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Adolfo Orsi Jr.: Living between Maserati and Ferrari

Are prices for classic cars too high? Why are Ferraris still the best market indicators? What classic cars would he recommend? An interview with Adolfo Orsi, Jr., one of the world's most important players on the classic car scene and bearer of one of the biggest names in the history of Maserati.

For some people, their background is a burden. But Adolfo Orsi Jr., born in 1951, is still much like the little five-year-old boy whose father just gave him a miniature battery-powered Maserati and who, wearing a genuine racing helmet, zipped around the yard of the family's estate. Maserati – that is his ultimate specialty, a lifelong passion. As the grandson of Adolfo Orsi, who bought Maserati in 1937, and the son of Omar Orsi, who ran the Modena-based sports car maker until 1968, that may seem only logical. And yet – "My brother," says Orsi, who can tell wonderful stories, "is not at all interested in our background. He's not even interested in automobiles."

Adolfo Orsi Jr.

Big Boom in the 80s

At age 14, Orsi received his first motorcycle. At 17, he recommended calling a new Maserati model "Indy" (they accepted his suggestion). He then studied law and, in 1971, experienced up close the sale of Maserati to Citroën. In 1972, he drove in the Monte Carlo Rally. Thereafter, he managed his family's businesses. In the mid-1980s, Adolfo Orsi Jr. decided that he wanted to devote his life to classic cars and organized auctions in association with Finarte. "It was an exciting time," he says. "Back then, Ferraris doubled in price almost every year. Anyone could borrow money from the bank, buy a Ferrari, wait a year, and then resell the car at a huge profit. At the end of the 80s, things got way too expensive for genuine collectors. Investors were still trying to sell their cars at any price, and the market completely collapsed."

Over the past six years, things have been looking up again – way up. "But when you look at the prices that some people get today for, say, a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, then, adjusting for inflation, we have only now returned to the same level that we saw at the end of the 80s," says Orsi, naming a prime example. However, he also says, "You also have to see that a lot has happened in the market. Not only have quantities risen much higher, but the quality of the whole movement has increased a lot: events, restorations, services and, as a consequence, also the vehicles being traded have improved more and more over the past few years. The foundation has gotten much better and broader today than at the end of the 80s." According to Orsi, that is partially because the manufacturers are becoming increasingly involved in the market. For example, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Porsche have their own classic car units.

January, 1957 Adolfo Orsi on Maserati

Young Collectors Buying Their Childhood Dream Cars

It also has something to do with the fact that there has been a steep drop in the age of the clientele in recent years. It used to be that a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost was the high point in the life of any collector. However, these vehicles from the 1920s and 1930s appeal mainly to an older generation of clients, while a Ferrari 275 GTB/4, a Lamborghini Miura, or a Porsche 911 RS can thrill the hearts of sometimes very young buyers. "These sports cars from the 60s and 70s, and of course the modern classics, are much simpler to drive and maintain than, say, pre-war models. And, it also just so happens that these later-model sports cars were the childhood dream cars of the younger clientele." Can that explain why Porsches, for instance, have seen such leaps in price over the past two years? Orsi: "It's not just the Porsches. That also goes for Lamborghinis, Maseratis, and Aston Martins. There have been significant upward price corrections. But Ferraris are the "blue chips" and remain the best market indicators."

As the co-author of the annual "Classic Car Auction Yearbook," Orsi knows the market better than any other. Will the rising trend continue even further, or is the vintage car market on the verge of overheating again? Orsi believes he noticed a slowdown in the middle of last year and that the market is actually taking a rest after years of running at full speed. "There are exceptions, such as the legendary auction of the Baillon collection in Paris early this year, which seemed to be the Woodstock of auction history. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a dark exhibition hall filled with these "once-lost" cars dramatically presented and classical music playing in the background. Though surprised by the extraordinary sales that resulted, we all felt the magic of Baillon."

Aerautodromo test

Judge at the Most Pre-eminent Beauty Pageants

Adolfo Orsi Jr. travels the world. He is one of the few, absolutely worldwide respected judges at the Concours d'Elegance, whether at Villa d'Este on Lake Como or at Pebble Beach on the Pacific Coast of the US. Of course, even a man such as Orsi cannot tell the history of every single vehicle, but the Italian is known for his meticulous preparation. He also has a very particular opinion when it comes to the originality of vehicles. Back in 1999, he played a significant role in introducing the FIVA Award at Pebble Beach, presented for the best-maintained, unrestored car and he has remained Chief Judge of the class since then. "In the US, perfection still counts for more than originality. Fortunately, however, more and more people in the past years have taken on the attitude of maintaining vehicles in mint condition, or 'dans son jus,' as they say in France. That means leaving the original paint color, with the patina in the interior, and mechanical systems from the time of manufacture. After all, everybody knows that a vehicle loses some of its character and part of its history each time it is restored."

The Most Important Thing Is a Love of Cars

Then, we naturally had to ask this question: What would you recommend buying, Mr. Orsi? Which vehicles have the most potential? Orsi smiles and responds: "Never follow any predictions or advice from so-called specialists. Always buy only what you like, and make absolutely certain you're getting the best quality. A person who buys a classic car that he enjoys, whether driving it or just looking at it, will always find satisfaction. And if the purchase price also turns out to be a good investment, you can feel even greater satisfaction."