Henry N. Manney III, an automotive journalist best known for his extensive writing in Road & Track magazine, purchased a Ferrari 250 GTO in the late 1960s. One of 36 built, the car was the sports car/ $18,000 top-of-the-line racing car from Ferrari in 1962. When the cars first rolled off the line, Enzo Ferrari, the company’s founder, had to personally approve each buyer.
But less than a decade later, when Manney bought his GTO, he paid less than a third of its original cost. Today the car could be worth more than $60 million, with a 1963 model selling for $70 million in 2018.
With that purchase, Mr. Manney, who died in 1988, became something of a legend, a folk hero, and a role model for people of limited means who were able to purchase and enjoy truly special cars through the miracle of depreciation. It’s a hobby that base car enthusiasts may no longer be able to partake in today.
At the moment, high-end sports car depreciation cycles are clearly doing something unusual. In the past, these cars lost a large percentage of their value shortly after sale. From there, it was a long way to the bottom of the depreciation curve, where cars often languished for years, sometimes decades, before nostalgia-driven interest drove values higher again. Collectors would tend to notice only when a car’s value has returned to its original price.
But recently, depreciation curves appear to have become much shallower, and appreciation appears to be happening much sooner than in the past. That may spell the end for today’s middle class that dreams of buying ambitious cars for pennies on the dollar.
“In the mid-2010s, the paradigm shifted around high-end sports cars,” said John Wiley, manager of valuation analysis at Hagerty, the auto insurance company. “While cars like the 2005 Ford GT, 2005 Porsche Carrera GT and 2003 BMW Z8 had seen modest depreciation after five years, the next generation of high-end, limited-production sports cars like the McLaren P1, the new Ford GT and The Porsche 918 Spyder had appreciated it all after five years.”
Art Mason, a commercial airline pilot living in Pennsylvania, had his own dreams of owning a Ferrari. While his dreams weren’t as lofty as Manney’s, he did buy a 1982 Ferrari 308 GTSi, complete with warranty, for $35,500 in 2008.
“That price was a little more than half what the new car cost, and 308s had been available in that price range for almost 20 years,” he said. “For a West Philly kid who spent his youth shoving his nose against showroom windows, the idea of owning a Ferrari was a big deal.”
Mason sold the Ferrari about 10 years ago for $36,000, but today, that 308 could be fetching $100,000, or a third more than its original list price.
The idea of owning a Ferrari for half the price new or less is fading fast. An early 2000s 360 Modena with a manual transmission is already about $25,000 more than its original price of about $150,000. That Ferrari’s depreciation path has been nothing like that of its ancestor, the 308.
“A lot of people are willing to pay significantly more for cars than collectors have in the past,” Mason said. “As much as I would love to own a Ferrari, it just doesn’t appeal to me that much at the prices the cars are offering now. Many of these cars are being put into large collections and hidden away. It seems like proof that enthusiasts like me aren’t buying these cars anymore.”
Neil Gellman, a St. Louis-based real estate agent, had wanted a Porsche 911 Turbo for most of his life.
About eight years ago, he noticed that the 911 Turbos of the early 2000s had gotten remarkably, and almost unbelievably, cheap. He bought a 2001 model with 39,000 miles for $36,000.
“The new car cost over $100,000,” Gellman said. “I couldn’t believe that for less than $40,000 I could buy a barely used 911 Turbo, for what was essentially the price of a new Camry.”
Today, the value of that car is already approaching its original selling price. In hindsight, Mr. Gellman realizes that he bought the car from him at the bottom of the depreciation curve. “I never expected the car to increase in value so much, so quickly. I could have held on to that,” he said.
Typically, Mr. Wiley of Hagerty noted, cars like used Porsche 911 Turbos would bottom out and then stay there for a while.
“Until around 2011, you could still buy a 1980s 911 Turbo for less than half its original price,” he said.
Now, the new 911 Turbos are selling above their original price and no existing model seems to be depreciating. Some vintage 911s, in fact, are appreciating quite quickly, particularly those with manual transmissions, Wiley said.
“It’s hard to come up with a precise explanation,” he said. “Cars have certainly gotten more expensive, and people may be using them and valuing them differently, running them on fewer miles, and maybe also realizing that we are nearing the end of the pure internal combustion era. of the automobile, and that these cars will be considered quite special in the future.”
Lamborghinis are also increasing in value. The Gallardo was the company’s best-selling car, with more than 14,000 sold between 2008 and 2018. That was a huge figure for a boutique manufacturer, which had made roughly 30,00 cars in total before the Gallardo came out. Around 2019, the oldest vintage Gallardos had bottomed out in the $80,000 range, about half their original cost. Today those cars are priced at over $100,000, with rare manual transmission Gallardos selling for over $200,000.
There is also the current reality based on supply and demand.
Many of the new sports cars that are produced in smaller numbers actually start at prices significantly higher than the actual selling price. Recently, Mr. Mason, the Pennsylvania driver and former Ferrari owner, purchased a new Porsche 718 Spyder.
“I might have been the last common person to buy one at list price, and would never have paid a premium, but from what I understand people are paying upwards of $30,000 over MSRP to get one. While a buyer in those circumstances might not get that extra margin back from the dealer in the future, I don’t expect my car to depreciate much, ever.”