Why a 50% Hit Means Nothing

I note an interesting division in my stream of phone calls and emails. Buyers of pre-Boxer era Ferraris ask about future appreciation, while buyers of the late-model V12s—the 456s, 550s and 575s—ask about further depreciation. If I’m unable to comfort owners of the late-model Ferraris, I can at least explain new Ferrari depreciation in detail. A hit in the $100,000 range is only part of the cost of ownership. Since many new Ferraris are leased, interest costs, sales tax and registration fees, insurance, and unique fees such as parking costs must also be factored into the total expense.

Because one column can cover only so much, we will focus mainly on depreciation and not get into new car appreciation, which does exist. A current example would be the 599, with “today delivery” examples currently selling for $150,000 or so over the $320,000 window sticker.

As an example of depreciation, 2003 Ferrari 456 M GTA s/n 132384 was sold new on November 14, 2003, by Scottsdale Ferrari, with a window sticker of $241,362. Only a month later, in December, the same 456 M GTA was sold to Motorcars International and then re-sold on January 1, 2004, with 144 miles on the odometer, for $199,000. Two and a half years and 9,600 miles later, we purchased 456 M GTA s/n 132384 needing a major service. A 30,000-mile belt service was done, new rear shocks, a new set of brakes, and four new tires were fitted and the wheels were repainted at a cost of just over $10,000. We then sold 456 M GTA s/n 132384 to its third owner for $122,500. Sales tax at 8.25%, plus registration, added another $12,000 to the cost.

MSRP depreciation over the first three years was $120,000, or about 50% of the new cost. Add in short-term lease fees of about $15,000 per year, insurance, registration, etc., and the cost of three years of “first owner” ownership approached $200,000. While a hit of close to $200,000 may shock some people, let’s look at a few comparisons.

Ferrari-Maserati-Bentley of Denver sold 2003 Bentley Azure s/n 01162 new on January 8, 2003 for $396,981 and took it back on trade in late 2006. It was then resold for $200,000, a three-year depreciation of $200,000 or about 50% of the new cost. Factor in lease fees, insurance, registration and the cost of the ownership experience is approximately $300,000.

While these numbers may be shocking, a 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL500 sold new for just over $100,000 and will now retail for $65,000, a 35% hit, while a 2003 SL55 sold new for about $125,000 and now retails for $55,000—a 55% hit! Moving further down the food chain, a new 2003 Jaguar XJR would have set you back $85,000 and is worth $40,000 today. Prefer a Corvette, which offers a huge bang for the buck? $50,000 for a new 2003, but $30,000 today, or 40% off.

Want to drop to the bottom of the fun-factor food chain? A loaded 2003 Miata would have set you back $25,000 and is worth about $12,500 today. Factor in the usual interest, registration fees, ad nauseum, on any of these, and all of the percentages are Ferrari comparable, just at higher, or lower, numbers.

Having done the depreciation comparisons, I then go on to explain “The Miracle of Depreciation,” the process whereby previously unobtainable automobiles are brought within the reach of the common man. Simply put, the first few years’ depreciation separates the truly rich from the simply comfortable. For those who can pay, the costs are moot, as those funds would otherwise go to a yacht or a third house or a Lear jet. While it may seem hard to justify a $100,000 depreciation, those who can, do, and those who can’t, buy used.

I try to summarize my case with a lesson I learned long ago. All we have today are our memories of yesterday and plans for tomorrow. Consider these two options: Sitting on the porch at the old-age home and reminiscing: “Yep, I had a Toyota. Never had a problem with it, gave great mileage, hardly ever needed fixin’.”

Or, “I had a couple of Ferraris when I was young. Fast? They were impractical and needed fixin’ all the time, but what a sound… the most fun I ever had! Expensive? Lemme tell you: the women loved them and your buddies thought you were the luckiest guy on the planet! I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.”

Thoughts of the old-age home porch scenario have directed my life and led me to do things like racing three times in the 24 Hours of Daytona, taking my kids racing, owning and racing multiple Ferraris, and other experiences more “sensible” people have missed.

When I asked the second buyer of the 456 for his perspective on the first few years’ depreciation, his comment was, “It is good for me, especially if the car is in like-new condition. Bad for the first owner.” When I asked him about future depreciation, although at a much lower rate, his comment was “Bad for me, but I don’t really mind… I’ve wasted years of my life waiting.”

I say, life is short, enjoy it to the fullest, and leave the number-crunching of Ferrari ownership to one’s accountant. The ownership experience must be considered “priceless” or owning a Ferrari, or any other exotic, makes no sense.