Exclusive Retromobile Survey

Under the auspices of organising company Comexposium, Retromobile commissioned a survey last month, focusing on a panel of classic car enthusiasts and what they did during the lockdown. The idea was to find out how they approached their hobby during this period full of restrictions and what their attitude was at the end of it. 2021 usable answers were gathered – which is evidence of just how interested people are in the world of classic cars. Our thanks to all of them.

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Untarnished passion

It's no surprise – since the figures tally with those of the FFVE (French federation of old cars) – that men were much better represented than women: they accounted for 97% of respondents. Nearly three-quarters were over the age of 50 (73%); and the various income brackets were globally representative of people living in France. Owning one or several classic cars is not a prerequisite for being interested in them – 30% of respondents are not owners. This figure is interesting, since it shows that one does not have to own a classic car to be enthusiastic about them: nearly a third are not yet owners (we hope they will be one day). Being a classic car enthusiast can also involve collecting miniature models, documentation or automobilia, for example. Retromobile illustrates this effectively every year by bringing merchants and representatives of car clubs together under the same roof, alongside specialist second-goods dealers and people selling miniature cars.

For those lucky enough to have a real one, their hobby appears to be relatively affordable since on average, they set aside an annual budget of some €3500 for servicing. But this sum shows that there is a dynamic market for spare parts and dedicated services. Nowadays, collectors can find competent professionals – who are often enthusiasts themselves – for everything from periodic maintenance to complete restoration projects. Since the 1980s, the classic car sector has expanded and become more structured so that people can do what they really want to do: drive!

Many owners maintain and service their vehicles themselves, spending up to half a day on them per week (36% between 1 and 3 hours; 22% between 3 and 5 hours). Beyond just essential maintenance, what the majority of enthusiasts enjoy most of all is just pampering their cars and getting them ready to be taken out. Spending time in your garage is excellent for one's spirits: you feel peaceful there and it's a good way to “empty your head”. The DHSS should think about that…

Free time

In normal times, taking your car, motorbike or utility vehicle out for a spin is one of life's pleasures. Alone or with friends, going out for a drive is a simple joy that you never get tired of. So, the frustration of being locked down will have damaged people's morale. But, despite not being allowed to go out for a drive, people's passion seems to have escaped the lockdown.  37% of respondents said they had more time to work on a restoration project or carry out a few maintenance tasks; or to expand their knowledge of vehicles and makes. And reading served as a good stop-gap – probably a good way to compensate for one's lack of freedom. Many people took advantage of the period to tidy up (and reread) their magazine collections, or consult spare parts catalogues. So it's not surprising that one in two respondents made online purchases and 35% of these were for spare parts and 15% for documentation. Fewer purchases were made of miniatures (9%) and automobilia (3%) – maybe because fewer people are interested in these or because they prefer to be able to "see" and “touch”.

These weeks of lockdown were therefore beneficial for projects already under way, as well as future ones. For example, before the lockdown, 26% of respondents were considering buying a car and 10% wanted to sell one. By the end of lockdown, half of all potential buyers had given up on the idea for the immediate future. This is understandable, given all the uncertainty associated with the economy and the anxiety generated by the pandemic. The more optimistic people researched the market – 85% over the Internet, and 29% in the press. Worth pointing out is that 31% got opinions or advice from their contacts (friends and family), which confirms that this is a hobby that people share. Conversely, 75% of people abandoned their plan to sell their vehicle. Could it be that they realised that it would have been a mistake or even complete stupidity to part with their classic car? Or possibly they are waiting for better days so that they can sell at a higher price? Whatever the case, it appears as though they are keen to maintain the status quo.

What does the future hold?

As everybody knows, the classic car market is highly sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. In previous crises – at the start of the 1990s and then again in 2008 – a significant fall in transactions and prices dissuaded speculators and re-established a certain equilibrium. The result was that a number of mass-produced Ferraris and Porsches found themselves on sale at more reasonable prices – logical, given how abundantly available they are. Enthusiasts were delighted by this. Classic cars are first and foremost a hobby for people of all ages, irrespective of their income bracket. With the exception of record sales prices fetched by a number of highly unusual vehicles – which can sometimes create the illusion that it's a hobby exclusively for billionaires – the vast majority of enthusiasts can pick up a car for a much more affordable price.

While 33% of respondents believe that the market will remain stable, 17% think that supply will outstrip demand, while 8% think the opposite. An increase in purchases now seems possible, driven by people's desire to seize opportunities or to follow a purchase through now that it has become more realistic. It should be pointed out that 41% say that they have no idea. Consequently, 33% believe that prices will remain stable, while 21% are forecasting a slight fall (5 to 10%). 9% are predicting an increase. 27% do not know. It's been confirmed that buyers could come forward, but in more moderate proportions. Ultimately, 63% are not predicting any changes in the budget that they set aside for classic cars, while 12% fear that they may have to reduce it and 3% are intending to increase it. 22% have no idea. Basically, the market should stay relatively stable with a "wait-and-see" attitude. It will be up to sellers to adapt to the ambient climate and give potential purchasers back their confidence.

What is certain is that the results of the survey, which sought to gather people’s spontaneous opinions, are likely to change based on forthcoming events and enthusiasts' mindsets. The small number of online auctions that have been held recently do show that the prices of classic cars have fallen a little. Opportunist buyers have managed to pick up a few bargains – in the UK in particular (see results in the most recent issues of L.V.A). It is likely that a number of dealers who have had no sales for the past two months will be keen to lighten their stock and generate some turnover. The cancellation of certain major events, such as Reims or the Avignon Festival in France, Essen in Germany, Goodwood in the UK and Pebble Beach in the US will have consequences – even if some of them have been postponed. But enthusiasts are keen to drive again and attend large gatherings. So it's worth hoping that once the crisis is over, the pleasure of sharing enjoyable moments together will inspire people and enable them to give free rein to their hobby. 

Seize the summer months as opportunities to enjoy your classic car and see you next February at Retromobile.

Bruno Camus.