The Aug. 24 Gooding & Co. car auction at Pebble Beach, Calif., has vintage Aston Martins, antique Bugattis, and supercharged Mercedes. It also has a BMW sports sedan from 2002 that looks suspiciously like a car your neighbor bought new and is still driving 16 years later.

The 2002 BMW E39 M5 sedan, which had an original MSRP of about $72,000 to $75,000, carries an auction estimate of $140,000 to $180,000, or about 1,100 percent higher than the current Kelley Blue Book valuation, which tops out at $15,630.

The reason that this car is valuable, and the ways in which that value is determined, says as much about how the collectible car market is structured as it does about the inherent qualities of the car itself, says David Brynan, a senior specialist at Gooding & Co. “The collectible market is driven by insiders, and they assign value to things,” he explains.

“Right now, there are a lot of people who collect BMWs, and for them, this [2002 M5] is the holy grail.” (A review of the 2000 model in Motor Trend magazine called it “the greatest super-sedan ever produced.”)

This particular BMW was purchased by a man in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., who bought one M5 to drive and a second to preserve. It’s barely been driven at all: The odometer has just 437 miles on it.

“For BMWs, the criteria is really how original they are, because there are plenty of them out there that were driven and used as regular cars,” Brynan says. “It’s basically a new car.” It still has its pre-delivery inspection stickers and its new car check-in sheet; even the license plate bracket is still in its wrapper.

Not All Cars Are Created Equal
Of course, not all cars are created equal; a like-new 1996 Dodge Neon would not command a similarly dazzling six-figure price.

This BMW’s newness, in contrast, carries such cachet because in the last three years its cult status has risen dramatically.

“There are very few cars that are built from new and intended to be collectibles,” Brynan explains. Like the BMW M5, most cars’ status is developed over time. “They’re introduced, they depreciate, and then people realize that they’re special, and they slowly begin to appreciate,” he says.

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