Classic Cars: assets that demolish generation stereotypes

The "generation gap" is a myth—at least when it comes to classic cars.

Raise your hand if you think puppies are cute, that family is important, if travelling is on your bucket list or if you have a dream car.

Chances are you answered yes – just like everyone else aged 16 to 100. While one can’t argue that generational disparity exists, there are surprisingly more commonalities between generations than there are differences.

And according to Creative Rides Classic & Collectibles Auctions CEO Kevin Derrick, especially when it comes to passion for classic cars, generation gaps disappear entirely.

Since Creative Rides wrapped up its record-breaking collector car auction at Montecasino in Johannesburg on September 24th, Derrick’s team has been analysing data from all sales concluded in the six classic car auction events the company has staged over the past three years.

“We’ve examined around 650 of our auction sales between 2020 and September to identify buying trends in the local classic car market, and what we found is that collector patterns in SA are identical to global trends.

“We considered numerous data points including buyer locations, popular models, hammer fall prices, bidder registrations and buyer demographics, and it was the latter category that produced the most encouraging trend information for the future of SA’s classic car market.”

Pew Research defines the current generations living in global society as:

  • Traditionalists or Silent Generation: Born between 1928 and 1945;
  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964;
  • Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980;
  • Millennials or Gen Y: Born between 1981 and 1996;
  • Gen Z or Centennials: Born between 1997 and 2012; and
  • Generation Alpha: Born between 2013 and 2025.

Derrick says Baby Boomers are still the wealthiest generation in the world, but their dominance of the local classic car market has been ceded to Gen X and Millennial collectors, who now jointly make up 60% of Creative Rides’ auction clientele.

“Two months ago, Forbes reported that the mean net worth of First World Boomers sat between R18 million and R22.8m. That same report noted that the Silent Generation and Boomers would bequeath an estimated R1 380 trillion in assets to their heirs before 2045.

“Between inheritance and independent wealth-creation, even in South Africa’s developing economy we’ve already seen the trend shift towards younger buyers, and interestingly, in September’s mega two-day auction it was predominantly young collectors who bought the oldest vintage classics pre-dating the First World War.

“The main areas of focus for Gen X and Millennial buyers, however, were German collector classics and pristine American muscle models. In the latter category, V8s won hands down in the popularity stakes.”

Creative Rides Classic & Collectibles Auctions Lead Auctioneer Joff van Reenen was a guest of Barrett Jackson at its nine-day Scottsdale auction in January that attracted more than 300 000 bidders and spectators and generated revenue of $184.2m (approximately R3.5bn) from the sale of more than 1 900 collector cars.

Van Reenen says while SA’s collector car market may be smaller, trends in both countries are remarkably similar.

“Since the pandemic, investment in collector cars has reached all-time highs across sales volumes and prices. A decade ago, Baby Boomers completely dominated the buying pool, but the recent record surge has been driven by younger generations.

“What we’re seeing in SA is mirrored in the world’s largest collector car market, the US, based on statistics aggregated across classic car insurance quotes. Hagerty Insurance recently reported that while Gen X is smaller in number than Boomers, this group now comprises 35% of classic car insurance quote requests. Boomer quotes have dropped to 32%, but they’ll soon be overtaken by the youngest enthusiasts (Millennials and Gen Z), who have rocketed up to a combined 30%.

“There are also parallels between SA’s ‘hot or not’ collector cars and those flying off auction floors worldwide. At Montecasino in September we noted unprecedented appetite for German models and concours condition V8 muscle cars, with several lots breaking the R1m price barrier. It goes without saying that Italian supercars are also perennially desirable.

“This same mix made the Top 10 price list at Scottsdale in January.”

Derrick says three years of SA auction statistics demonstrate an unequivocal market shift towards Gen X, Millennial and Gen Z buyers.

“On the whole, these buyers are knowledgeable and focused. They tend to balance passion purchasing with savvy investment prospects, but the irony is that the majority of cars they dream of owning are identical to the dream cars of the generations that came before.

“Hagerty has highlighted the same trend from processing data from thousands upon thousands of insurance quote requests. When it comes to US makers, Hagerty says whether the caller is 16 or 101 (actual ages of their youngest and oldest callers) there’s a really good chance they’re asking about a Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Mustang.

“And at our Montecasino auction, if we’d had 100 more ‘Vettes, Mustangs or BMWs available there’s no doubt we’d have sold them all.

“BMWs, in particular, offer strong growth potential based on buyer demographics trending younger. Put plainly, more BMW enthusiasts are entering the market than leaving it.

“A Hagerty report in April noted that Millennials now comprise the largest market segment for high-value modern classic BMWs, with Gen Z buyers racing to catch up. In the past four years the youngest global street legal generation’s investment in the classic BMW market has risen from just 3.1% to 11.3%.”

Derrick says this cross-generational increase of collector car buyers at Creative Rides’ auctions in SA over the past three years indicates the market is healthy and that prospects for future growth are positive.

“Whatever their age, South African collectors are passionate about cars. They bid hard and they bid high, which is why less than 10% of our auctioned cars have left the country since 2020.”

Data from Hagerty shows 229% to be the average appreciation for collector cars featured in the Hagerty Price Guide since 2007.

“Most of us will never be able to park a $142m investment 1950s Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe in the garage, but so many other collectables offer an accessible alternative wealth-creation gateway that delivers returns,” notes Derrick.

“Do your homework, research the market and ask professionals for advice on which classics are on the rise.

“And whether you’re 24 or 84, building value in your car collection is also hands down the most investing fun you’ll ever have.”