything else. But I’d keep the Corvair.

  • Frank H says:

    These are the most valuable to rich car collectors. The average Joe doesn’t drive a Porsha or a Ferrari. MOPAR drivers drive and race their cars instead of selling them on auction to sit inside.

  • Jim L says:

    I think value is in the eye of the beholder. If I could have only one car I’ve owned back it would be my 74 VW Thing. I think second would be a 75 Honda Civic CVCC that I had, go figure. I traded my 70 Boss 302 in on that. Those 2 vehicles I had a lot of fun in the Honda was my first new car. Like Don Homuth they hold a special place. Should the lottery grace my life, I’d have to go with a Ferrari of my choosing or a Turbo Porsche heck throw in an XKE too.

  • Enzio Di Lapi says:

    For me it was the 1983 Cadillac Eldorado Turing Edition which I owned. It was Yellow with Burgundy seats and a Burgundy fake convertible look top. Yes, I know it had a very unreliable engine. Aside from that, this car is stunning.

  • James Resseguie says:

    I was disappointed to see Aston Martin was nowhere to be found. However. I should not be surprised since I have the only one in my California city that is the 9th largest.

    • Edward Greenberg says:

      My buddy has two Aston Martins. He has 8 classics. He is a very seasoned collector. Suffice to say he paid BIG bucks for both Aston Martins. He would have no problem selling either at a hefty profit – at least in SOFLO

    • Howard Venning says:

      Aston Martin is in the “big Hagerty pie” just below Porsche

  • Edward Greenberg says:

    1. What sells at auction for what price reflects only a portion of the market. A large percentage of sales are privately made and their sale prices not made public, Auctions often create distorted values as a result of a bidding war or in the alternative one can pick up a bargain if nobody present is interested in that particular vehicle. Auctions incur fees which in real life can affect the sale price of the vehicle and what the seller nets as a result of the sale.
    2. Condition of the car affects the sales price. Many classics require restoration or work which of course costs money. One can buy a “project car” for a relatively low price and sell it after he/she has restored it. Best example I can offer if my buddy or for 35 years bought (only) BMW and Lotus wrecks. He did all the work himself. Made a great deal of money, retired early and the most he ever paid for a vehicle was 20k He sold several Lotus cars making six figure profits. Not one of his sales was an easily accessible public record nor a record at all. Years ago he bought and restored a Lotus, made a 200k profit and the utterly legal transaction was not recorded or reported anywhere.

    The chart is somewhat useful for a very narrow part of the market. I bought my classic from a man who is now dead in a state where sales contracts for used cars do not purport to represent the value of the car. ie I can choose to sell my new Mercedes to my son or best friend for 1$ , If the buyer CHOOSES not to obtain collision, fire or theft insurance the value of the vehicle is “unknown”. The value of any item is what a willing seller and buyer will agree upon which is not necessarily the actual value of the car. Finally, many owners of classics (including me) have been offered much more than any survey, Blue Book etc values the car. In real life I have buyers for my car which reflects 400%+ appreciation on my purchase. No publication reflects what a specific car would sell for in the real world.

  • TomE says:

    Interesting data, and I think the four metrics combined represent a reasonable definition of brand values. I am surprised that Porsche didn’t fare better under the first methodology, as I would see it surpassing Ford and Chevy. And one high-end Merc sale would jump ahead of Chevy in the aggregate auction sales graph. The I see the insured value computation as somewhat of a reality check as well. Thanks for the analysis.

  • Karl says:

    There are far too many for me to make a choice. Maybe..50’s Ford Skyliner…59 Porsche A Cab…56 Cadillac Coupe DeVille…Early Ford Mustang…mid-50’s Mercedes Gull-Wing….Auburn…Avante…late Chevy/GM Pick-up trucks…and I could go on and on. To Jim L…I have a 74 Thing and love it….but I would make an appointment with your optometrist.

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    Ferrari having a majority hold on collector car prices does not surprise me. But the most valuable car company sells a bunch of appliance cars that we all need to get to work, etc.

  • Howard Venning says:

    Very interesting – how come McLaren is just above Porsche ??

  • Woodrow says:

    @Frank H – Believe it or not, there are actually quite a few of us Average Joes out here driving Ferraris around.
    In my case it’s a 40 year-old 308 with 56,XXX miles that cost about as much as a decently equipped RAM pick-up. Before the Ferrari, a Lancia Scorpion found its way into my garage and before the Scorpion, I was a serial X1/9 owner so hardly “Rich Collector” material. The 308 to me is just another in a long line of cool old Italian sports cars – a nice one for sure – but like the Exies and Scorpion, I bought the 308 to drive, not sit around and collect dust like a ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda rag top.

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