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Ready for take-off? Simon Kidston looks ahead to Monterey Week

by Simon Kidston

"Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated", Mark Twain is said to have commented over a century ago, after a newspaper erroneously published his obituary. If the classic car market had a voice of its own, next week it might claim the same thing.

It's that time of year, when collectors, dealers, journalists and auctioneers from around the world converge on a picturesque stretch of Californian coastline, immortalised by another celebrated American novelist - John Steinbeck - to show off their latest acquisitions, make new ones, say goodbye to others and have a helluva time doing it. Welcome to Pebble Beach.

And make no mistake, 2016 is a vintage year. Not since the heady late 1990s has such a dazzling array of rare, beautiful and above all valuable motor cars been assembled for sale by the big-hitting auction houses, going head to head for market supremacy. But who will buy them?

Home-grown US buyers, for a generation the main movers in the classic car market, have their minds occupied by an impending election that potentially threatens major upheaval. Europeans have other worries, and British buyers of anything outside their own borders are feeling significantly impoverished since Brexit. Who's left - Middle Eastern buyers? With oil at record lows? The Chinese? Not today. Indians? Not tomorrow, either. It's hard to see who will be raising their paddles to pay record prices in uncertain times for these undoubtedly stellar offerings - especially the ones that have a sense of déjà vu (see our www.k500.com market index if you want to know which they are, and if their owners have hit the jackpot).

And yet, in a new era where collector cars are now an asset class (and a remarkably resilient one in recent years), against a background of high volatility in other investing fields, continued low interest rates and new money coming in from younger, wealthier buyers than ever before, something tells me we haven't seen the end of the bull run for the 'right' cars. What's changed is that buyers are now more savvy. As an experienced English dealer friend remarked to me recently, "It's become a two-tier market. Real collectors still know what they want and are pursuing it, although often with more trades involved. Speculators, who bought the wrong cars at the wrong prices, are frozen in the headlights, terrified to do anything in case their timing is wrong, too."

I won't comment or try to prejudice next week's outcome in Monterey, other than to predict that one of the headline cars deserves every cent of the record price it will cost its next owner (I wish it were me, but sadly it's not), while another looks a million dollars but fares less well under scrutiny - and probably has a return ticket home.

If you see me, or my colleagues Emanuele Collo and Steve Wakefield, in Monterey, please say hello. I'll be judging, Emanuele will be chaperoning a client's car, and Steve will be 'reporting live' for K500. Whether prices are up, down or sideways, expect a thoroughly enjoyable weekend: it's what beautiful cars were made for, after all.