Collectors who followed RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction of the Pinnacle Portfolio last summer will have noticed that the parameters defining a classic or collectible car are changing. Although the Pinnacle Portfolio’s 25 cars included eleven that anyone would regard as traditional classics – such as the Ferrari 250 GT California Spider and the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL – the collection also featured offerings from the late 1980s through to the 1990s that fared extremely well. Indeed, the 1998 McLaren F1 to LM specification became the star of the sale when it fetched $13.7 million. Even cars from the present century brought impressive prices: A 2008 Koenigsegg CCXR realised $825,000, a 2005 Maserati MC12 went for $2.1 million and a 2012 Bugatti Veyron fetched $2.3 million.
THE 1981 LAMBORGHINI COUNTACH LP400 S SERIES III BY BERTONE WILL BE OFFERED AT RM SOTHEBY’S PARIS AUCTION. TOM GIDDEN ©2015 COURTESY OF RM SOTHEBY’S.
If most connoisseurs would agree that these “youngsters” were destined to become collectible by dint of the small numbers in which they were made (just 50 MC12s exist, for example), many have been struck by the sudden rise in demand for recent cars originally produced in relatively large numbers – even, in some cases, for cars that at times were unloved.
For a case in point, look to one of the most celebrated poster cars of the 1980s and 1990s, the Ferrari Testarossa. Instantly recognisable by its distinctive side strakes – and its single door mirror on early models – the Testarossa and its later 512TR and F512M variants became familiar to the millions who regularly tuned in to the hit 1980s series Miami Vice, in which a white-painted model was driven by Detective Sonny Crockett. By the end of the 1990s, however, this one time icon had come to be regarded as yesterday’s Ferrari, a car that spoke too loudly of an era of excess many were trying to forget. As a result, its value plummeted to just a quarter of its 1989 selling price of £62,000, or $180,000.
In the past two years, however, the Testarossa has returned to red-hot status as moneyed enthusiasts who remember it from their teenage years – when they couldn’t afford to own one – have sent values to new heights. So high, in fact, that the 1989 Testarossa offered at RM Sotheby’s Paris on 3 February could feasibly exceed its high presale estimate of €160,000.
THE 1992 PORSCHE 911 CARRERA RS. ©TIM SCOTT ©2015 COURTESY OF RM SOTHEBY’S.
“There is no doubt that people who can afford to do so are buying the cars that they lusted after 20 or 30 years ago, and that the perception of what makes a collectible car has shifted to include relatively recent models,” says RM Sotheby’s UK specialist Peter Wallman. “Just recently, for example, we received an inquiry from a man in his 40s who is hoping to buy his first two classic cars, and the ones he is aiming for are a 1980s Ferrari F40 and a 1990s F50.” Beyond the Testarossa and less popular-culture-friendly Ferraris, the range of fast-rising new modern classics is vast. It encompasses original examples of Volkswagen’s decidedly mass-produced Golf GTi and BMW’s early M cars, as well as such road burners as the Lamborghini Countach, various iterations of the Porsche 911 Turbo, the McLaren-built Mercedes-Benz SLR and Aston Martin’s original Vanquish, which launched in 2001.
Other than their resonance with collectors of a certain age group, these cars “also appeal because they offer a far more hands-on, analogue driving experience than do models being produced today,” Wallman explains. It is an opinion shared by publisher and luxury-branding consultant Darius Sanai: “I have a theory that this was a golden era, when high-performance cars were still really exciting and ‘involving’ to drive yet also worked properly,” he says. A modern classic collector himself, Sanai has acquired no fewer than five Ferraris, including a 1987 Testarossa, a 2005 F430 and a low-mileage 2004 Porsche 996 Turbo, all in the last two years. “While I like traditional classics, I need my cars to be dependable so I can use them on a regular basis. And I like comforts such as air conditioning and heated seats,” he adds. By the 1980s, the build quality was also getting much better, so the old issues of rust and unreliability need not be of such concern.” Sanai estimates that the value of his collection has risen between 50 and 75 per cent since he began buying.
THE 1989 PORSCHE 930 TURBO WILL BE OFFERED AT RM SOTHEBY’S AMELIA ISLAND AUCTION. © ERIK FULLER 2015, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Sanai may be a recent collector in this particular field, but he is a smart one: he believes it is vital to choose carefully. “Cars from this era were made in much larger numbers than the most sought-after classics of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s,” he says. “So I think it is essential to consider only those in superb condition with very low mileage and, if possible, in special-edition versions.” He also looks solely for manual gearbox models “because they are more rewarding to drive than paddle-shift cars and are likely to be less complex to repair if something goes wrong with the transmission. The secret is to find uniqueness,” Sanai concludes. “When it comes to modern classics, the difference between the average cars and the top ones can be huge.”
London-based writer Simon de Burton covers old and new cars for the Financial Times, Country Life, EVO and Octane.
FEATURED IMAGE: 1989 FERRARI TESTAROSSA WILL BE OFFERED IN PARIS. ©TIM SCOTT ©2015 COURTESY OF RM SOTHEBY’S.