Michael Schumacher’s $9 million F1 Ferrari livery is tip of valuable car market

  • Once disregarded as useless and undrivable relics, old racers are gaining traction in the ultra-niche world of high-end car collecting.
Former F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher's Ferrari F2003 GA with chassis number 229 during Sotheby's auction in Geneva. (AFP)
Former F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher's Ferrari F2003 GA with chassis number 229 during Sotheby's auction in Geneva.

On April 12, an old Ferrari that Michael Schumacher drove to his first Formula 1 World Championship in 2000 sold for an undisclosed amount at a private auction in Hong Kong. The lightweight land rocket, a Ferrari F1-2000, had brought the racing team its first world title in more than two decades, and it set up Schumacher to win four additional championships with Ferrari in the following consecutive years.

Initial estimates valued the car at $7.5 million to $9.5 million, a spokesperson for Sotheby’s confirmed — an elite sum that won’t surprise anyone who pays attention to the obscure world of decommissioned race cars. Once disregarded as useless and undrivable relics, old racers are gaining traction in the ultra-niche world of high-end car collecting.

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“These cars used to be really difficult to sell, and people were scared off by them," says Andrew Olson, a specialist for RM Sotheby’s. “Now, people are recognizing their historic importance and their racing history, and their significance is finally being appreciated."

It’s admittedly rare air. But for folks who already have everything in their garage — Ferrari F40s and Porsche 930 Turbos and Mercedes-Benz gullwings — a real race car is the next must-have.

The Ultimate Driving Experience

Discarded race cars are more than just unusual-looking vehicles with zippy stripes or logos painted on them and without air conditioning and radio. These are cars built to meet the unique requirements of a particular racing series such as Indy Car, Can-Am, Nascar and Formula 1, 2 or 3. They come with things like roll cages and slick racing tires but typically lack such mundane conveniences as rearview mirrors and passenger seats. They are not legal to drive on regular streets and roads.

Decommissioned relics have been around as long as car races. Automakers from BMW and Mercedes to Ferrari and Lotus might keep a few in company archives and brand museums, but many are deconstructed, left in shambles or sold to private collectors. Last year, cash-strapped McLaren sold several of the cars in its F1 heritage collection in order to raise money to develop its Artura hybrid.

Often expensive to maintain — expect to shell out from $250,000 to $500,000 to get an old F1 Ferrari back into running order, Olson says — and difficult to drive, even for people used to driving old cars, they can languish in museums or back garages. They might be trotted out once or twice a year for an auto festival or a parade lap among the most arcane circles of car fanciers. But they hold a powerful allure for those who love them, such as Art Hebert, who sells them via Motorsports Market.

“I was very typical as a kid, lusting after beautiful Ferraris and Jaguars but could never afford them," says Hebert, who founded the San Rafael, California-based company in 1998. “As time goes on, you raise your kids and they become self-supporting. You start thinking about: Now that I don't have all this cash going out, I've got an opportunity to relive those moments I wanted as a kid. So we buy these cars Mario Andretti or Michael Schumacher raced, and we get to have that thrill, the rush, of what it must have been like to be Schumacher at the Grand Prix — and winning."

Hebert, who owns and races a 1977 Chevron Formula Atlantic B39 and a 1999 Martini Picchio, says he has perceived an increasingly prominent drumbeat of significant sales, especially to buyers under age 50. It reflects the inherent, visceral thrill the cars give to those who drive — or just watch — them in races. Club days at such tracks as Laguna Seca and Sonoma Raceway in California and exhibition races before F1 Grand Prix like the one in Texas offer race car owners intense camaraderie and weekend excitement. Racing series such as Formula Atlantic and Formula Ford support and encourage owners to experience their oddball machines at race speed. “Some people collect art; we race it," Hebert says. “Every run feels like magic."

“It’s not uncommon for people who own the old Ferrari F1 cars to drive them on the track," Olson says. “It’s the ultimate driving experience."

Undervalued Assets

The cars’ relative obscurity has been punctuated by several big sales in recent years. In 2017, Sotheby’s sold Schumacher’s Monaco Grand Prix-winning Ferrari F2001 for a record $7.5 million. The auction house had orchestrated a big marketing campaign to drum up excitement for the car, and it worked, Olson says. By 2022, another Schumacher Ferrari, a F2003-GA, sold for nearly $15 million at Sotheby’s sale in Geneva, virtually doubling the 2017 total as the modern era’s biggest public payment for an F1 car.

The upward climb across the segment continued this year at the annual auctions in Florida, where a bright teal-colored 1987 Kremer Porsche 962C sold for $907,000, beating a low estimate of $850,000, and a white-striped 1959 Lister-Chevrolet Sports Racer sold for $423,000 against a low estimate of $400,000. Gooding & Co. sold both vehicles, which were among 16 race cars it offered for sale in 2023, up from 11 in 2022. “A major difference [this year] is the increased variety of these competition cars and more prominent race cars with more popular history,' says Pauline Pechakjian, a spokesperson for the auction house.

There’s plenty of room for growth in the still largely undiscovered market. Vintage race cars remain largely undervalued because current prices don’t accurately reflect racing pedigrees, histories and extreme rarity.

“Why should a Ferrari F50 be worth only half the price of a Grand Prix-winning Schumacher F1 car? They built 350 Ferrari F50s, but they built eight Ferrari F-2000s," says Olson. “I wouldn't be surprised at all if five years from now the gap between great road cars and great Formula 1 cars has continued to widen."

Even though the expensive ones make the headlines, a less-known fact is that vintage race cars come with price tags to fit almost every budget. A black 1990 Shelby Can-Am lists for $40,000 on the Motorsports Market website; a yellow 1971 Chevron B19 can be had for $110,000. A Footwork Arrows FA16 F1 car that finished in third place at the 1995 Australian GP has an asking price of £250,000 ($312,000) on the England-based website Racecarsdirect.com. Even Bringatrailer.com, the addictive online auction site that caters to those who love Porsche 911s and Mercedes-Benz SLs, has a special section devoted to race cars like the Formula Mazda race car (and trailer), which had a top bid of $7,500 two days before the auction ended.

All will make you feel like a professional race car driver, regardless of their price bracket. That’s the point.

“We're all pretenders, right? We all understand that we're not that talented," Hebert says. “But for one fleeting moment out on the track, we have caught Michael Schumacher."

First Published Date: 14 Apr 2023, 09:06 AM IST

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