BMWs Go Mainstream as Collector Cars

 

In the last five years, BMW have been discovered by mainstream auto collectors. By this I mean, the big car collectors did not have BMWs on their radar until about 2012. But let’s go back even further.

Twenty-five years ago, 1992, the Big Three of BMWs were all $100,000 cars. That is, the 328 from the 1930s, the 507 from the 1950s and the M1 from the late 1970s could all be had for about $100,000. In the late 1990s, keeping the symmetry, the Z8 joined the list of great BMWs.

With the Z8s appearance, there was an interest in the 507, being the inspiration for the Z8. I thought this would be short-lived, but I was wrong.

Still, mainstream collectors continued to chase the classics they had always chased. Pre-war marques such as Duesenberg, Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz and exotica such as Isotta-Franchinis, Hispano-Suizas and the like. With the passage of time, post-war cars such as Mercedes gullwings, Cobras and, of course, Ferraris captured the imagination of those with lots of money.

BMWs just never caught on. Maybe that was because pre-war BMWs were relatively inexpensive. And in the immediate post-war period, BMW just didn’t build very many cars. Let’s face it, the company had several near-death experiences and only finally found their feet with the investment by the Quandt family in 1959.

Whatever the reasons, BMWs have finally been noticed by the major collectors. This is a mixed blessing. The good news: BMW is finally getting the recognition it deserves. The bad news: Prices have skyrocketed. The sort of good news: Restoration can be economically justified for more cars now and more replacement parts are being remanufactured.

The Rules Change: Provenance and Originality

The rules of the broader collector car world now apply to the most valuable of BMWs. For example, a particular car’s provenance is very important. Race history, especially factory race history, means a lot. Previous owners, especially famous ones, can raise a car’s value significantly. Being able to trace and document the chain of ownership is important. Preferably back to the beginning of the car’s history.

The other change for these cars is the importance of authenticity/originality. BMW enthusiasts have historically not placed much importance on this. Swapping out parts was considered acceptable. Many Bimmerphiles considered it good to make ‘upgrades.’ But these ‘automotive mores’ don’t hold for cars in the upper strata of collector car hobby and lately even for the new-found jewels from BMW like E30 M3s. Collectors want authentic, original, as-delivered from the factory parts on these cars. Substitute parts, even for ease of drivability, typically will decrease value. Okay, nobody wants to drive on original tires from a prewar 328, but you get the idea.

For older BMWs, such as pre-war cars, 503/507s or anything pre-New Class, this has been clear for a while. But for those of you with newly found classics, such as an E9 coupe or E30 M3, it probably makes sense to put the car back to factory original or stockpile the parts to do so.

Should BMW CCA chapter events start judging cars for originality and authenticity? Maybe. Let’s talk about some of the specific models.

507

The 507 from the 1950s is the most valuable BMW model.
The 507 from the 1950s is the most valuable BMW model.

The 507 is the most valuable model of BMW. The 507 got a bump in values when the Z8 was released. Some people wanted a 507 to go with their Z8 so they could have the original and the updated version. But then a weird thing happened. The values never went back down. In 2013, 507 values really took off and 2014 saw the values go completely nuts. The 507 is particularly beautiful and very rare; both add to the value, of course.

During 2014, the late Bill and Star Young’s 507 sold at Amelia Island for $1.8M. Four days later, a 507 from the Pray Collection sold for $2.4M, setting the record. That particular car, besides coming from the collection of well-known collector Malcolm Pray, is the only 507 raced in North America. The auction house, R&M, located the original owner and obtained documentation of every event the car participated in. This seemed to raise the perceived value to bidders by about half a million dollars. In my mind, the amateur racing history really isn’t that significant. But bidders felt otherwise. Importantly, the new owner is said to have spent $1 million on ‘restoration’ of this car after spending $2.4 million to acquire it! That car was at Pebble Beach last year and looked good, as well it should.

At one of the Pebble Beach auctions in August 2015, a 507 that had been fully restored by TT Workshops in England, was sold for $1.8 million, at the low end of estimates and considered to be somewhat disappointing by some. With seller’s premium, the full price was $1.9 million. BMW Group Classic raised some questions about the fidelity to which cars were restored by TT Workshops. This car was found to have a non-original engine a couple of days before the sale, which brought the price down. For locals, this car was previously owned by Brown Maloney of Sequim, WA.

During 2016, the Elvis Presley 507 and its companion car were both brought to Monterey by BMW Group Classic and certainly gave a boost to 507 values. But the only 507 offered at any of the Monterey auctions was painted an awful non-factory turquoise and was a no sale at $1.8M.

The market for 507s seems to be about $1.8M to $2.0M currently for very nice cars with very special cars or those in exceptional condition being worth up to 20% more and of course there will always be a premium  everything else being equal for a series two car. Of course, it seems that every 507 owner thinks their car is a $2.4M car but the market thinks otherwise. Interestingly, 507s have seen a slight softening, like so many cars that accelerated from 2012 to 2014; this slight correction seems healthy.

503

Karra Canum’s 503 Cabriolet is likely the best example in the world.
Karra Canum’s 503 Cabriolet is likely the best example in the world.

The sister car to the 507 is the 503. Both models were designed by Count Albrecht von Goerz for BMW and both debuted in 1955. The coupes are now worth $220,000 to $312,000 according to Sports Car Market. The convertibles are worth $328,400 to $330,000 according to the same source. That seems like an awfully narrow range but this is clearly a thinly-traded market. In my mind, the convertibles are significantly more attractive. Probably the best 503 in the world is owned by Karra Canum of San Jose. Many club members have seen this car at the LeMay Museum, Monterey, Griot’s Garage catalogs or in Roundel. With its brown and beige interior, it is a show stopper. It would probably sell for over half a million dollars if brought to auction.

501/502/3200CS

This 502 Cabriolet was restored by the President of the BMW Vintage and Classic Car Club.
This 502 Cabriolet was restored by the President of the BMW Vintage and Classic Car Club.

The other big BMWs from the 1950s and 1960s are the 501, 502 and 3200CS. The standard 501/502 sedans aren’t worth much and can’t be restored economically. Unusually-bodied cars are worth enough to bother with. These include the Baur cabriolets which have drawn around $350,000 at auction. 501/502s from Autenrieth or other coachbuilders are worth even more.

The 3200 CS Bertone is rarely seen at auction but Sport Car Market puts the value range at $58,800 to $103,050.

328

Nancy and John Martin’s beautiful 328 is well known to club members.
Nancy and John Martin’s beautiful 328 is well known to club members.

The pre-ware 328 is the second most valuable of BMW models. Built from 1936 to 1940, this car’s rarity, beauty and race history make it a real classic. In 2015 Bonhams sold a Condition 3 (1 is best, 5 is a mess), restored 328 for $831,451 which was called market correct by Sports Car Market. Later the same year, Bonhams sold a Condition 1- Frazer Nash-BMW for $934,868. Sports Car Market says the range is $667,400 to $1,287,153. The wide range is due to condition, of course, but 328s also often have very interesting ownership histories and many have strong completion histories, which helps account for the wide spread.

Many 328s were hidden away during World War II and the chain of ownership is sometimes hard to document during the war and immediate post-war period. Some 328 owners fear that their cars could have claims made against them by their former German owners, much like what has happened in the art world. So many of these cars remain hidden away.

The most valuable of the 328s are the factory race cars. Most of these are now owned by BMW but the crease-fendered roadster from the 1940 Mille Miglia team is the exception. BMW made a copy of this car but the original car was acquired by Oscar Davis for about $3 million.

Other Pre-war BMWs

This lovely 327/28 Cabriolet was restored in Vancouver, BC for Steve and Annie Norman.
This lovely 327/28 Cabriolet was restored in Vancouver, BC for Steve and Annie Norman.

The predecessor to the 328 was the 315/1 and 319/1 sports cars. These lovely roadsters are roughly $250,000 cars in good condition. Curiously, the 327 and 327/28 cars are not listed in the Sports Car Market Price Guide although I’ve seen nice ones sell in the range of $250,000 to $350,000.

 

 

 

Isetta/600

Who could resist an Isetta?
Who could resist an Isetta?

Microcars are very popular with collections since they are relatively affordable and cute. The favorite of all microcars is the BMW Isetta. The price range stated by Sports Car Market is $30,000 to $93,500, the latter hopefully the result of too much auction excitement/wine. But nicely restored Isettas bring in excess of $40,000 regularly.

The ‘Isetta limousine’600 isn’t worth as much even though it can actually be driven in modern (non-freeway) traffic; it just isn’t as cute as an Isetta. Taking an Isetta to a car show is like taking a puppy and its seems a “BMW puppy” is a must have item for all kinds of collectors.

M1

This M1 Procar is pictured at Laguna Seca.
This M1 Procar is pictured at Laguna Seca

The M1 supercar from the late 1970s has finally been discovered by mainstream collectors and is getting the attention it deserves. Sports Car Market puts their value at $440,000 to $605,000, which seems about right and has recently been confirmed by a nice car just brought to the USA from Japan with zero paperwork, selling for $577K, no doubt a low mileage great provenance car may shock the market at a higher level. Motorsport M1’s Particularly Procars with race history are worth much more.

Z8

This is an Alpina Z8
This is an Alpina Z8

Z8s are beautiful, modern cars. There were 5,700 built, so they are not rare. But a curious thing has happened. The original price was about $130,000. Initially the values dipped to around $80,000 at the lowest. Then they started climbing to where the value is now $181,200 to $309,269, again quoting Sports Car Market. Why so expensive? They are lovely, reliable and fast with the M5 engine. But they can’t be driven hard since the unibodies flex and newer M Cars are faster. But these values, in excess of what they cost new, have persisted for years and while there seems to be a leveling of late, who knows what the future brings.

Standard E9 vs. CSL vs. Batmobile

Peter Gleeson’s ‘Cow Car’ is an example of a full race 3.0CSL Batmobile.
Peter Gleeson’s ‘Cow Car’ is an example of a full race 3.0CSL Batmobile.

Now we’re getting into more affordable cars that many club members can relate to. The E9 coupe is one of the most beautiful cars BMW has ever built. The standard 2800CS and 3.0CS are valued in the range of $31,300 to $65,000. The drivetrains are such that these cars can be driven in modern traffic and the beauty of the car just gets better with age.

The 3.0CSL values are now $60,200 to $91,346 according to Sports Car Market, this obviously needs updating, while an outlier rust bucket example sold for $85,309 at a recent Bonhams’ auction. The reality seems to be between $150k and $250k depending on lightness they left the factory with, carbs or injection and condition.

The 3.0SCL Batmobiles are where the bigtime collectors begin to be interested. They range in value from $180,000 to $275,778 according to Sports Car Market but that seems low. Perhaps the ‘comps’ aren’t keeping up with the market because Batmobiles have been on fire the last few years, with three known private sales in and around $400,000, a Bonhams sale last year of a series one Batmobile at $341K and a couple of very average cars selling for above $200K.

The racing versions of these CSLs, especially the very small group of factory race cars are now up with the 507s in terms of prices and the recognized major teams of the period, Schnitzer, Alpina, Luigi, etc, can easily enter the 328 price range.

Here is where the conundrum comes in for E9 owners. Do they ‘upgrade’ their coupe with a more modern, more powerful engine and other changes that make the car more usable? Or do they put the car back to box stock in anticipation of standard E9s following the CSLs upmarket?

Standard 2002 vs. 2002tii vs. Turbo

The greatest 2002 of them all, the Turbo.
The greatest 2002 of them all, the Turbo.

The issues are similar for 2002s. Standard 2002s in good shape are coming up in value but the 2002tii, especially in round taillight form, is more desirable. Sport Car Market has the 2002tii valued at $31,500 to $41,800, which seems a little light for exceptional cars. The greatest of the 2002s, the 2002 Turbo, is listed as being in the range of $50,400 to $54,535. I don’t think so. A well restored 2002 Turbo is clearly worth over $100,000 and we have seen sales approach $150k for the very best

Which brings up another point, which is the higher the value of a car the more examples of that model can be economically restored.

Z1

The Z1’s drop down doors are an attention getter.
The Z1’s drop down doors are an attention getter.

Restoration of a Z1 isn’t something that is likely to be needed. They aren’t that old and the bodies are made of plastic. The Z1 was built from 1988 to 1991 but this model was never imported to the U.S. There were 8,000 built and now Z1s can be imported Many Z1s have been brought into the country by members of the BMW Vintage and Classic Car Club. Z1s use a 3 Series drivetrain and the drop-down doors are always a showstopper. Oddly, Sports Car Market doesn’t even track the values of Z1s. Too bad because the values have gone from about $25,000 to $50,000 a couple of years ago to twice that now. A really nice one, especially in an unusual color, can be worth $100,000.

Conclusion

If you’re looking to keep your collector BMW long-term, think about the value to be had by putting the car back to stock or at least keeping the stock items you remove. You can’t take it with you and eventually that car could be a nice addition to your retirement plan.