Fun cars are fun to own, but they certainly haven’t been fun to buy for the last few years. As soon as everyone stopped going on vacations and had a pandemic-induced crisis, prices on enthusiast cars shot through the roof, pricing many people out of the market for their attainable dream cars. Now, though? Things might be changing, so let’s have a look at some enthusiast cars to see if that’s obvious.
Welcome back to Gavel Gazing, our periodic look at the cars that catch our eye on internet auction sites. Last week’s six-speed manual Aston Martin DB9 didn’t quite catch up to new Lexus LC 500 pricing, but it came reasonably close with a winning bid of $80,000. That’s still on the cheaper end of the manual V12 spectrum, even if that’s a pricey spectrum to be on.
Today, we’re trying something new on Gavel Gazing. Instead of looking at cars that are up for auction, we look at cars that have already hammered. That way, we can make a judgment call on whether something’s well-bought or well-sold, compare historical values, and notice trends. This time? How about a Hummer H2 convertible, an Opel GT, and evidence suggesting the enthusiast car market might be softening, or at the very least it’s no longer crazy. Let’s dig in.
Hummer never made an H2 convertible, but that didn’t stop someone from making one anyway. According to the listing, “this 2008 Hummer H2 was converted to a convertible by Newport Convertible Engineering of Placentia, California in November 2008,” and if that business name sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that. Remember the Subaru WRX STI convertible that went viral years back? Same company.
Even though the top still uses old-school snaps, the conversion looks up to the OEM standards of GM at the time with taut fabric and a frame that fits the H2’s shape. Sure, the drop-top conversion absolutely kills cargo space, but that’s to be expected. The H2 is an awfully big vehicle, and all that new fabric roof material has to go somewhere.
Despite this H2’s uniqueness and reasonably low 64,000-mile odometer reading, it definitely isn’t among the most expensive H2s ever sold on Bring A Trailer, with several nice examples hammering for north of $50,000 in the past two years, and the all-time record being set by a Duramax-swapped example that fetched $77,500. At the same time, more normal H2s routinely sell below $30,000, so I’d consider this unusual convertible conversion both well-bought and well-sold.
Oh yeah, it’s Opel GT time. Come on, how many cars have both manual pop-up headlights and a brake master cylinder mounted ahead of the core support? These little bundles of joy were Opel’s shot at a miniature Corvette, and they absolutely rule. Tiny car, great looks, stereotypically German build quality, just a wonderful weekend toy.
This particular example has been repainted yellow, a color that perfectly fits the Opel GT’s personality. Teamed with a jaunty set of stripes and yellow seat inserts, this diminutive bumblebee exists to bring joy to everyone around it. The 1.9-liter single overhead cam makes an irrelevant amount of horsepower, because this whole car is about experience rather than numbers.
Believe it or not, this is the fifth-most expensive Opel GT ever sold on Bring A Trailer, an impressive feat considering 28 examples have been sold on the platform so far. However, the one-piece bodies of these cars like to trap corrosion, so finding a clean example like this is exceptionally rare. It’s a fantastic, unexpected result in a changing collector car market, and the seller should be proud of themselves.
Contrary to popular belief, the 2000s was a great time for BMW. Sure, Chris Bangle’s styling direction wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, but the V8 5 Series finally got a steering rack instead of a steering box, the 3 Series just grew better and better, and the M3 went from strength to strength, with the legendary inline-six-powered E46 M3 giving way to the insane V8-powered E90. These little weapons are still reasonably priced, and proof that a little internet fearmongering goes a long way.
Let’s start with this example, a one-family-owned 2008 M3 sedan with the six-speed manual that’s basically flawless. It’s had the rod bearings done, it’s had the throttle actuators done, it’s a California car, it has just 80,000 miles on the clock, and it hammered for $35,000. Sure, it has a minor claim on the Carfax for bumper damage, but this is the sort of M3 well-read enthusiasts want. What’s more, $35,000 is a fair result, about what we’d expect to see from a car of this spec and condition.
So why are these glorious cars so cheap? Well, rod bearing tolerances are tight, so the bearings are a maintenance item. Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,000 for rod bearing replacement. In addition, throttle actuators do fail, but they aren’t expensive to have rebuilt. These E90 cars are less problematic than their E46 M3 predecessors, but they aren’t trouble-free. Plan ahead, and these cars can be tremendous bargains as far as manual, rear-wheel-drive, V8 sports sedans go.
Here’s a really nice example of a completely and utterly unremarkable car. The W203 C-Class was fine, but not particularly special, and this one has just 41,000 miles on the clock. It has a nondescript three-liter V6 engine making an adequate amount of horsepower, and it’s connected to a perfectly whelming five-speed automatic transmission. The single most interesting thing about this car is its overengineered cupholder, and with two hits on the Carfax and the lease-special spec of silver over black, this is just a used car.
However, it’s hard to find a decent used car for less than $10,000, and this one is a damn good deal. It has four matching Michelin tires, a sign of a good previous owner, and the interior looks certified pre-owned fresh. Other than the infamous conductor plate problems that are still relatively cheap to sort, these W203s are fairly solid used luxury cars, and if it’s a choice between a C280 and a Dodge Avenger, I’m picking the Benz every time. With a hammer price of $9,300 on Cars & Bids, this thing was well-bought.
The Ones That Didn’t Make It
Casting a dark shadow over the glamor of internet car auctions is the number of cars that haven’t met reserve as of late. While the typical procedure when a vehicle at an online auction doesn’t meet reserve is to try and reach a deal between the seller and the highest bidder, vehicles not meeting reserve could be a sign of declining prices.
Over on Bring A Trailer, this nice 1982 Land Rover 88 Series III Diesel failed to meet reserve with a high bid of $26,000, a figure that would’ve been perfectly reasonable in 2022. Here’s one from the same model year in the same color, albeit with a white hardtop, that sold for $26,750 back in 2022.
This driver-spec Datsun 240Z failed to meet reserve with a high bid of just $13,000, one of the lowest results we’ve seen from a 240Z since 2020. For comparison, this rattier 240Z sold for $15,500 in 2022.
No fewer than four Porsche 911s failed to meet reserve on Bring A Trailer yesterday, including a Singer that attracted a high bid of $955,000. On the more reasonable end of the spectrum, a grey 996 Tiptronic cabriolet with a well-worn interior failed to attract a bid higher than $19,000, a 41,000-mile 997 Carrera S failed to meet reserve with a high bid of $44,650, and a beautiful 996 six-speed Carrera 4 with the aerokit likely had an optimistic reserve as the highest bid it attracted was $43,299. Most of these high bids aren’t particularly outlandish compared to earlier results, so they could be signs of the enthusiast car market softening.
Oh, and a couple of Corvettes didn’t meet reserve either. This 2003 C5 Z06 missed reserve with a high bid of $20,230, possibly due to a lack of communication from the seller. On the other hand, this driver-condition automatic 2017 Stingray had a communicative seller, but failed to meet reserve with a high bid of just $38,700. Now that’s a soft result.
Over on Cars & Bids, it’s a similar story. This naturally-aspirated right-hand-drive 1995 Toyota Supra in Baltic Blue Metallic failed to meet reserve, attracting a high bid of $27,750. That’s the lowest result of any A80 Supra on Cars & Bids, and softer than anything Bring A Trailer has seen since 2020. This is a big deal because not only is this Supra in fairly nice shape, its seller was communicative and the Mk4 Supra is the textbook internet automobile, a pillar of the new enthusiast car market. Even though right-hand-drive and naturally-aspirated Supras are the least valuable Mk4s, history shows higher values than this.
Likewise, this gorgeous black C140 Mercedes-Benz S600 Coupe on a rare and awesome set of AMG multipiece wheels failed to meet reserve with a high bid of $15,800. That’s down 20 percent compared to Bring A Trailer results from 2022, particularly this 1995 model year car with 11,500 fewer miles on the clock that went for $19,750 last year.
The bottom line? Some sellers in the enthusiast car market still want COVID pricing, and buyers aren’t willing to pay it. The collector car market is somewhat softening (it’s “flat” as Doug says in the video above), and while I doubt we’ll see pricing dip lower than we saw in 2019, it’s impossible to predict exactly what the future holds.
(Photo credits: Bring A Trailer, Cars & Bids)
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