Now celebrating his 20th year as the Cofounder, President and CEO of Russo and Steele Collector Automobile Auctions, Drew Alcazar knows a thing or two about collector cars. With January’s collector car auction season just around the corner, Drew has some advice on which vehicles to sell, hold and buy for both novice hobbyists and seasoned veterans alike.
Gingerbread Americana: Drew’s first sell category is what he likes to call “Gingerbread Americana.” These are the mid-1950s vehicles that were festooned with overly abundant chrome trim, tail fins and other “pre-space age” accoutrements. Some examples include; Buick Skylarks & Roadmasters and the popular Tri-Five Chevys like the Bel Air, Nomad and of course, the Impala.
“Just about everybody who wanted to pay six plus figures for one of these cars has already bought one,” said Drew. “They cost a lot more to restore today than what they’re worth, by as much as four or five times. It doesn’t matter how many options the car has or how rare you might think it is; the market for these cars has dipped considerably, as the demand has left the building like Elvis.”
Fad Cars: This category includes vehicles that became hot very quickly for a short period of time in the marketplace and then suffered from an oversaturation in the market. Many times, in a rush to market, some restorations on these cars and trucks were hastily done and many buyers overpaid for them. Fad cars include the Mercedes 190SL, Chevrolet C10 pickups and Toyota FJs. Their values have fallen flat and aren’t likely to increase in the near future. One notable exception to this category is the classic Ford Bronco, which is still enjoying its heyday in terms of popularity and escalating value.
Lunatic Fringe Cars: Have you ever seen a meticulously restored AMC Pacer, Edsel, or far worse; Trabant, AM Lagonda, Cadillac Cimarron or Yugo with fake wood side trim and thought the owner was crazy for dumping that much money into it? He or she might love it but to most people the car represents an asterisks footnote in automobile vehicle manufacturing. While the nostalgic factor on these types of very niche vehicles may be high, they typically were very poorly built and deteriorated quickly.
No “But…” Cars: Can you stand next to your car and not say the word “but” when someone asks you a question about it? For example, if someone asks if it is all original and you respond with “Yes, everything but the paint, replacement crate motor and the tube frame,” this is not a not a “no but…” car. A true “no but…” car should be well documented, numbers matching and ALL original. There should be no stories justifying its existence, no drama in its history, no excuses in the factory authenticity and exactness of its restoration, period.
“I also like to call ‘no but’ cars blue chip or “YES!” vehicles,” said Drew. “If you can say “yes” to all the important questions relating to the authenticity of the car, such as whether it’s numbers matching, all original, etc. then it’s definitely a keeper! The one rule I live by is that good quality blue chip vehicles with great provenance will always command a market premium, regardless if the market is up or down”.
Drew’s recommendations for ‘no but’ cars include the genuine Hemi Cuda convertible, original Shelby Cobras, Mercedes-Benz 300SL, 1965 Shelby GT350, Series 1 Jaguar E-types, and any 250 Series Ferrari. While the reasons vary for the visceral appeal of these cars, they all are indefinitely collectible, and will remain so long after fuel exists to drive them.
Early ‘80s and Early ‘90s Survivor Cars: This era was like the dark ages for all manufactures worldwide. From Ford to Ferrari emissions requirements and insurance premiums ushered in a time of shoddy workmanship, poor build quality, horrible reliability and anemic performance. So why are cars from this time period a buy? Because finding one in “showroom brand new” condition is akin to finding a unicorn with a four-leaf clover in its mouth. In other words, if you can find one, buy it!
The Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice eras brought us some of the coolest-looking iconic exotics that we all fondly remember, such as the Ferrari 308 and 328, the Testarossa and the literal poster child of collector cars, the Lamborghini Countach. While these vehicles had two seats, one for the driver and the other for the vehicle’s mechanic, and were slow by today’s standards, they were and still are rolling works of art that have held up well in terms of design over time. If you can find an unmolested example with low miles that has been well taken care of, buy it.
On the American side, examples include the Buick Grand National, the second-generation Trans Am, the Mustang 5.0 GT & SVO, Impala SS and Mercury Marauder. These cars embodied true modern American muscle except for the Mustang SVO—it tried to be muscular in an era of emissions restrictions but ultimately failed due to an engine the size of Coke bottle with a hairdryer hung on the side. However, it is still a rarity and can fetch a pretty penny when sold, the caveat being “brand spanking new” in condition. All the other American marques listed here represent big power, big chassis and rear-drive fun in an unapologetically brutish and primitive package that’s difficult to find nowadays, particularly sands computers managing the drivetrain.
“I see an upward trend for vehicles of this era,” said Drew. “Most of them were limited production and finding one in truly spectacular condition is a serious challenge. My only recommendation is not to restore these cars. You’ll never get your money back. Find a true, stellar survivor, buy it and hold onto it.”
Second Buyer Cars: If you don’t mind waiting, there are some great deals to be had on pre-owned cars that have taken a depreciation hit. Let others pay top dollar for these cars when new and then scoop them up a few years later at a fraction of the cost. These vehicles include the 2019 ZR1 Corvette, Aston Martin DBS and DB9, the recent Mustang Boss 302 and Camaro Z28, the first-generation Porsche 911 GT3, and the Mercedes Benz SLR & SLS AMG.
Note that some of these are special variants of base model cars such as the ZR1, the GT3 and the American pony cars. This puts them in a special category of coveted performers, and they will likely always be collectible. The other models are special in their own right. They were built in limited numbers and will likely gain value over time if taken care of. However, Drew ends with one last bit of sage advice regarding these particular cars; “The computer controls and replacement component availability on these era cars will ultimately make them difficult to maintain and repair. Enjoy them in all their spectacular glory, when the tires wear out – then buy new tires and drive them some more!”
Running January 15 through 19, 2020, Russo and Steele will provide hundreds of top-quality collector cars for a variety of buyers at their new site in Scottsdale, AZ just off the south side of the Loop 101 Freeway.
Learn more at www.russoandsteele.com and like them on Facebook and Instagram @RussoandSteele.
Images courtesy of American Car Collector