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The expert guide to high-dollar collectible cars of the future

Brett Berk
March 17, 2014

David Gooding is the founder of the Gooding & Co. auction house, an exclusive and successful endeavor that has sold some of the most beautiful (and valuable) collectible cars in the world. His company hosts a trio of auctions annually, often coinciding with esteemed gatherings of classic vehicles like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

One of these top-notch car shows, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, just took place, and Gooding’s sale there was a banner event, grossing over $30 million and setting fifteen new auction sales records. Since he’s one of the most charming and erudite people we know when it comes to the collectible automobile market, we invited David to walk around the Concours show field with us, gawk at the imposing classics assembled there, and talk about some of the standard bearers and up and comers. 

Not surprisingly for anyone who has at all followed the market recently, David’s top sales, nine of which crested the $1 million mark, were nearly all blue chip German and Italian brands — Porsches, Ferraris, Benzes, and Bimmers. “The very high end of the market is as strong as it’s ever been and will likely continue,” Gooding said on the fairway. “I can’t see maintaining 40 to 50 percent growth every year like we’ve been seeing recently, but I also don’t anticipate a cataclysmic correction.”

This means that Mercedes 300SL Gullwing coupes and roadsters, and mid-century Ferrari GTs will continue to fetch seven-figure prices, like the 1964 Benz and 1955 Fezza that Gooding hammered for $2.035 million and $2.530 million, respectively. Gooding attributes some of this market strength to the continuing existence of low interest rates, but also credits a pair of less immediately visible trends. “We’ve finally turned a corner in seeing autos as an asset class like other high end collectibles,” he said. “Plus people are now seeing cars, and particularly classic cars, as a true art form, and treating them as such — like fine art — in the market.”

But what about those of us who don’t have a line of credit good for endless cheap millions? Well, Gooding had a significant field of low to mid five-figure vehicles in this sale — many of which came from a large single marque collection of 18 BMWs that he had been chasing for some time. (“It’s like a romance,” he said of the pursuit. “It takes some time. It’s not a one night stand.”) 

Gooding claimed that BMWs have been underappreciated in the market in recent years, but that brand loyalty, a great performance and design heritage, and the high prices of other German marques have recently caused an uptick in interest and prices. Clean, low mileage, original, and limited production BMWs like the 1971 2002 Cabriolet ($68,200) the 1988 M6 ($57,200) or the 1964 3200 CS ($48,400) Gooding sold at Amelia thus represent a great mid entry-level offering.

Similarly, Porsche 911 prices—particularly for the first generation cars from the mid-60s and the powerful, lightweight RS cars of the early 70s—have recently skyrocketed, putting them out of reach of many enthusiasts. But Gooding says that now might be the time to pull the trigger on buying a nice 914, 944, or 928. “A good, quality Porsche of any era is getting pulled up by the high prices 911s are garnering,” he says. When we asked about the possibility of a six-figure 924, he not only didn’t laugh in our face, he actually nodded and said that it was “not impossible” to imagine in the near-ish future.

And if you missed the boat on Mercedes-Benz Gullwings, and their junior siblings the 190SL, and their stately older brothers the 280SE 3.5 cabriolets, and their descendants the Pagoda top roadsters of the 60s and 70s — the values of which Gooding described as “white hot”— you might still have a crack at an appreciating Benz convertible. “560SLs are coming up,” Gooding said of the last of the long line of lovely, tank-like R107 roadsters from the late 80s. “Especially cars in unusual colors, those are selling very well.”

If you’re really looking for a real entry-level crack at the market, however, you’ll have to look past Germany and Italy. “British cars are a really good value right now,” Gooding told us as we finished our walk. “Big Bentley and Rolls sedans and coupes have great heritage and looks and quality, and are ongoing and aspirational brands that are still thriving. Same with Jaguars, which have a rough but generally undeserved reputation.”

We’re personally stalking an 80s or 90s V-12 XJS coupe or convertible right now, many seemingly decent examples of which currently sell in the high fourto lowest end of the five-figure range. We told Gooding that seemed like an almost criminal undervaluing of these gracious grand tourers. He nodded and smiled. “I would absolutely agree.”

But his best piece of advice was also the most emotional and honest, and gets to the heart of the hobby and our love of cars. “If it looks cheap to you and you believe in it,” he said, “follow your interest. Too many times I’ve sat around with the guys I work with talking about we should buy this car or that, and a year later it’s not affordable.

We immediately went back to our hotel room and redoubled our eBay search for a clean XJS.