Round One of the 2013 Auction Season is Done – What Did We Learn?

The first round of the 2013 auction season drew to a close as Mecum wrapped up ten days and 3,000 cars in Kissimmee, Florida.  Dana Mecum’s January event has become the largest automotive auction in the world and kicks off just as the Scottsdale auctions are wrapping up.  Combined, the timing offers the collector almost twenty non stop days of car auctions.  This year Corvette enthusiasts had the added incentive of seeing the new C7 Corvette at Barrett-Jackson on Saturday the 19th. 

Famed collector of all things Chevy, Rick Hendrick, opened his wallet and placed the winning bid on the first production C7 Corvette at Barrett-Jackson.

So for almost a full month, the collector has been barraged with auction information about the cars being sold and even about the auctions themselves.  Add to all of this the fact that much of Mecum’s and Barrett-Jackson’s events were televised and I’m sure many readers have had enough!  

But please bear with me for just a few more words, because unless you had the satisfaction of being the high bidder on one of the over 5,000 cars that were hammered down over the last three weeks, what was the take away from all the auction hoopla?

Craig Jackson announced that Barrett-Jackson will participate in Reno’s well known car show and festival, “Hot August Nights

Return to Greatness, or Excess?

The first thing you need to be aware of is the collector car market is very healthy; in fact it is thriving.  The auction results indicate that the market has finally made up the ground lost during the recession.  If you found yourself a little “gun shy” from the 2008 crash before making the leap back onto the market, it appears this would be a good time to get back in.  The market has been on the upswing for 2011 and 2012 season but had not actually made it completely back to the best years of 2006 and 2007. 

Every auction house, except one, showed significant increases for the season.  Even Barrett-Jackson, whose focus prior to 2012 was on the hardest hit segment of the market and suffered one of the biggest downturns when the market crashed, had sales equaling their largest year ever, 2007.  During the auction Craig Jackson announced that Barrett-Jackson will participate in Reno’s well known car show and festival, “Hot August Nights”.  And apparently auction results were strong enough to instill the confidence for Drew Alcazar, owner of Russo and Steele auctions, to add two additional auctions to his collector car venue; La Vegas, Nevada and Newport Beach, California.  

One of the other takeaways from the last month was that “blue chip” collectibles continued to lead the market.  Over thirty cars were sold for over $1.0 million in Scottsdale alone and several world record prices were set.  The other segment of the market that stood out was the “entry level” cars.  This was clearly shown at Mecum, where consignments approached 3,000 and Barrett-Jackson where fifteen hundred cars crossed the block. 

The 1968 Owens-Corning L88, described as the "winningest" in racing history, sold for a cool million bucks at Barrett-Jackson.

Between the two auction houses we saw almost five hundred Corvettes being auctioned in every price range.  Barrett-Jackson offered the “winningest” Corvette in history and saw it hammered down at $1.0 million.  We saw more than a couple L88 Corvettes sold; almost every auction house had at least one to sell, including Gooding & Company’s blue convertible which sold for over $800,000. The two L88’s at Mecum initially failed to meet the reserve and were still being negotiated in Mecum’s “The Bid Goes On” area.  When the bidding stalled they were both bid up to over $400,000.  And the number of NCRS award cars was staggering.  The takeaway here is that if you are seriously in the market for a collectible Corvette it is well worth your time to be in Scottsdale and Kissimmee, where the chances are that you will not only find the year and engine of the Corvette you are looking for, but you will most likely have a choice of options as well.

If you love Corvettes you’re going to want to use them

Not Just a Game for Millionaires

The final lesson, especially for those of us who don’t have a spare million lying around, is pointing out “where should I put my limited funds if I want to get into a Corvette?” Always, my advice is to put your money into a car that you love; one that you love to drive, to look at, and to play with.  Unless you are into the “big buck” blue chip cars, (cars that sell in excess of $120,000) I tend not to even look at the “investment potential” in most cases.  If you love Corvettes you’re going to want to use them, so buy the Corvette you love to drive, one that fits you.  I cannot stress this enough.

Speaking of cars that you can really drive and enjoy, last month we ran one of the most helpful pieces any prospective Corvette buyer should not only read but memorize:  “Choosing the Blue Collar Supercar: Corvette C5 Buyer’s Guide” by Wes Bird. I am among those who believe the C5 Corvette is the most beautiful and reliable performance car ever built (I have to admit that I am especially partial to C5 Fixed Roof Coupe).  If you have never experienced this car, do yourself a favor and drive one. I mean really “drive” one.  Take it on the twisty-turnies.  Push the car.  Even do a few quarter mile passes. Drive it. The 5th generation Corvette is a perfect car for the new enthusiast looking for something that can be appreciated as both art and transportation.

Even though prices for top-end collectibles like this 1968 L88 convertible, which sold for $825k at Gooding & Co., have rebounded from their recession-era lows, there is still room for would-be collectors to get back into the market without paying ultra-premium prices.

Though I own both current and previous generation Corvettes, I often pass by my C6s in favor of the C5 because it never fails to excite me.  I can’t wait to settle into the supple leather seats, smell the aroma of the soft leather trim, listen to the dissonance of the exhaust burble, and wrap my hand around the massive Hurst shift knob.  It absolutely fits me like a well worn driving glove.  Of course not enough good things can be said about the bulletproof LS engine; couple that to a 6 speed manual transmission (and if you’re really into kicks add a Halltech Stinger induction, a Borla exhaust and Hurst shifter) and it just doesn’t get any better, at least for me.  Yeah, my C6’s are faster and maybe even handle better, but the C5 just seems to fit like a well worn pair of jeans.

The point is, when you decide on a Corvette it should all be about you and you alone.  Don’t get the car you think your friends would want you to get; get the car you want and feel good in.  If you want an automatic then get one – the same goes for a manual.  If you want the big horsepower engine get it, if it enhances your driving experience.  The point is it is all about you.  

This 1994 ZR-1 sold for a mere $27,500 at Russo and Steele - it's a good example of the kind of collectible Corvette that can be driven and enjoyed without having ridiculously deep pockets.

Beat the Rush

And now for the GREAT takeaway from auction month; the results have indicated that there are hundreds of Corvettes available to you at a great price.  C4, C5, and C6 generations have yet to experience much, if any, appreciation and some are still in the depreciation stage of their lives.   Of the over five hundred Corvettes auctioned, there were less than ten C5’s (other than resto-modded body conversion cars) and less than seventy C4’s. 

I would venture a guess that we will see a lot more C4’s and C5’s cross the block in 2014

So few cars being consigned means it is a buyer’s market when it comes to these generations. There’s no selling frenzy bandwagon to chase –  It means you can still get one of these for a great price.  Whether your taste runs to the coupe, the convertible, the hardtop (known as the FRC) or the Z06 there probably is a C5 that fits you, and your financial means. I would venture a guess that we will see a lot more C4’s and C5’s cross the block in 2014, and we will see these cars begin to appreciate.

If you’re interested in modern Corvettes, now’s the time to jump in.  Don’t expect a huge, immediate rise in prices; that is not the way the market works, but they will begin the slow upward climb in value.  I stress again to read the aforementioned article, go find a car you love, and drive it.  If somehow you can’t find your perfect match locally, then plan on spending a few weeks in Arizona and Florida next year where you will likely be able to find exactly what you want.

About the author

Rick Tavel

Rick Tavel is a freelance automotive journalist and an avid car enthusiast. Though he spent his professional career as a business executive now retired he devotes his time to writing, organizing Corvette events, and consulting for his company, R/TCorvetteConsultants. He is currently working on a book about the significance and development of the C5 Fixed Roof Coupe. Along with his book, he is also working on a registry for these cars. He currently owns a show quality survivor Trans Am, a Corvette C5 FRC and a Corvette C6 coupe.
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