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Ahead of top Ferrari auction, is the classic car market decelerating?

After years of massive returns the classic car market is slowing, with collectors focusing on provenance, rarity and condition of automobiles, an expert from a major auction house selling classic cars told CNBC.

The value of the classic car market increased by 17 percent in 2015 — more than for other luxury assets including watches, jewelry, stamps, art and wine, according to the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index.

However, growth in the classic car market is slowing, in part due to fears of a potential interest rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve and a downturn in global liquidity.

"For certain areas in the classic car world, you could say so (the market is decelerating)," Tim Schofield, Bonhams U.K. head of cars, told CNBC on Tuesday.

"But I think that is really down to supply and demand for certain makes, models and types within the quite large area of our world," he added.

Auction sales at Scottsdale — the U.S.'s largest auto auction by volume — fell by 15 percent to $251 million in January, marking the first drop in sales since 2010.

The HAGI Top index from the Historic Automobile Group International, which tracks the market for classic cars, rose by a tepid 2.21 percent in the year to July, underperforming the S&P 500. The HAGI P index, measuring the market for rare Porsches, actually fell by 2.61 percent in the first seven months of 2016.

2014 Ferrari LaFerrari
Bonhams
2014 Ferrari LaFerrari

Bonhams motoring department will host 22 auctions worldwide in 2016. Upcoming auctions include one in Quail Lodge, California on August 19, at which a 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari is seen selling for $3.6 million-$4.2 million.

"I think lots of modern motor manufacturers are now realizing that low-volume motor cars, low numbers, with some very nice additions and accoutrements, special engines, special finish, special bodies by bespoke coach makers, are now highly prized and you'll see in the likes of Aston Martin, Ferrari et cetera producing very low-volume motor cars that are filling that void," Schofield told CNBC.

Then, a 1936 Aston Martin 2-liter sports-racing two-seater car is seen selling for between $2.1 million and $2.6 million on September 10 at the Goodwood Revival festival in England. The car is dubbed the "Red Dragon" and has an illustrious racing history.

"The holy trinity for collectors is provenance, rarity and condition … you are talking about cars that are pre-world war II … that have a race history; that were built in low numbers; that are now eligible for major (racing) events globally," Schofield told CNBC.

Bonhams currently holds the world record for the most valuable car sold at auction. This was the sale of a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta for $38.1 million in California in 2014. The record for a car sold to a private buyer is $52 million, also for a Ferrari 250 GTO, according to the Guinness World Records.

Cameron Spencer | Getty Images

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