Good Investment Vehicles

While an unabashed love of classic cars is what really drives collectors to spend millions or even tens of millions on the hobby, the purchases—in addition to providing ego boosts and adrenaline rushes—often prove to be good investments as well.

Indeed, given the low returns on more traditional investment plays, some underwriters report collector cars are becoming even more popular these days as buyers view them as a way to park money in a relatively safe investment—while also getting a lot more enjoyment than what a stock or bond provides.

“We’re the largest underwriter of fine-art collections in the U.S., and one of the trends we’ve seen is that when the parents pass, the children are liquidating the art collections and redirecting [the dollars] to other collectibles,  such as classic cars,” says Ron Fiamma, vice president and director of private collections for the Private Client Group division of Chartis.

Adds Donald Soss, a vice president in Fireman’s Fund’s Private Wealth group: “Wealthy people want to put their money in stable assets, and we’re not seeing a lot of devaluation in these cars, especially if they are not driven. It’s a hot market right now—not least because the HAGI (Historic Automobile Group International) classic-car indices have outperformed the S&P 500 for the last six years.”

Recent auction numbers demonstrate the growth: In January at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., one of the hobby’s biggest buying events, the company generated more than $92 million in gross sales—a 32 percent increase over 2011.

European sports cars from the 1950s and ’60s are still seen as the gold standard among investors; interest in American muscle cars from the ’60s—which had been soaring in recent years—has flattened out.

Buying trends agents and insurers should be alert to: Pickup trucks from the 1950s and ’60s are starting to garner more attention, especially from entry-level buyers, notes McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty Insurance. “We’re also seeing increasing interest in early Japanese collector cars and British bikes like Triumphs and Nortons.

“We do espouse that cars are a good investment; if you can afford to buy a Mercedes Gullwing, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’re not going to lose money,” adds Hagerty. “But I don’t know too many people who collect who say they do it for the valuations; it’s about the passion and fun.”

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