The Tyranny of Low Mileage

The headline on the cover of the September edition of Sports Car Market reads “Miles on, Dollars off”.  It makes me cringe every time I see it.  While the article the headline refers to factually explains why a “higher mileage” (it had 14k miles on the odometer) Ferrari 288 GTO went for significantly less that an ultra-low mileage 288 GTO as it was deemed to have too many miles to give it collector’s status.  To quote from the article “Buyers of 288 GTOs are particularly picky.  They often have a collection of ultra-low mileage supercars.  They will pay up for a low mile 288 GTO and show no love for driven examples.”  And so, the tyranny of “don’t drive it” begins.

I’ve been trying to understand the mentality of the “ultra-low mileage” supercar collector for many years.  In so many ways, they are my personal antithesis.  We have a house rule that those supercars that don’t get driven regularly, get sold (Selling the P1).  I guess in the “ultra-low mileage” house the opposite would be true.  The idea that driving a supercar destroys its value is something I have a very hard time getting my head around. 

 

I vividly remember the first time I had this “mileage is bad” ownership philosophy dropped on my head.  It was at a Ferrari F40 event in Maranello (F40 Maranello Event).  I was talking to another F40 owner from the Netherlands and he asked me how I shipped my car down to Italy.  I told him that I drove it down and was planning to then drive it to Madrid after the event.  He looked at me as if I was completely daft and blurted out that all those miles will really devalue your F40.  He then proceeded to tell me that they had trailered their F40 down and would be trailering it back after the event.  I naively thought that he might be a special case but then proceeded to find out that at least a third of the forty F40 owners attending had done something similar.  The irony of the situation was that it was a three-day event that involved quite a bit of driving in both the mountains and on track.  During the three days, there were several F40s that did develop mechanical problems.  Every single one of these cars was an ultra-low mileage trailer queen.  When talking to one of the owner’s whose car had done most of the mountain run on the back of a flatbed after expiring in a cloud of smoke shortly after we had set out, he actually didn’t seem too fussed about it.  He was more interested in just being at the event with his F40 on display than actually participating in the driving activities. 

If putting miles on a supercar destroys its value, in my experience, not driving them can also lead to major expenses.  We had to leave the F40 in storage for a couple of years in the UK before we could import it into the US.  The net result of the F40 sitting was a few unpleasantly large maintenance bills including a clutch replacement after a rubber seal dried out and failed.   Net net, this is quite the quagmire for the value conscious car collector, and I believe it divides car collectors into three groups: Car Art Collectors, Value Sensitive Supercar Enthusiasts, and Supercar Enthusiast Drivers.  The first group, the Car Art Collectors, tend to be the ones that buy the ultra-low mileage supercars and then park them in climate-controlled garage display rooms from which they rarely, if ever emerge.  My very superficial understanding of this group is they basically view cars as pieces of art to be collected like other artistic objects.  I guess a $3 million 288 GTO is actually quite reasonable next to what it would cost to acquire a Picasso or Rembrandt.   I don’t see these people as petrolheads, they are art collectors.  One consequence of the development of the supercar as a collectable art group has been the rise of supercar speculators who buy up select limited edition cars, hoping to flip them to collectors for a profit in a year or two.  These speculators have distorted the market in many cases and taken cars out of the hands of enthusiasts who would actually use and enjoy them.  The second group, Value Sensitive Supercar Enthusiasts, tend to buy supercars, use them very selectively for a year or two, and then sell before the odometer reaches four digits.  The final group, the Supercar Enthusiast Driver’s buy the cars to drive and enjoy and tend to be mileage agnostic.  I would like to believe we fall into the third group.

What I do find very interesting about the ultra-low mileage mandate is it does seem to have an expiration date.  So, there is hope.  While mileage, even more than condition it seems at times, drives values on a Ferrari 288 GTO, F40, or a Porsche Carrera GT, etc, it doesn’t seem to have much impact on a Ferrari 275 GTB/4, 250 GT Lusso, or Porsche 911 S.  In fact, it’s completely irrelevant on the world’s most valuable car, the Ferrari 250 GTO.  There is not a single 250 GTO owner who knows the actual mileage on their car.   Ferrari 250 GTOs do not have odometers.  McLaren F1’s also seem to be mileage agnostic.  Spec and history have a far bigger impact on a F1s value then an odometer reading.  While there is no clear cut off between when mileage has a major impact on values and when it does not, looking across the market, the dividing line in general seems to be in the mid 80’s with the McLaren F1 being an exception.  While I do see numerous 1970’s Ferrari 308s and Porsche 911 Turbos advertised as low mileage, condition seems to have a far greater impact on a specific cars value than any reading on the odometer.  Personally, unless a car had a complete, heavily documented history going all the way back to the day it left the dealership, I would not put a lot of stock in the mileage declared on any car pre the mid 1990s.  It’s just far too easy to disconnect or roll back the old mechanical odometers.  The question is as the calendar moves forward, in 10 years’ time will mileage still be the key value driver on a 288 GTO or F40, or will condition be what really counts?  I’m certainly hoping its condition as I do want to see all these cars on the road being enjoyed the way they were intended to be.

While I personally believe the fixation on mileage is a horrible thing and leads to both a distortion of the market and in many cases, owner’s (Value Sensitive Supercar Enthusiasts) usage decisions that detract from the overall enjoyment of a supercar, it is a free market, and everyone is entitled to their own opinions.  A car locked up in a private collection that never sees the light of day to me is no different from the caged lion in a zoo.  Neither is where it should be and longer term it’s not good for either’s health.  While I do appreciate beautifully designed cars, it’s hard to enjoy, as EVO Magazine puts it so well, “the thrill of driving” while sitting in a garage.

Thoughts and comments? Please see the comments section below.

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September 2020

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19 Thoughts on The Tyranny of Low Mileage
    Carl
    20 Sep 2020
    7:32am

    I think you’re spot on about the “art collectors” vs value-sensitive buyers vs enthusiast drivers, and the shame of all the garage-queens. I always feel respect for the owner whenever I see a contemporary Ferrari with more than 30,000km. And I think we’re all agreed that they tend to be far more reliable when used frequently and properly.

    I fall square into the “value sensitive buyers” category but for pure economic reasons. Getting into a used 991-gen 911 was a big financial commitment, and I’m hoping to move into a used Ferrari in the next couple years. For me — and most others I know — the Porsche/Ferrari/Aston/Mac/whatever is the 2nd car in a two-car garage and the biggest asset bar the home. Resale is not an academic curiosity but something material to forecast before buying. And so most of us have a self-imposed mileage budget along with the budgets for warranty, maintenance, etc.

    I have complete respect for your “f*** the mileage, f*** the resale” daily-drive approach. I’d love to be in the same position. Many sports & supercar owners don’t have that luxury, so we need to make sure we don’t put more than a few thousand a year on the clock.

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    william
    16 Sep 2020
    2:36am

    Having been one of the lucky few to have acquired a new 288 GTO in 1985 for the princely sum of $65,000, I regret selling it for a modest profit, but I was young at the time.

    Just bought a 13 year old 599 with 14,000 miles and have enjoyed driving it–I intend to drive it every good weekend and to hell with the mileage increase because I am not getting any younger. Miles are smiles.

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    Dave
    14 Sep 2020
    2:12pm

    Corvettes are very much milage fixated. I looked at an ’04 Z06 with 12k miles and 14 year old OG rubber. My neighbor has a ’96 LT4 Corvette with 32k miles on it.

    My ’01 had 72k on it in ’14 when I bought it. It has 198k+ now and still going strong. I drive it every damn day I can.

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    Brian C
    14 Sep 2020
    5:28pm

    False narrative for the most part. Most who own these cars have a lot of cars. Possibly a warehouse full. They are also typically wealthy successful business men with many professional and family demands of their time and often are at home little. They have very little time to play with any of their toys. As a consequence few get used much.
    I have shipped my cars to events and it had nothing to do with reducing their mileage, it was all about time. I simply did not have time to drive there, drive back and attend the event. Flying there and shipping the car made it possible to attend at all. Did a motorcycle ride to the Arctic Circle a few years ago and shipped the motorcycle home from Anchorage for the same reason. I simply did not have the time to do a round trip. Would have loved to but simply couldn’t time wise. Those that work 5×8 do not understand.

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    DAVID ROSS SUTHERLAND
    14 Sep 2020
    1:59pm

    The question is if you can’t drive a car, for any reason, then who owns what? Where is the pleasure and satisfaction of ownership? There are many investments that will appreciate measurably in the confines of a safe deposit box but an automobile isn’t one of them.

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    Mark
    13 Sep 2020
    11:03pm

    Interesting article, it’s a shame that so many nice cars are never seen. 20 years ago I had a ‘88 mk4 Escort RS Turbo, I loved it but didn’t use as much as I now think I should have. My Dad was obsessed with low mileage when buying cars and it rubbed off on me.

    Even though it was my sole car I only did 15000 miles over 5 years. To avoid putting miles on it I would hire a car for long journeys(!) and I bought a scooter for local trips. It was only on selling it that it dawned on me that the person that benefitted from my lack of use was the new owner.

    I now have a ‘97 3 series touring and I enjoy using it and looking after it, without worrying that it’s about to go over the 50,000 mile mark.

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    Gary Booth
    14 Sep 2020
    3:33am

    Isn’t it ultimately experiencing something rare that should drive all three types?

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    Ken Morse
    14 Sep 2020
    12:59pm

    Cars, I don’t care what kind of car was built and designed to be DRIVEN!!! It’s so sad for me to see a beautiful car that has seldom been allowed to fulfill It’s life’s purpose.

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    Ruti Robart
    14 Sep 2020
    6:47pm

    I spent (all in taxes. Warranties etc.) $167,000 in 2017 on a 2015 911 Turbo S cabriolet with 2800 miles, I’ve driven the car daily ever since to 47000 miles. The car is the joy of my driving life, I’m still enchanted every time by the experience, it has not grown old and love has not faded, except in one way, I WANT A NEW ONE with 80 more horsepower. I have killed the resale value, not so much, its been worth every penny.

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    Park
    14 Sep 2020
    7:13pm

    So true…!!! I grew up in the 80s and fell in love with the 288 GTO. Every guy had a poster of a Lambo on their wall. I had a GTO and a Vector. Vector failed but it was beautiful. And a Lambo is beautiful too. I’ll never get to own any of them but I have watched many YouTube videos. A Lambo owner in California drives his for an hour every Saturday. And he DRIVES it like it was ment to be driven. Another video from The Richest has a GTO being driven on a farm. Seen that one countless of times. The sound in the grass is SO Intoxicating. But back to driving. You hit the three types of collectors out there. With you, I would not buy a low milage car that has been sitting and drying out. As yours did. But I believe it takes a certain amount of driving just before the car is broken it and has reached its true full potential and intended use. A GTO was built for Group B racing but never saw the track. Interesting story there. Maybe that’s why we have the two other types of collectors. Art, oh YEAH BABY. To me though, buy a poster or have a painting made to look at and drive the car.

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    Paul Irvine
    14 Sep 2020
    10:22pm

    It’s really a matter of perspective. Does mileage devalue the car or are people over-paying for low mileage examples. From the aspect of the car as something that is to be driven, because after all that is it’s purpose, certain parts may wear out and be replaced so that the machine continues to function as intended. When you see a 250 GTO sliding through the corners at Goodwood well, that’s what it was meant to do. Not sit in a heated garage under a cover for half a century.

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    Yiannis Tsiounis
    14 Sep 2020
    11:32pm

    To add insult to injury I was told that not only it is easy to turn back mileage on new cars (this info was as of 2010, probably not much different now) and “I have the machine if you want to do it”, but in fact it is not even illegal to. It is illegal not to declare that the mileage is not accurate, not to make it inaccurate.
    Personally I drive my cars as much as I can and consider each additional mile a bonus. Highest mileage car in its category? Awesome!

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    Sean Burke
    16 Sep 2020
    12:27pm

    I love Jim G famous quote “ Not driving your Ferrari is like not having sex with your girlfriend so she’ll be more desirable for her next boyfriend”

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