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Why I’m Not Worried About The Future Values Of Collector Cars.

From the ACCC Newsletter, June 2018. By Rex Roden

Consider, for a moment, a doomsday scenario: At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, everyone over the age of, say, 65 or 70 swears off gasoline and unloads their collector cars. Arizona and Kissimmee Auctions are flooded with consignments. It’s the buyers’ market to end all buyers markets; prices go through the floor. Everyone is freaking out. The collector car hobby as we know it will die, maybe.

This is basically a time-compressed version of what most people I’ve talked to in the old car world have been fretting about, with varying degrees of intensity, for as long as I can remember. As Larry Vellequette at Automotive News recently noted, there’s some demographic evidence to back up the concern. Baby boomers are still buying and holding more collector cars than anybody else, but they’re not going to be around forever. When they go, they’ll take their appreciation of the cars of their youth (and, crucially, their disposable income) with them. This will shake up the world of collector cars in a big way -- no getting around that. But the world is always changing, and that shakeup will be for the best in the long run.

The fear that the collector car world dies with the current generation is tough to dispel, but there are reasons it’s so persistent. I'm into old cars -- as in, 1960 and older, with an eye for pre-WWII metal. The crowd around me could hardly get any grayer. Meanwhile, owners are often having a tough time persuading their children to pick up the torch and carry on in the hobby. For people who have been involved with old cars for decades, it has to be incredibly discouraging. A New York Times article referenced by Vellequette offers an interesting parallel. Some older folks are facing a melancholy reality: Their children have zero interest in their cherished heirlooms. Baby boomers haven’t just been buying cars, it turns out -- they’ve been buying lots and lots of stuff, and as they’re downsizing, they’re having trouble finding family members who want anything to do with it.

But for every piece of old-world furniture that ends up at a thrift store, there are boxes of ... well, not junk, but pseudo-collectibles: Franklin Mint die-cast models, officially licensed “I Love Lucy” memorabilia and other assorted nostalgia-bait tchotchkes. It’s not that younger generations have no direct connection to this stuff -- it’s that most of it is not terribly interesting. Even wedding china is something of a mystery to us, though maybe we’d understand and desire it if we’d ever seen it used.

Cars are not like limited-edition ceramic figurines or Salvation Army-bound Lenox tableware, though. I won’t say the car’s appeal is universal because it isn’t, but the range of people captivated by cars never ceases to amaze me. What’s in the spotlight changes from generation to generation, but today’s enthusiasts don’t limit themselves to what they longed for growing up. There’s a surprisingly young crowd keeping the traditional postwar hot-rod and motorcycle scene alive, for example. Thriving events like The Race of Gentlemen have only made it bigger and more mainstream.

And that’s why prices have yet to plunge. Again, I’ve been angling for a prewar car for a while now. I’ve been reassured that values for everything from Ford Model As to Packards are going to collapse as collectors downsize (or -- let’s be honest -- die off), but that simply has not happened. Sure, old American iron hasn’t kept pace with Euro sports cars, but values don’t seem to have any trouble matching inflation. The bloodbath has not materialized.

If that doomsday scenario mentioned above does play out, it will probably be the result of some massive financial cataclysm rather than a sudden baby boomer automotive divestment. But if it did go down, what would happen next? Scrap buyers hit up auction houses, bulk-buy old unsold Mopars and crush them into little cubes?

Don’t be ridiculous. It might be chaos in the short run, but prices just like water will find a new level -- likely substantially below today’s, but never so low that these cars won’t still be desirable. In the wake of this massive but purely hypothetical sell-off, collector car ownership won’t seem quite so unattainable. This alone won’t make those pesky millennials interested in bias-ply tires and carburetors, but it will bring those of us sidelined by high prices into the hobby. I might be able to afford that Model A, finally.

Reprinted with permission.

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