A relatively recent trend in the collector car hobby is the strong performance exhibited by unrestored, preserved cars at auction. In many cases, original cars approach—and in some cases exceed—the values achieved by concours-quality, restored vehicles. This trend has been developing during the past five years, but has come into sharp focus during recent sales.
Several events during January 2011’s Arizona auctions illustrate buyers’ heightened interest in originality. For example, Gooding and Company sold a completely original 1962 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster with fewer than 8,000 miles for $951,500, including buyer’s premium. Earlier in the same sale, an excellent and highly optioned 1956 300SL Gullwing—a car that would typically sell for more than the 1962 roadster—sold for nearly $100,000 less at $858,000. The Gullwing was in superior condition to the 300SL roadster, but it had been recently repainted and reupholstered. In this case, the market favored the untouched car.
More recently in Florida, Gooding and Company sold a 13,000-mile, 1969 Buick Riviera at Amelia Island for $25,300. The car was entirely original, and was even still wearing the same tires with which it left the factory. Its sale price surpassed Hagerty Price Guide’s value of $24,300 for a car in excellent condition. Also this past March, Auctions America sold a 1963 Shelby Cobra 289 that had seen only a few modifications from new for $467,500. This compares favorably to Hagerty Price Guide’s #2 condition price of $487,000.
Again in Arizona, RM Auctions sold a largely original 1969 Morgan 4/4 roadster for $30,250 (squarely on Hagerty Price Guide’s #2 condition value of $30,800). Gooding also offered an unrestored 289 Cobra at their Phoenix sale and achieved a remarkable $610,500—well above what a perfectly restored example might be expected to fetch.
For a lot of industry observers, this shift in preference indicates an increased level of sophistication among collectors. “Much as untouched examples of rare paintings command a premium over freshened or retouched works of art, we’re seeing automobile collectors begin to value cars in a similar fashion,” remarks Dave Kinney, publisher of Hagerty Price Guide. “As is often stated, it’s only original once, and many collectors want to preserve that originality as much as possible. Owning an untouched car is almost a way of acting as a steward of history.”
Having an unrestored example of a car doesn’t necessarily translate to a sure thing, however. For example, Gooding and Company recently offered an unrestored 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing at their 2011 Amelia Island sale. Rather than nabbing top dollar, the car sold for $484,000, including premium. This price is virtually identical to Hagerty Price Guide’s price of $482,000 for a condition #4 car. The reason? According to Kinney, “the Amelia Gullwing simply wasn’t a preservation car, it was a car that was locked in time. Rather than reflecting the 1950s, it was more a reflection of the 1970s—the last time the car was touched.” The term “unrestored” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “preserved original,” and those original cars are what the market favors.