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$370 million in collectible cars slated for Pebble Beach auction

Ferrari LaFerrari, 2014, auctioned off by Bonhams
Source; Bonhams
Ferrari LaFerrari, 2014, auctioned off by Bonhams

Wealthy car collectors from around the world will converge on Pebble Beach, California, this week for the scenic community's annual auction of collectible cars.

A parade of vintage Ferraris, Jaguars, Alfa Romeos and Maseratis will lead the auctions of roughly 1,240 cars in events leading up to Sunday's Concours d'Elegance awards show. The biggest auctions kick off Thursday.

This year's sales are expected to total around $370 million, according to collectible car insurance and research company Hagerty. That would represent a nearly 7 percent decline from last year. It's also unlikely there will be any record-breakers this year.

Still, experts say the collectible car market is holding steady after a huge run-up between 2010 and 2014. Election uncertainty, slower overseas growth and a stronger dollar (which makes cars more expensive for overseas buyers) are also tempering the market.

"It's cruising at a high speed," said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty. "There are dips and valleys, but it's been up so much and generally it's maintaining those levels."

At the main auctions from Gooding & Company, RM Sotheby's, Mecum and Bonhams, the most expensive cars (as usual) are likely to be vintage Ferraris. Hagerty estimates there are 134 Ferraris going under the hammer this week, with sales of some expected to top $15 million.

Of all the cars for sale this week, about 124 are expected to go for $1 million or more, compared with 129 last year. Seven cars are expected to top $15 million — more than double last year's total, Hagerty said.

"We don't see many of the crazy higher prices we saw in some years past," he said. "The auction houses have done well making their numbers with cars in the $10 million to $20 million range, just below the very top of the high end."

The auction houses say the weakest part of the market is American cars from the 1950s and 1960s under $100,000. But Hagerty said even that market is strong when you look at private, nonauction sales.

"Behind the scenes, those cars are still popular," he said.

Fallout from the U.K.'s decision to leave the European Union could weigh on the auctions, since about 30 percent of the buyers at Pebble Beach have traditionally been European, Hagerty said.

"This year I expect there won't be as many of them," he said. "Especially for those buyers who are buying in pounds."

On the supply side, Hagerty said some sellers may not be as quick to put their cars up for sale as they were in 2013 and 2014, when they were almost assured high sale prices.

"If you had a Mercedes Gullwing that you bought years ago for $100,000 and suddenly it's worth $1 million or $1.5 million, you might have been willing to take money off the table," Hagerty said. "But the first part of that cycle has run its course, so maybe now you hang on to it."

One category that is likely to be strong this week is new supercars. While vintage cars make up the bulk of the sales, a growing number of recent supercars — like LaFerraris and McLaren P1s — are coming onto the auction block with big price gains.

"These are relatively new cars but they're showing up as legitimate investments," he said.