The Ultimate Collector’s Automobiles: The “Club” Cars

A few weeks ago, I was having a very enjoyable and enlightening conversation with a gentleman who has forgotten more about cars than I will ever know.  One of the topics we discussed was what made one car more valuable than another and what was that magically attribute that all the ultimate high value collector’s cars have in common.  While there seem to be a range of attributes that drive desirability including a model’s racing history, the number produced, performance numbers and technology, the one attribute that seems to drive desirability and value more than any other is does owning this car make you a member of one of the world’s most exclusive “Clubs”.  This is completely different from your larger “Owner’s” Clubs. 

So, what is a “Club” car?  It’s a car whose ownership makes you a member of a very elite group.  For your inner 8 year old, it gives you the opportunity to hang out with the really cool kids.  To qualify as a “Club” car, a significant number of the owners must come together as a group for activities that normally involve spectacular locations to enjoy driving their cars on both road and race tracks.  The hospitality surrounding these events is 5 star plus.  In addition, the ownership group includes a range of business & financial titans along with a number of other celebrities.  In stable financial periods, every new sale of a “Club” car makes the prior one look like a bargain.  Mileage also has very little impact on the value of a “Club” car. 

 

The most exclusive “Club” in the automotive world is the Ferrari 250 GTO owners club.  Cost of entry is at least $50 million and climbs up to $70 million depending on the car’s history.  At $70 million, this is 10 times what a 250 GTO sold for in 2000.  Membership is capped at 36 and opens the door for you to every automotive event on the planet.  Ownership also brings with it an invite to private 250 GTO exclusive events and this is where a significant amount of the value may lie.  For the 250 GTO’s 50th anniversary tour, 23 of the 36 owners participated.  For the extremely successful & ambitious car enthusiast, these every five year gatherings are the ultimate invite.  While the 250 GTO ticks all the boxes in terms of low numbers built, successful racing history, and impressive performance numbers in its day, the fact that it’s still a car you can race, pick your kids up from school in, and drive spiritedly on rallies today is what puts it in a league of its own.  While there are other Ferraris from the same era that are rarer (example the 250 Testa Rossa (33 units) or the 275 GTB NART Spider (10 units)) they either lack the same level of racing history (275 GTB NART Spider) or useability (250 Testa Rossa) today.  Current members of the 250 GTO Club read like the Forbes Billionaire List with a few other well-heeled celebrities thrown in.

If the Ferrari 250 GTO “Club” sits at the pinnacle, the McLaren F1 Club is not far behind.  In theory this club could have up to 106 members but when you deduct the F1s still owned by McLaren, the few that have been destroyed, and the ones in permanent captivity in Brunei, its closer to 90.  Like the Ferrari 250 GTO “Club” the F1 Club does get together every year or two for a multiday driving event.  Cost of entry to the F1 Club today is around $20 million, up around 20x since 2004.  The McLaren F1 ticks all the same boxes as the 250 GTO.  It comes with a spectacular racing history with an outright win at Le Mans, low build numbers, impressive performance numbers (in fact it is still the fastest naturally aspirated car to this day), and its real world useable.  An F1 can hold enough luggage for a multiday trip and with two useable passenger seats, it comes with a decent level of practicality.  Past and present members of the F1 Club include Royality, a Battery Powered Car Company CEO, Jay Leno, and quite a few highly successfully entrepreneurs.

After the 250 GTO & F1 Clubs, the next one on the list is probably the Pagani Zonda “Club”.  While the Pagani Zonda is very light on racing history, it does tick most of the other boxes.  Production numbers are quite low, and the cars are quite useable on the road.  A Zonda is a car you can take your spouse to dinner in and then drive comfortable on a 300 mile rally the next day.  By ensuring that the cars are not compromised for road use and organizing special owner’s events, Pagani has been brilliant at creating this “Ownership Club” aura around the brand going back to its beginnings (Pagani Huayras are welcome at all Pagani events but you really need to own a Zonda to hold rank in the “Club”).  Harry Metcalfe’s (of Harry’s Garage) sharing of his Pagani experiences when he owned EVO magazine helped both establish this image and built global awareness for what was then a young company.  The cost of joining this club, at least $5 million for a Zonda today, up 10x in the last decade and a half.

After these three, it becomes a fragmented field.  At first glance the Jaguar XJR-15 would seem to be an excellent contender for its own exclusive Club.  It certainly has a colorful race history, can trace its development lines directly back to a Le Mans winner, was the first carbon fiber road car, very low build numbers at 50, and set a new list price record when new.  However, it’s very compromised as a road car, an hour is about the maximum amount of time you would want to spend driving one.  Doing 250-350 miles a day in one would be punishing. There is a very good reason all XJR-15 are very low mileage.  It’s a tricky car to drive hard and luggage room is nonexistent.  On top of that Jaguar has basically disowned the car and it has no official support from any other organization.  While XJR-15 values have increased significantly in the last decade, it is still below the list price in 1991 when adjusted for inflation.  All in, the chances the XJR-15 becomes a “Club” car one day are near zero. 

 

After the XJR-15, all the other potential candidates from the main stream supercar manufacturers Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and McLaren simply exist in too great a number to ever have the exclusivity needed. The closest contenders are probably the Ferrari 288 GTO, F50 and the McLaren P1.  All three have build numbers under 400, a core group of passionate owners, were the pinnacle of performance when they were launched, have a moderate amount of practicality, and are brilliant to drive on the road.  Where each comes up short is in any racing history.  The Ferrari F40 has the racing history but the build numbers are significantly higher.  The Enzo lacks both any racing history and with its early single clutch F1 gearbox, just isn’t that great to drive.  The LaFerrari & Porsche 918 are more of a build number challenge.  One major stumbling block for all of these models though is they are highly sought after by the “Car Art Collectors” (see: The Tyranny of Low Mileage) and the idea of regularly taking the cars out for extended multi day drives on roads and race tracks is in direct contradiction to their core collector’s philosophy. 

There are a few other potential candidates for future generations of “Club Cars”.  The potential has always been there for Koenigsegg to cultivate a similar level of following and loyalty as Pagani.  However, the useability challenges of the early Koenigseggs along with the mileage being closely linked to valuation focus for many years are major hurdles to overcome.  If I had to bet on two candidates for “Club” status it would be the GMA T.50 & the SCG 004.  Both will tick all the right boxes in terms of useability, performance, rarity/build numbers, and in the case of the 004, includes a racing history.  Both GMA & SCG have also already been very clever at building relationships with their customers and developing a sense of community.  Design discussions on both cars include comments on their ability to be driven regularly and I believe both manufacturers will be encouraging owners to do so.   When you look at the list of depositors, it already includes quite a few names that have appeared of the F1 & Zonda “Clubs” rosters over the years. 

 

At the end of the day, most car collectors are social animals.  The solitary “car as garage art” collectors tend to be a small minority.  The sociable owner not only enjoys driving their car but also uses it as a ticket into group activities of one form or another. On this pyramid, the “Club” cars sit at the very top. 

Thoughts and comments? Please see the comments section below.

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May 2021

 

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6 Thoughts on The Ultimate Collector’s Automobiles: The “Club” Cars
    John
    6 Jun 2021
    10:06pm

    At the other end of the “Clubs”, I seen a few members of the TVR club at Knockhill during one of the meetings there. When they heard that some of their friends needed help fixing their race cars they were off to help, missing all the other races that were on that day. The willingness to help out where they could was something you couldn’t buy with any amount of money. That was true value.

    And given TVR reliability and how their chassis are rotting, soon they’ll have the limited numbers required too…

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    Fred
    29 May 2021
    11:30pm

    Just wanted to drop in and say thank you again. You have such a unique position and viewpoint that very few of us get to experience, or peek into, and it’s very interesting, so thank you for consistently sharing. Love the article, never really considered this aspect of ownership.

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    Dean Micalizio
    31 May 2021
    9:24pm

    I passed on an F1 for $600K in the late ’90s, and am still kicking myself. I would probably still have it today and been the ‘bottom feeder’ of the ‘Club’. 🙂

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    Tim
    30 May 2021
    1:14pm

    That all sounds quite ghastly.

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