Jerry Seinfeld and the $121,000 Beetle

“Thank you, crazy car people!” exclaimed Jerry Seinfeld as he walked on stage at today’s Gooding & Company auction. Next to Sunday’s Amelia Island Concours, the Seinfeld show was the weekend’s most eagerly anticipated event. The “Show” was a lot of 18 cars — mostly Porsches — that the comedian was selling from his collection.

By 1 p.m. on Friday, the large Gooding tent held a standing-room-only crowd. The portable air conditioners were incapable of overcoming the human heat load, so people stood there, fanning themselves and waiting for the celebrity. Seinfeld did not disappoint. His opening line drew applause as did the follow up explanation. “I wanted to be with here with you,” he said, with the people who enjoy these cars. I want to see joy on the faces of the winning bidders.” If it could have, the crowd would have hugged him and then kissed him when he said, “I’m not a collector to make money.”

Auctioneer Charlie Ross, a sharp-witted Brit who knows how to work a crowd, pounced on Seinfeld’s warmup act and said, “OK folks, he wants to see that excitement when you raise the paddle, so let’s go.” As the first car, a 1966 Porsche 911 drove on stage, he reminded bidders that each car sold includes a picture with the star.  Seinfeld walked off stage, not to be seen again.

Brian Rabold, Hagerty’s VP of Valuation Services, was standing next to me so I asked him what’s the “Seinfeld Multiple.” In other words, how much more is a car worth because it was owned by Jerry Seinfeld. “Twenty-five percent,” he shot back and then flashed a knowing grin. The truth is that the multiple is tough to nail. A car simply owned by Steve McQueen might fetch double the going value, but if the machine was once coveted by the actor it could be worth 10 times the going value. Rabold’s team tracks these sales intently and has been to dozens of auctions. There’s provenance in celebrity ownership, but how much?

Lot No. 31, that 911, offered the first clue. It sold for $275,000, which was $75,000 more than than the Hagerty Price Guide suggests the car is worth. The next car, a 2011 911 Speedster brought a similarly robust price, $440,000, 10 percent over the high estimate.

Seinfeld’s good news kept coming. A 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder fetched $5.3 million, a 1957 Speedster hammered at $682,000 — high again — and a 1974 911 RSR sold for $2.3 million, nearly a million over the high estimate. In the span of an hour, eight cars had sold for a total of roughly 11 million dollars. Mr. Seinfeld is certainly the master of his domain.

There were however, hiccups. A 1963 356B 2000 GS netted $825,000, hundreds of thousands less than the low estimate. The crowd, it seemed, had succumbed to the heat. I spotted an exotic-looking woman holding a toy dog walking among a small group heading for the exit. “That was a good buy,” said Rabold. There’s always an upside.

Next, a 2000 Carrera GT prototype was bid to a million and then abruptly stopped. The low estimate was $1.5 million. Auctioneer Ross became apoplectic, repeating “ONE MILLLLLION DOLLARS,” and sounding just like Dr. Evil. The crowd was unmoved and the GT was not sold.

The 1997 911 RSR went for $935,000, which felt light. And then the car I’d personally trade a kidney for appeared, a 1973 Porsche 917/30 Can Am Spyder. Ross started at three million, two million below the low estimate. The paddles stayed still. Ross dropped the bid to $2.8 million and waited, thinking perhaps to stare down the crowd. “This,” he finally said, “is unbelievable. Think about this. I’m not here to give cars away.” That car, which Seinfeld had purchased four years ago for $4.4 million,  does not have any race history. With a race car, provenance is paramount no matter how sinister the engine sounds when it idles on the stage. No sale on the block, but the car was later sold for $3M all in during post-block activity.

Just when I thought the bidders had moved against Seinfeld, a 1960 VW Beetle trundled up the podium. The Hagerty Price Guide says that the best Beetle might go for 30 grand. Someone bought Jerry’s for $121,000. Are Beetles now the next great arbitrage opportunity? My 401(k) is staying put.

So what does this all mean? One sale or one auction does not make a market, which is why the Hagerty Price Guide tracks so many to get a higher-elevation view. “Everything here,” said Hagerty Price Guide Publisher Dave Kinney, “is getting a little of the Seinfeld shine.” The celebrity is known for buying good cars, so his ownership is a better-than-average stamp.

But what the sale does tell us is that the market remains strong. According to Rabold, 2016 is shaping up to be a coasting year, in that the blue chip cars with excellent provenance remain highly valued.

Only one of Seinfeld’s 18 cars failed to sell and he pocketed $22.2 million. In two hours.

1966 Porsche  911 Base $275,000
2011 Porsche  911 Carrera $440,000
1964 Volkswagen  Van Campmobile $99,000
1955 Porsche  550 Spyder $5,335,000
1957 Porsche  356A Base $682,000
1974 Porsche  911 Carrera 3.0 RSR $2,310,000
1989 Porsche  911 Carrera $363,000
1990 Porsche  962C Base $1,650,000
1963 Porsche  356B Carrera 2 $825,000
2000 Porsche  Carrera GT Base no sale
1997 Porsche  911 Cup3.8 RSR $935,000
1958 Porsche  597 Base $330,000
2012 Porsche  911 GT3 Cup $462,000
1973 Porsche  917/30 Can-Am $3,000,000
1994 Porsche  911 Turbo S $1,017,500
1958 Porsche  356A GS/GT Carrera $1,540,000
1960 Volkswagen  Beetle Base $121,000
1959 Porsche  718 RSK $2,860,000
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