Written by Shayan Bokaie
Feb 18, 2022
“Anything but red.” It’s become a popular sentiment nowadays among enthusiasts and collectors looking to stand out with unconventional colors and rarer shades in the increasingly competitive automotive fashion show. ‘Resale red’, as it’s popularly known, was once the safe bet decades ago to ensure a sports car’s value on the secondary market with the belief it would be easier to sell when the time came — and they were right. But things have changed.
Today, rarer colors largely demand a market premium. In the era of paint-to-sample fever, certain classic cars in red may not be getting the same love of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. While the top of the market is always chasing scarcity, this distraction in demand might mean prices are suppressed elsewhere. This begs the question: are the classic reds for certain cars an opportunity in the market?
Image via © Porsche
A lot of car companies made a lot of red cars. Porsches circa the 1980s, Ferraris since forever, the Acura NSX, Corvettes, and many more. According to NSX Prime, an estimated 3,334 NSXs were delivered in Formula Red from 1991 to 1998 in the US, almost twenty five percent more than the 2,537 finished in black and representing nearly half of the entire market.
It makes sense too. It was the launch color, the marketing color, the performance color, the historical color for so many cars. It was part of the culture. Classic films like Scent of a Woman and Against All Odds have helped cement the color in history. If the Chevy Suburban received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so should a red sports car.
To gain some market perspective, Derek Tam-Scott of San Francisco-based purveyor ISSIMI shared some observations, starting with Porsche’s iconic Guards Red. “Back in the ‘80s, Guards Red was very popular. Then, in the 996 and 997 era, enthusiasts seem to have shifted the center of gravity toward to subtle colors and that’s why so many cars of that era are silver and gray. Fashions evolve and consumers fatigue of them when they become too widespread. Personally, red cars look better to me now than they did ten years ago because I’m tired of the absence of color.”
When asked what he’s seeing in his day-to-day transactions, Derek explains, “Red is making a comeback because the ‘80s are making a comeback. What can be more quintessentially ‘80s than a red sports car? I think the rarer colors will always be worth more because in the bell-shaped distribution curve of colors, red is overrepresented. But the silver lining of this is that red sports cars from the ‘80s, in addition to being welcome relief from the sea of modern grey cars, aren’t so difficult to find. This makes them attractive for enthusiasts who want the experience of the car and would honestly take even a common color, but still get to make an impactful statement because what used to be a common color is now distinctive compared to modern cars.”
Image via © Ferrari
Derek goes on to prudently point out that the potential opportunity in 'resale red' only applies to cars where red examples saw high production numbers or were a flagship color. In some markets, an E46 M3 or Mercedes 500E perhaps, red is actually the rare color.
On the buyer side of the equation, we caught up with Michael Rapetti, Founder of The Motoring Club, who recently added a 1984 Porsche Carrera 911 finished in Guards Red to their rental fleet for members. “I’ve never been a red car guy myself and didn’t want a red Porsche, but there’s something about seeing Guards Red on a G-body 911 that looks so right. It won me over. I had known a lot of people looking for G-bodies and specifically avoiding red, silver or black and think we got a better deal because a lot of enthusiasts looked over it thinking it’s just another Guards Red G-body. In the end, I’m glad it’s red.”
Image via © Ferrari
By no means is this to claim that red cars are objectively less expensive, or better value than a rare color. Obviously, there are many factors that determine a car's market value. Just recently, we saw a rare Ferrari 550 Maranello finished in Verde Zeltweg sell for $230,000 on Marqued, but there are red 550s which have brought more than that at auction.
“You have to ask why,” says Gregory Johnston, founder of Designo Ltd. and advisor to some of the car world’s largest collectors. “The initial quantities of Guards Red or Rosso Corsa allotments were driven by lust, desire, and marketing. In my purview of the Ferrari market, I am now seeing some value-driven collectors who are chasing the lowest possible mileage, best examples actually opting for the classic red over tan spec. It’s iconic. If a museum was going to acquire a Ferrari, it would be red.”
But that doesn’t necessarily tell the full story. Gregory explains that reactions are polarizing. “I can also show a collector a provenanced, ready-to-enjoy, perfect car, but red is a hard stop. It cannot be red. Anything but red.”
Image via © Chevrolet
Are prices of ‘resale red’ cars empirically suppressed? We’re not sure. But while the Instagram hype machine is preoccupied with getting high on the short supply of rare colors, this might be a good moment to reconsider the tried-and-true paint codes of the classic sports car.
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