Hagerty faced a pandemic and economic uncertainty, with a hotly contested presidential election thrown in for good measure. The effects radiated everywhere, including the collector car market. By far the most visible consequence was the cancellation of most large, in-person auctions that followed the Amelia Island Concours in early March 2020, with online platforms old and new rushing to fill the breach.
As Hagerty Insider took stock of 2020, the same question everyone else was wondering kept coming up: Just how bad were the damages? In terms of collector cars, it turns out that’s quite the wrong question. The market actually grew in 2020.
Private vs. auction sales of collector cars
Auctions are an important reference point for the classic car market precisely because anyone can refer to them. The private market, however, is much larger. We are able to see a portion of it through our insurance data (people calling Hagerty for quotes on cars they’ve purchased or to add/remove cars from their policies). That portion grew even through the pandemic-stricken months of 2020.
To see understand how that’s possible, it helps to consider how most collector cars are bought and sold. Although the automotive media talks constantly about auctions, there’s a whole other part of the market that happens off stage, whether it’s directly between buyers and sellers or through a dealer. These private sales are hard to track because they’re, well, private. Hagerty is, however, able to see a chunk of it via the insurance side of their business (that is, people calling Hagerty to get a quote on insurance for a vehicle they’ve just purchased and/or to make changes to their policy). Their data indicates that this market is huge—roughly 7 cars get sold privately for every 1 sold at auction—and that this sector grew in 2020 compared to the previous year.
The rise of online auctions also played a big role in this unexpected circumstance. Activity increased at established sites like Bring a Trailer even as in-person auction houses like RM Sotheby’s shifted business online. All told, they think online auction revenue more than doubled in 2020, which nearly made up for the sizable decline they saw from in-person sales.
How big are the online auctions?
Until 2020, online selling platforms were an interesting but ultimately small piece of the pie. Which makes their performance this year all the more unprecedented.
Note that when Hagerty says the collector car market grew in 2020, they don’t imagine that everyone in the collector car hobby prospered. Just as the pandemic impacted various sectors of society differently—often in ways that seem arbitrary—so too did various classic cars sell better or worse depending on who normally buys them and where they usually sell. For a full breakdown on which cars performed better and worse, read the 2020 retrospective at insider.hagerty.com.
Overall, though, Hagerty can take some solace that their favorite pastime weathered the economic storm of 2020. A stable market, by and large, means stable values, meaning they estimate most cars to be worth at least as much as what people were paying for them pre-pandemic.
If being stuck at home is creating a window for you to finally pick up that classic car you’ve always wanted, know that you are hardly alone.
Report by John Wiley for hagerty.com