When are we going to hit the ceiling?

A 1955 aluminium-bodied Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing sold earlier this year for $4.62 million. By any measure, that is incredible. Scarcity aside, this is not a car with a known race record, and there’s essentially a 20 year gap in the history.

But that’s not all. Gooding and Company’s record sale actually overshadowed the equally staggering $2.2 million found by Barrett-Jackson for an ultra low mileage steel-bodied car in the same weekend.

It may be that both results indicate an appreciation of the 300SL’s widely acknowledged status as one of the cars that laid the foundations for its kind ever since. Ask the question, “What was the world’s first supercar?” and with few exceptions, the argument will eventually boil down to Miura versus Gullwing.

The sales also tie in nicely to the news that Daimler AG is taking the trademark of the legendary shape very seriously – an unauthorised replica of the car was recently crushed, which is an action that can only help to boost market value for the real deal.

Above all else, the results reinforce one simple fact: despite the economic outlook, collectors with deep pockets are as ready as ever to spend big money on top-drawer vehicles. This much has perhaps always been obvious, but it’s having a knock-on effect for the rest of the market, too.

Cars around the £100,000 to £200,000 mark have not seen values decline in recent years, but rather steady and sustainable increases. Daytonas have climbed sensibly from sub-£100k to £200k; the best 512 BBs are now £100k+, and even top Testarossas are not far behind.

The HAGI Top index has seen a near 7% increase over the year to date. The group calculated that exceptional cars had seen compound annual growth in value of 12.5% over the last three decades, and in 2011 the vehicles outperformed not just equities, but gold as well.

So what next for the collector car market? It seems inevitable that we’ll see the world record for a car sold at auction broken again within the next 12 to 18 months – even if only in non-adjusted prices. The Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupé arguably still holds the record hammer price of all time, depending on which indices you use to scale up.

It’s also likely that more of the absolute top end cars will change hands privately. From Peter Mullin’s Bugatti 57SC Atlantic buy two years ago to the £20 million Jon Hunt found for his 250 GTO in January this year, some high-end collectors are likely to be tempted by what would now look like a serious return on their purchase. Yes, HAGI indicates that things are continuing to look up, but that doesn’t mean collectors will necessarily wait-and-see. The principle of “leaving something for the next guy” still applies at this end of the market.

We’re about to experience yet another incredible year. How long can the upward trend continue? Watch this space…

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