Car of the M…oment

Big auction weeks like Monterey always have a few “eyebrow raisers” — individual cars that aren’t on the radar of most auction-goers or experts as ones to watch. And yet, when the hammer falls, there we sit, eyebrows raised at a result few saw coming.

Friday night at Mecum’s Monterey sale, a 1988 BMW M6 did its fair share of eyebrow raising, when it hammered sold at $90,000. With the buyer’s premium, that’s a $99,000 car. Now compare that to the last 15 M6s to sell at auction — going back to January 2015 — which averaged just over $32,000 on the block, with just one car making more than half what the Mecum M6 did. So what makes for such an anomaly? More importantly, given the rising interest in 1980s collectibles, is it even an anomaly at all?

Not if you ask Eric Keller, owner of Enthusiast Auto Group (EAG) in Cincinnati, Ohio. EAG specializes in BMW sales, and Keller believes the Mecum M6 fully deserved its price. “All in, the Mecum car was probably sold on the money,” he says.

The E24 M6 is the spiritual successor to the 3.0CS and comes from the same late-’80s era of BMW performance as the E28 M5 and now-iconic E30 M3. While more than 5,500 were built from 1984 to 1989, Keller says later cars like the ’88 are more desirable thanks to updates to the bumpers and interiors. They’re rare-ish, too, with just 319 imported to the U.S. that year. Along with that relative rarity was this car’s low mileage, with just 25,000 miles on the clock. Factor in a strong 3.5-liter straight six that makes great noises and a stout 268 horsepower, and it all adds up to a clean, needs-nothing #2 condition car. Keller says the late-’80s M cars have probably never been stronger.

Brian Rabold, Hagerty’s VP of Valuation Services, agrees. “Cars from the 1980s have been rising for a few years, and for a generation of younger collectors drawn to that period, BMW made its name during that decade. The sportiest and rarest M cars have led the way, and the M6 is part of that club.”

Keller estimates the majority of buyers range in age from 35 to 55, that group loosely defined as Generation X. He also says the people buying the really good examples typically own other BMWs as well, and that their new purchases will get limited use. “The great majority of these cars are being driven sparingly, about 500 to 2,000 miles a year for the #1 and #2 cars.” The case is slightly different with the M3, a car which Keller says tends to get driven hard.

While Hagerty monitors mostly public sales, prices Keller has seen in the last 36 months through private transactions seem to anchor what happened for all the world to see in Monterey. “If you were to trace trends in the market for all three M cars, the M5 and M6 actually tend to follow the same path as the M3. There just aren’t as many data points because they didn’t make as many.”

Now that the Mecum result is out there, however, we’ll know soon enough whether public sales will catch up to those happening privately. Like the boom that hit Toyota Land Cruisers a few years ago, it’s hard to predict when a car will raise eyebrows. But when it does, bidder paddles generally aren’t far behind.


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