The murky future of collectible cars


There’s no better time of year than right now to talk about toys — specifically, the expensive automotive toys that car collectors have amassed.

This year, The New York Times wrote about a fascinating demographic phenomenon: aging baby boomers with lots of collectibles they intended to pass down to their children. The problem, The Times found, is that those children didn’t want the stuff.

Turns out, it’s kind of a trend — one that’s hit my own extended family over the last decade. But it also left me wondering about whether today’s collectible cars could become tomorrow’s Lladro figurines.

2001 Ferrari F1 car

The folks at The Hagerty Group, the classic car data analytics and insurance company, watch the collector car market closely. Hagerty has noted that auction prices this year slid again from their peak in 2015 and that entry-level collector vehicles seemed to be doing far better than those at the top end of the market. However, the number of vehicles offered and sold at auctions was trending up.

But Hagerty found something else, as noted last fall by Automotive News sister publication Autoweek: Baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are still buying more classic cars than they’re selling, and that’s a problem.

The boomers in the U.S. outnumber my generation — which has lived in their self-obsessed shadow for 50 years, but I digress — by about 10 million people, so there are probably not enough of us to buy all those collectible cars the boomers have covered in their garages.

Yes, the millennial generation, those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, is larger demographically than the remaining baby boomers, but it’s also swallowed in debt. Those demographics hardly paint a rosy outlook for a long-term expansion of collecting cars.

Bothwell auction nets over 13 million including 73 million Peugeot GP car1914 Peugeot L45 Grand Prix car

Still, unlike porcelain figurines, decorative glass and Beanie Babies — which have all dropped significantly in value in recent years — the vast majority of collectible cars are at least somewhat useful. A 1964½ Ford Mustang or a 1932 Chrysler roadster, in addition to being rolling pieces of art, can still get their owner from one point to another, just as their modern, noncollectible automotive successors can. But even that might be temporary.

Add a few decades to today’s push for fully automated vehicles, and then ask yourself where and how those classic rides will fit into tomorrow’s algorithmically operated transportation collective. Sure, you might be able to take your 1956 Chevy Corvette out for a leisurely drive on the back roads, but how will that beautiful, manually operated machine integrate into a traffic pattern filled with pods of people staring at their personal screens as they obliviously zoom from hither to yon?

That’s not a question for which I have an answer.

And if that’s the future we’re all heading for, I’m not sure anyone does.

The article “The cloudy demographic future for collectible cars” originally appeared at Automotive News on 12/22/17.

By Larry P. Vellequette, Automotive News

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