By Paul Sullivan of The New York Times

Todd Morici in his 1954 Ferrari 750 Monza. Like other collectors, he is hooked on the beauty of Ferraris and their investment potential. Photo Fred R. Conrad for The New York Times.

Todd Morici bought his first collectible car in 1984, a four-year-old Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer. He was 24 and drove it as often as he could, racking up 10,000 miles before he sold it. But he realized something else about Ferrari’s appeal.

“You could go into a dealership, put $5,000 down and wait” for a new buyer to come along, he said. “The car cost about $75,000. But you could buy it, flip it a week later and basically double your money.”

By that point, Mr. Morici was hooked on two things: the beauty of Ferraris and their investment potential.

That knowledge converged in a windfall in 2010 when he sold a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT long wheelbase California Spider for $7.2 million. He’d paid $900,000 for it seven years earlier. That same model sold in 2016 for $18 million, he said.

Collectible cars are illiquid assets, those that are not easy to sell, like a stock or a bond. The market can fluctuate wildly, and distressed investors can wind up selling at a loss.

But that risk doesn’t stop collectors. For some, the cars remind them of a mythical vehicle they could not have when they were young. For others, they are simply more fun to own than stocks and bonds.

Regardless, collectible cars are going to retain their value better than a new car, which depreciates as soon as it is driven off the lot.

Unlike art, which I wrote about last week as part of a series on passion assets, cars require a commitment of time and money. Leaving one in a garage, the way one might hang a piece of art on a wall, is not possible. They need to be driven, or else belts will dry out and gears will seize up. But not too much, because low mileage is prized when it comes to resale value.

Regular maintenance, recorded for a future buyer, is a must, and service calls can be costly, like the ones for Ferraris that require the car’s engine to be removed. They can cost more than $20,000 per visit.

Whether cars are a great investment in a strong economy isn’t apparent. Their value rose more than 300 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to the Historic Automobile Group International. By comparison, the S&P 500 rose 40 percent in that same period. But over the past four years, they have risen a comparatively modest 85 percent, with Ferrari leading that growth, while the S&P 500 rose 22 percent.

“When housing and everything crashed in 2008, there were still wealthy people, so they bought alternative assets and they bought cars,” said Stu Carpenter, founder of Copley Motorcars and a leading expert on Ferraris and Land Rovers. “More collectors came into the market and drove up prices, and then more cars came into the market. Supply and demand fed off each other until 2015, when most things peaked.”

The response in the last recession surprised even the experts, said David Gooding, president of Gooding & Company, a leading auto auction house.

“We didn’t see it coming, but in retrospect, it does make sense,” he said. “While there was so much uncertainty in traditional markets, there was a flight toward tangible things people could wrap their minds around.” He cautions against thinking it will happen again: “Does it mean it will always be the case? No. The car market will continue to have some peaks and valleys.”

After recent auctions in Pebble Beach, Calif., and Scottsdale, Ariz., experts said cars were fairly valued, even though that meant some cars, even Ferraris, sold for less than they would have a few years ago. But both Mr. Gooding and Mr. Carpenter said that sellers were going to have to be realistic about a car’s price and quality. Keeping a car in top shape is not an inexpensive proposition.

Vinnie Pacifico, who made his money in food service, said he cherished his 1963 Corvette with a split window and enjoyed driving it. But to satiate his appetite for speed, he prefers driving a 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo Carrera.

“If you figured out what it cost me by the mile or hour, I should have my head examined,” he said of the 8,000 miles a year he drives it. “But I like driving it.”

Yet the Porsche, which he leases, cost all in about $250,000. His Corvette, which he bought in the mid-1980s for around $12,000, is worth just $130,000 by his reckoning, and is far cheaper to maintain.

Benjamin Clymer, who owns the online watch retailer Hodinkee, has seven classic cars, which he keeps in Westchester County, a more affordable garage than any near his Manhattan home. His collection includes Alfa Romeos, Porsches and a 1964 Lancia Flaminia Zagato, a car once considered the Rolls-Royce of Italy.

But he said he was lucky if he got a chance to visit them twice a month, and that leaves him little time to drive all of them. He said collectors needed to consider the cost of maintenance. A few years ago, he sold a 1999 Ferrari 456 for $115,000, which was $30,000 more than he paid for it. Yet he does not consider it a good investment because the car was due for a $22,000 service, which he would have had to pay had he kept it.

“I just had no idea how costly Ferrari maintenance would be,” he said.

His bigger concern is that his taste tends toward cars that are not sought after by his peers, making them harder to maintain and eventually sell.

Mr. Gooding said such generational tastes needed to be considered, along with the continued existence of the manufacturer. “There’s just a wider mass of people that relate to brands like Porsche than to a defunct brand,” he said.

There are, of course, exceptions. In August, Gooding & Company sold a 1935 Duesenberg SSJ for $22 million, a record for both an American car and a prewar car. But in this case, only two of this model were built: one for Clark Gable, the other for Gary Cooper, which was the one that was sold.

With a price like that, many collectors might worry about overpaying. Mr. Gooding said he analyzed past catalogs and found that many of the cars that sold for record prices at the time had been some of the best investments for collectors. He attributes that to those cars having something different or even unique about them.

But the value of collectible cars can sometimes fall. Mr. Carpenter said a frenzy developed over the Ferrari Maranello 575, first made in 2002. The few that had manual transmissions shot up in value. But those models, which once sold for $450,000, are now worth $300,000, he said.

A more common risk is having to sell too quickly. Rubin Pikus, chief executive of Milbrook Properties, has a collection of seven cars, including a Corvette, a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley and a Ferrari F12 that once belonged to the former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. He estimates that he has bought and sold more than 100 cars in his life. But he remembers the one car that he lost money on: a 1978 Aston Martin flip-tail coupe that was among a few imported to the United States. He paid $325,000 and took it to his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. But the summer heat and humidity clogged up the car’s carburetor, and the car had trouble starting if left out in the sun. So he decided to sell it back to the dealer — who offered him $50,000 less.

“I’ve had other cars that I’ve made money on it,” he said. “For me, it’s a hobby and to say I can get into that car and drive it and show it off.”

But he still sees investment potential. He and his son-in-law bought a 1992 Ferrari Testarossa, which sits on a lift in a private garage and is driven once a month. They paid $350,000 for it last year and expect it will be worth $500,000 in five years. One thing is for certain: It won’t have many more miles on it by then.

Full article here.

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