Whichever index you use, there are signs car collectors may be starting to take their foot off the accelerator: This year, the percentage of cars selling at auction has fallen. Cars with an interesting, important, or even quirky history still sell, says James Knight, who heads the motoring department at Bonhams. But at Bonhams’s auction at this year’s Goodwood Revival, several multi-million-pound Ferraris and Jaguars failed to find buyers. For more run-of-the-mill specimens (“the sort of cars you can buy any weekend”), Knight says, “we are seeing it become more of a buyer’s market.”
Kidston partly blames the auction houses for this state of affairs, saying that they saturate the market by scheduling too many auctions over the same few weeks in September and promise owners unrealistic estimates to win consignments. The quality of the cars on offer suffers as a result, he says. “It undermines the very notion that classic cars are rare and that you should only buy the best,” he says as he sips tea in a leather armchair inside the Driver’s Club at Goodwood, his clipped English accent cutting through the nerve-jangling, 12-cylinder screams coming from outside.
Unlike the many newcomers to the market, Kidston remembers the early 1990s, when vintage car prices collapsed—Ferrari valuations fell as much as 70 percent—and took more than a decade to recover. Such a dramatic implosion is unlikely this time, Kidston says, but it’s foolish to think prices will keep going up. “I’m not a prophet of doom, but you need to be aware of the risks,” he says during another interview, this time in his Geneva office. Located on the fifth floor of an art nouveau building, it’s decorated with vintage racing posters and old photographs. In a small anteroom filled with auction catalogs and car reference books stands a 1981 Ducati 900 “Mike Hailwood Replica” motorbike. “If you buy the best, you are unlikely to regret it, but determining what is really ‘the best’ is key,” he says.
Finding the best is what Kidston does—and he’s ever vigilant for the next deal. Coming out of the Driver’s Club at Goodwood, Kidston waylays an amateur driver he knows—a dealer who specializes in Ferraris and supercars. The man is just off the track and still dressed in a fire-resistant, quilted Nomex race suit, helmet under his arm, sweat beading on his face. Kidston, who has a buyer in mind, presses him gently. “Do you know anyone looking to sell a Carrera GT?” Kidston asks, referring to the supercar that Porsche built from 2004 to 2007 that’s now worth as much as $1 million. “I might. Is he looking for low mileage?” the dealer says. Kidston shoots back, “He’s looking for low price.” They both laugh.
It’s true, classic cars aren’t like financial assets: As Kidston says, a bond can’t send you hurtling down the speedway at 180 miles per hour. But, hey, buying low and selling high never hurt.