Summer 2020

A dynamic collector car market is racing toward unprecedented sales, broken records, and better technology.

Original Porsche 550 Spyders. Courtesy Stephan Bauer

Collector cars have always set the standard for driving in the luxury lane, especially in 2020, when the open road provided a much-needed taste of freedom.

Last September, the $12.6 million sale of the 1934 Bugatti, Type 59 Sports, formerly a Works Grand Prix in 1934- 35 and once owned by King Leopold III of Belgium, became the most expensive single collector car trade in 2020. It sold at the Passion of a Lifetime auction hosted by leading automotive auctioneer Gooding & Company, at the Hampton Court Palace in London. Despite the auction's online bidding and social distancing, Passion of a Lifetime had $47 million in total sales and a $3.2 million average sale price, breaking the record for the highest average sale per car at a single public auction.

This 1934 Bugatti, Type 59 Sports, was the most expensive car sold at auction in 2020 for £9.5M.

#1 Sale in 20201934 Bugatti Type 59 Sports. Sold: £9,535,000 ≈ $12,661,526. Courtesy Gooding & Company and Mathieu Heurtault

This auction is among the many highlights in the collector car industry’s year. Gooding & Co.’s five car auctions since January 2020—three of which were online only—collectively fetched $144 million in total, with an average sale price of $767,371 and 91% sell- through rate.

Similarly, Mecum Auctions, the largest auction house in volume for ultra-luxury collector cars, is riding on an 80% sell- through rate from its 2020 auctions, three of which were exclusively online. Coming off a strong year, their recent January 2021 auction grossed $110 million in sales volume, breaking their own previously-held volume record by 15%. The top single sale at this 2021 auction was Caroll Shelby's 1965 Shelby 427 Cobra Roadster, for $5.94 million.

#3 Sale in 2021 YTDCarroll Shelby’s Personal 1965 427 Cobra Roadster Sold: $5,940,000Courtesy Mecum Auctions, Inc.

This 1965 427 Cobra Roadster was one of Caroll Shelbyʼs personal cars for over 50 years.

#3 Sale in 2021 YTDCarroll Shelby’s Personal 1965 427 Cobra Roadster Sold: $5,940,000. Courtesy Mecum Auctions, Inc.


“In this market,” says David Gooding, Gooding & Co.ʼs Founder and President, “we are observing a greater divide between good, better, and best, and clients are increasingly selective with their purchases.” In large part, that is due to the increasing free time the pandemic afforded to everyone, as well as travel limits and canceled vacations that encouraged collectors to turn their attention to at-home luxuries.

The top five trades in 2020 were all from the same manufacturer and the same era: 1920s-‘30s Ettore-era racing Bugattis.

#2 Sale in 2020 1937Bugatti Type 57S Atalante. Sold: £7,855,000 ≈ $10,430,654. Courtesy Gooding & Company and Mathieu Heurtault

The advent of efficient online bidding has been another major factor driving sales during 2020, says John Kraman, the Director of Company Relations at Mecum Auctions. Auction houses that quickly adapted to seamless online bidding experiences have seen outsized success compared to those that did not. For Mecum, online and absentee participation constituted 3 to 5% of all bidding before the pandemic; by January 2021, online bidders made up 30% of all trades.

This 1932 vehicle is 1 of 14 Super Sports including the coachwork of Jean Bugatti, the son of Ettore, the founder.

#3 Sale in 20201932 Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport Roadster. Sold: $7,100,000. Courtesy Bonhams


Notably, Gen X and millennial buyers are also participating in the market at higher rates. Unlike Boomer “nostalgia” buyers who remember mid-20th century cars as new models, the younger “legacy” collectors fantasize about “stories and the hype, the television shows and the styling of the cars,” says Kraman. Most popular in this group is a Resto Mod, or a vintage car updated with all modern mechanicals. John Wiley, a senior analyst at Hagerty’s Automotive Intelligence Group, says that in the Porsche market, Baby Boomers tend to favor air-cooled, long-hooded models, whereas Millennials opt for “newer, water- cooled cars—namely 997 and 991—but also show plenty of interest in the air- cooled 911 of their youth, the 993.

“Popular among younger buyers are Resto-Mods, or vintage cars updated with modern mechanicals.”

John Kraman Director of Company Relations, Mecum Auctions

Original Porsche 550 Spyders. Courtesy Stephan Bauer

Sandra Button, the Chairman of Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, one of the most prestigious collector car shows in the U.S., adds that, “authenticity, whether in a preservation or a restored car, is increasingly important. Collectors want cars that are true to themselves and true to their era.” She adds that there is a shift toward favoring newer cars as well. “Tastes have shifted away from the more formal, chauffeured cars that won Concours in decades past,” she says. Small cars can be elegant, “as long as the designer practices restraint. On a small car, thereʼs no room for error.”

Debuted in the 1932 Le Mans 24-Hour Race, this vehicle was later rebodied by Italian coachbuilder Figoni.

#5 Sale in 20201931 Bugatti Type 55 Two-Seat Supersport. Sold: £4,600,000 ≈ $5,543,460. Courtesy Bonhams


While the Bugatti make is among the best in the world, the most expensive collector cars at auction have historically been Ferraris. However, the fact that in an already bullish year, the top five sales at public auction were all from the same manufacturer and the same era—the Ettore and Jean Bugatti era, or 1920s to late 1930s racing Bugattis—suggests that collectors are prizing the marque’s longevity of performance. 2020 was the first time that the top five cars sold at auction were made by a single manufacturer.

Aston Martinʼs DB3S set a new Australian land speed record in 1957 at 143.19 MPH.

#8 Sale in 20201955 Aston Martin DB3S. Sold: £3,011,000 ≈ $3,998,306. Courtesy Gooding & Company and Mathieu Heurtault

Despite a declining interest in pre-war vehicles, Bugatti is an exception, as their value increases directly with their age. “Every historic Bugatti vehicle is unique,” says Frank Wilke, Managing Director of Classic Analytics. “Those built between 1920 and the end of the 1930s set standards in both performance and design. However last year’s auctioned vehicles were particularly outstanding in terms of history and originality,” he says.

“Environmental converter kits are being made for post- war cars, such as Jaguar E-types and Aston Martins.”

Sandra Button Chairman, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

#8 Sale in 20201955 Aston Martin DB3S. Sold: £3,011,000 ≈ $3,998,306. Courtesy Gooding & Company and Mathieu Heurtault

That said, as of mid-April 2021, the top four sold cars date from the late ‘50s to early ‘70s, the top sale being the 1972 Matra MS 670, auctioned by Artcurial auction house, for $8.3 million.

Carrozzeria Scaglietti, the coachwork designer, built just 205 examples of Ferraris with the long nose body style.

1966 Ferrari 275 GTB Long Nose. Sold in 2020: $3,080,000. Courtesy Gooding & Company and Brian Henniker

Looking to the future, experts say that the collector car market will accommodate environmental concerns. “Converter kits are being made for some collector cars—primarily post-war cars like Jaguar E-types and Aston Martins,” explains Button.

As of mid-April, the top 2021 sales have been cars that date from the late ‘50s to early ‘70s.

#7 Sale in 20201971 Lamborghini Miura P400 SV Speciale. Sold: £3,207,000 ≈ $4,258,575. Courtesy Gooding & Company and Mathieu Heurtault

“But the collectors considering such a conversion usually want assurance that their car can be returned to its original state without any damage.”

The infiltration of self-driving technologies are also unlikely, she says. “If you have a collector car, and you want to enjoy it on drives and rallies, then you want to do the driving.”

#7 Sale in 20201971 Lamborghini Miura P400 SV Speciale. Sold: £3,207,000 ≈ $4,258,575. Courtesy Gooding & Company and Mathieu Heurtault

With this yearʼs upcoming events— from the Goodwood Revival to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, and the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza—time will tell if the same trend materializes throughout the rest of 2021, favoring historic racing as last year, or if a new favorite will win the hearts of collectors. Either way, there’s a promising road ahead.

1974 Lamborghini Contouch LP400. Courtesy Stephan Bauer


Given last year’s travel and event limitations, we’ve curated the most anticipated events for collector car enthusiasts to attend in 2021.

Mille Miglia (est. 1927) | June 16-19, 2021 | Brescia to Rome
Goodwood Festival of Speed (est. 1993) | July 8-11, 2021 | Goodwood house, Chichester, West Sussex
Pebble Beach Concourse D'Elegance (est. 1950) | August 15, 2021 | Carmel, California
Goodwood Revival (est. 1998) | September 17-19, 2021 | Goodwood house, Chichester, West Sussex
Concourse D'Eleganza (est. 1929) | October 1-3, 2021 Villa D'este Hotel, Lake Como




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