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"That’s the view from Steve Serio, the man behind Aston Martin New England, one of the oldest existing AM dealers Stateside and the only official dealer in North America who services, restores and sells Aston Martins from every era, right back to pre-War."
Nicholas Mee: Managing Director, Nicholas Mee & Co
Neal Garrard:Commercial Director, Nicholas Mee & Co
Ed Barton-Hilton: Sales & Marketing Manager, Nicholas Mee & Co
Steve Wakefield: Motoring Journalist & K500
Robert Johnson: Managing Director, Classic & Sport Finance
Steve Serio: Managing Director, Aston Martin New England, USA.
It’s all not about the money.
“For cars valued at December 2018 prices, the market is very busy. I have clients with 100-car collections that are very active, and some that have been with me for only the last 3-5 years are expanding their collections into other interesting areas, such as sporting European pre-War cars.”
That’s the view from Steve Serio, the man behind Aston Martin New England, one of the oldest existing AM dealers Stateside and the only official dealer in North America who services, restores and sells Aston Martins from every era, right back to pre-War.
We thought it would be fascinating to ask Steve for his views on the state of the market for Astons at the close of 2018. Via the wonders of the internet, Steve joined the regular line-up of Nick, Neal and Ed, together with Rob Johnson of Classic & Sports Finance and me for our regular end-of-year get-together.
Steve’s experiences are particularly interesting as, while majoring on Aston Martins, his business sells other classic cars: “Interest in good examples of the ‘icons’ – Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing and Roadster, Ferrari 275 GTB, Porsche 356 Speedster – has been rekindled after a period of calm. I would definitely include the DB5 with them. Rare and unusual colours, interesting first ownership, untouched ‘preservation class’ condition: these are other factors that help.”
These are cars bought by proper enthusiasts, and the UK team was with Steve on that front. And they’re usually clients who have long-standing relationships with established firms such as Steve’s and NM&CO. They’re owners who look to them for expert advice on their next purchase.
“For them, it’s not about the money,” said Nick. “There’s no denying that we have seen a softening of values over the last 24 months, but we believe with the uncertainty of Brexit likely to be resolved early next year we’re probably entering a period of stability – which is just what the market needs.
“It’s been said before, but what else can you do with your money? We’ve had the spike in values, and, compared with some of the frothier cars [‘chrome-bumper’ 911s, 911 Turbos, Ferrari Testarossas – SW] prices of Astons have come off the highs, but not plummeted.”
“As an example,” commented Neal, “we’ve been offered just one DB5 this year. Supply is still limited. No one is in a rush to sell.”
The whole team agreed that we are living in uncertain times, from Brexit to US trade policy made on the hoof by the great ‘disrupter’, the world is in flux. That said, from K500 Index data, certain trends are emerging. For example, cars sold at auction are getting younger. At the Monterey Week sales this year the average age of car offered was 1967. Last year it was 1964 and in 2014 it was 1960.
While the experts wonder what might happen to the big collections of ‘Great Gatsby’ Americana owned by octogenarians in the US, another phenomenon is the rise in popularity of 30s, 40s and 50s blue-chip sports cars bought for events such as long-distance trials, rallies or wintry pub meets. Over to Rob.
“I’ve just helped a client source an older Maserati 6CL. His normal interest is modern supercars, but he wanted something different.” ‘Events’ does not only mean eligibility for racing at Goodwood or the Tour Auto. “The rise in popularity of weekend meetings is extraordinary,” he continued. “Take the regular Sunday Scramble at Bicester Heritage, it’s a waiting list. Or just meeting at a pub, where you can turn up in an E-type, a pre-War MG or an Aston of all eras. It’s a feeling of belonging.”
Steve Serio concurs. “We have clients who want their cars to be ‘on the button’ to drive once a month. They have to start, so maintenance is vital. We are where we are right now; cars are not currency, they’re to be enjoyed and used. These are proper enthusiasts, hard-core, if you like, guys who like to drive. One recently travelled to Europe to do all the big events such as Villa d’Este and Goodwood. He’s savvy, like so many others, and interested in the European psyche that has experienced the motor car right from the Brighton Run days. It’s different from the big-fin cars of the 50s and 60s in the US, which most over here relate to.
“He’s also buying into the lifestyle. For the Colorado Grand you need a suitable pre-1963 car. The modern supercars won’t do for that.” And Nick added, “For events and just being part of the community, you need an older car.”
Taking up that point, the discussion turned to demographics. The general view was that growth is coming from those already in the market, typical North American and European buyers aged between 45 to 65. Interest from developing economies such as China is mainly in modern supercars or, perhaps, ‘continuations’ such as the recently announced ‘007 DB5’ replica marketed by Aston Martin.
Rob had experience of millennials buying cars, but saw their interest mainly in modern supercars, where’s there’s a flourishing events scene. Right at the top, the best-of-the-best collectors’ sons are now enjoying their father’s priceless Le Mans-winning Ferraris and David Brown racing Astons. For them, the generation has moved on, but for existing clients, Nick’s suggestion of “Do it while you can,” holds true.
“The way I see it, we are in a luxury industry and luxury has its price,” he said. “Our clients want to know how much their hobby is going to cost. There’s annual maintenance and – should they wish to sell at some point – a percentage that will go as commission to us to sell the car for them. With the stability that we believe will come over the next few months, those hesitating should feel more confident. Values of London property and high-end collectible art have come down. In comparison, Aston Martin prices have retreated and stabilised. There’s no ‘fire sale’. Social media, so evident today, was in its infancy at the time of the 2008 financial crisis. So every hiccup in the political landscape or world economy nowadays is magnified out of all proportion. It’s hard to make decisions.
“But we say, go and enjoy yourself today, just do it – what else can give you pleasure while holding its own pretty well, value-wise? Neither houses, nor art.”
A sign that the market is still active is the level of work at the restorers. “Some have closed their doors to new business,” said Steve, speaking of the top-level firms that produce Pebble Beach winners. “We have a client who has owned a DB4 Series 5 since 1971. We’re restoring it for him, keeping it to ‘as delivered’. Many of the restorations done in the 1970s and ’80s are now being ‘unwound’: the red paint’s coming off, the original build sheet is the reference point.”
Originality is definitely back in vogue, but not like the 356 Speedster market where unrestored rusty cars are worth more than concours queens…
‘Great to drive, beautiful to look at and give automatic access to an interesting lifestyle, so get out there and enjoy the experience!’ is how we concluded the last market review. The same holds true today. Feltham cars have remained static – as has the equivalent early Ferrari, with its agricultural gearbox and homely looks – classic DB Astons have never gone away, and Newport Pagnell V8 Saloons and Volantes (to Euro spec, in the right colours) are timeless. Selling a LHD white ‘big-bumper’ V8 Volante is a tough ask; only the DB Mk III Drophead truly sparkles in the galaxy of Feltham cars – we don’t see either of these situations changing in the near future. Nor do we believe the demand for DB7 V12s as the ultimate affordable retirement present will ever dry up.
Powered by the burgeoning events scene, continuing low interest rates offering no better form of safe investment and an increasing prospect of a more certain political and economic landscape in the UK, we believe the next 12 months will offer a period of stability for Aston Martin values. In our opinion, just what the market needed and an opportunity for those considering a toe in the water of Aston ownership to finally take the plunge.
Words: Steve Wakefield