The market for Pre-war Greats

1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster

Cars from the 1980s and later have become one of the hottest segments in the market for the better part of two years. The market for cars made before World War II, however, is only a little ways behind.

The Pre-war Greats market is comprised of the best models offered by the top companies in England, France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy of the pre-war period. Hagerty recently completed a study of this segment by creating and analyzing a repeat sales index.

Unlike the Hagerty Collector Car Indices based on published price guide values, this repeat sales index is made up of 289 cars that have sold at least twice since March 22, 1973, drawing from 1,495 transactions. (A repeat sales index is a useful way to look at how values have changed over time by pairing known sales of identical cars, which can reduce the variation that condition can introduce when looking at similar cars.)

Pre-war Greats September index
Pre-war Greats index over time

As of September 2017, the Hagerty Pre-war Greats Index was at $1,636,156, which is up 103 percent over the past five years, and up 216 percent over the prior ten years, both outpacing the Dow Jones Industrial Average stock market index. In this segment of the market, the cars that have done well on their second (or third) trip to the auction block often were owned and enjoyed for long periods. Cars returning to the auction block after only a year or two have not done as well.

French cars in the market tracked by our index (led by the Bugatti Type 57) were at $2,476,030 average value in September, which is up 146 percent over the past five years, and up 177 percent over the past decade. One of only 43 Bugatti T57 built with the Surbaissé chassis, the Bugatti Type 57S Cabriolet by Vanvooren s/n 57513, first sold at auction in June 1991 for $1,398,715. It was recently sold at auction again by RM Sotheby’s at Amelia Island in March 2017 for $7,700,000. A second Bugatti Type 57, the 1935 Atalante Prototype (s/n 57254) sold at RM Sotheby’s Villa Erba auction in May for $3,402,000 after previously selling at auction in August 1999 for $480,000.

Aside from Bugatti, the 1939 Talbot-Lago T150C s/n 90060 first sold at auction in November 1999 for $80,000 was later sold by Gooding & Company at its 2013 Scottsdale auction for $418,000.

1937 Bugatti Type 57S Cabriolet
1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza

Italian cars are a smaller part of the market and, unlike the overall Pre-war Great index, are not rising in overall value. Alfa Romeo took the lead, finishing September at $1,604,648. The segment was down 14 percent over the past five years, but down only 3 percent over the prior ten years. While Alfa Romeos with the 6C 1750 engine are the most popular car in this segment, the 8C cars are rarer and generally more desirable. The 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza by Brianza (s/n 2311218) was sold by Gooding & Company in August 2010 for $6,710,000, but its price had gone up to $11,990,000 after it sold at the same auction in 2016.

Mercedes-Benz led the German cars at $2,183,394 in September, which is up 130 percent over the past five years, but up just 81 percent over the prior ten years. While the Mercedes-Benz 500K and 540K models are the most popular German cars in this segment, selling one at auction does not guarantee a home run. RM Sotheby’s sold the 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster by Sindelfingen (s/n 408383) at its Monterey 2013 auction for $7,480,000, but when it returned to the market at RM Sotheby’s Arizona auction in 2017, it sold for $6,600,000.

Rolls-Royce sat atop the English cars and finished September at $447,659, which is up 77 percent over the prior ten years, but a mere 5 percent over the past five years. One Rolls-Royce that suffered from returning to the market too quickly was the 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Convertible by H.J. Mulliner (s/n 120SK). It sold at RM Sotheby’s Amelia Island auction in 2016 for $550,000. When it returned to auction at RM Sotheby’s Amelia Island event a year later as part of the Orin Smith Collection sale, it sold for $286,000. Not all pre-war Rolls-Royces that make a second trip to the auction block sell for less, though. From RM Sotheby’s 2017 Monterey auction, the 1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Riviera Town Car by Brewster (s/n S390LR) sold for $825,000 after previously selling at auction in May 2011 for $719,208.

1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Riviera Town Car
1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Riviera Town Car
RM Sotheby's

While the cars in the Pre-war Greats segment are often rarer than the poster cars from the 1980s, tracking one down in the market can be a rewarding endeavor—especially if you intend to hang on to it for a while.

Note: The cars that make up the Hagerty Pre-war Greats index are the following: French cars include Avions Voisin, Bugatti, Delage from 1930 to 1940, the Delahaye 135 models, the Hispano-Suiza H6, H6B, K6, and J12 models, and the Talbot-Lago T120, T150, and T23 models. Minerva is the only car company from Belgium included in the index. Italian cars include the Alfa Romeo 6C and 8C models, the Fiat 508s, Isotta Fraschini, the Lancia Lambda, Dilambda, and Astura models, and the Maserati 4C and 6C models. German cars include the BMW 327 and 328, the Horch 853, Maybach, and the Mercedes-Benz 230, 290, 370, 380, 500, 540, and 770 models. The English cars include the Aston Martin 1½ Litre, Ulster, and 15/98 models, Bentley through 1931, the Invicta 4½ Litre, the Jaguar SS100, the Lagonda M45, LG45, LG6, and V12 models, and the Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP Silver Ghost, Phantom I, II, and III.