Less than two kilometres from the Milan Cathedral in Italy, on Via Carlo Goldini, a group of faithful enthusiasts worships at an altar of a different kind – that of the internal combustion engine. This is where members of the venerable Italian car organization Club Milanese di AutoMotoveicoli d’Epoca (CMAE; est. 1959) gather to discuss their favourite pastime.
Fittingly, the clubhouse is a converted car repair shop tucked away in an underground parking lot. Just inside the entrance, three classic cars are parked in a roped-off slice of real estate – or, rather, two cars and one disembodied chassis – but none look particularly special or collectible.
The clubhouse comprises a lounge area and a slightly more formal meeting space with small tables and accompanying chairs. The walls are chock-a-block with banners, plaques and framed photographs. It’s a decidedly informal space that serves to be warm and welcoming – as are the glasses of prosecco and slices of salami proffered by a member who stands behind a bar.
The club has about 2,000 members from all over Italy and, indeed, around the world. One of the members is Mario Righini, a collector who happens to own one of only two examples of the Auto Avio Construzioni 815 ever built. The 815 was the first car designed and built by Enzo Ferrari, in 1940, before he went on to establish his eponymous company.
Half of the extremely limited production run was scrapped in 1958, meaning that Righini’s car, which was raced by former World Champion Alberto Ascari, is the last one standing. As the story goes, representatives from Ferrari, blank cheque in hand, have attempted to buy the 815 from Righini on a number of occasions – it may be the most valuable car in the world.
Hearing this story from three of Righini’s fellow CMAE members seems like a natural way to start a conversation about the investment potential of classic cars. And it is. But the conversation keeps coming back to the heart of the matter.
“I hate the question, how much is your car worth?” says club president Marco Galassi, an architect by trade. “It’s about passion, it’s about the story.”
He notes that the CMAE is as inclusive as they come; members range from someone who owns a single Vespa to another who has 25 Ferraris, but everyone is treated the same. Mr. Galassi owns a classic Ferrari himself – and a valuable one at that – but he prefers instead to talk about another car, the proverbial one that got away.
In 1990, he ventured to the United States to add another classic car to his collection and he ended up having to choose between a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster and a Chrysler Town & Country Convertible. At the time, the Chrysler cost about $15,000 less, so Mr. Galassi went for it. Today, pristine versions of the 300SL garner $1-million-plus bids at auction, while interest in the Town and Country levels off at one-tenth that amount.
While husband-and-wife CMAE members Marco Leva and Alexia Giugni don’t claim to be in the same orbit as the likes of Mr. Righini, their passion for the automobile runs just as deep. The couple regularly compete in classic car rallies such as the Rallye Monte Carlo Historique, Ms. Giugni in her 1958 Porsche 356 and Mr. Leva from behind the wheel of one of his classic Alfa Romeos or Lancias.
Ms. Giugni is a particularly interesting case because she has more than 20 years’ experience in investment banking and is currently a managing director for financial services company UBS AG in Milan; in other words, she knows the markets – and, at times, she has chosen not to play them.
“In 2009, people in Italy were wondering if the euro was at stake and we were undecided over a couple of cars we liked,” she explains. “We figured that a good, in-demand vintage car would have potential to appreciate and would be in-demand, no matter what happened with the euro.”
“But in our case,” she adds, “it was cars we liked and not a pure investment.”