ORLANDO — Walking along the display of 120 collector cars, ranging from tiny two-seat BMW Isettas to massive Rolls-Royce limousines, it's easy to imagine that the sagging economy hasn't touched the hundreds of car owners at the Annual Winter Park Concours d'Elegance in Orlando.
As an investment, certain segments of the collector car market have suffered, while other segments — especially at the top of the market — seem unaffected.
"There's a $10 million car here," said Thomas duPont, who helped found the show nine years ago and continues to sponsor it. DuPont is the publisher of the duPont Registry, a publication based in St. Petersburg that lists hundred of collector cars for sale, as well as other high-ticket products.
That $10 million car is a 1931 Bentley 8-liter, an ultra-rare race car owned by Gale and Henry Petronis of Orlando.
Most of us consider "resale value" when we buy a vehicle, but those who invest in cars are hoping for a longer-term payoff by selecting a model that appreciates in value.
Ford Heacock III, president of Heacock Insurance Group in Lakeland, instituted a division of the company called Heacock Classic, which insures collector cars for 30,000 clients.
Heacock said that while collector cars are undeniably an investment, "It's an investment driven by passion for most of us." The downturn in the economy has hurt collectors just as it has everyone else, he said, but that passion has kept most of them involved. It has also resulted in an upturn in certain segments of the collector market, as some of his clients with money to spare, unsure about the future of more conventional investments, "are 'parking' some of their money in classic cars," Heacock said.
Particularly hot, said duPont and Heacock, are prime, high-dollar vehicles that are authentic, and may have "provenance." That means there is something that sets them apart — they are the first or last of their kind, they won a particular race, or they may have been owned by someone notable. These vehicles generally go for $200,000 and up.
Other segments of the market haven't fared so well, making it a "buyer's market," Heacock said. In general, "muscle cars," such as the Pontiac GTO or Plymouth Road Runner from the 1960s and early 1970s, have seen a "correction" in their price of as much as 30 percent, Heacock said. Some vehicles in the street hot rod market have dropped as much as 50 percent in value.
So what should collectors buy? DuPont counsels his readers to buy vehicles that mean something to them as a first priority, then secondly as an investment. "If you don't know the market, get advice from someone who does," duPont said. And look for a clean, original car from a reputable seller.
If your collector car increases in value, great. But if it doesn't, "You'll have something you enjoy driving," duPont said, "or at least admiring."
For more information on collector cars as an investment, visit ClassicMotorsports.net or DuPontRegistry.com.