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.
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