– Words by Tess Van Straaten Photography by Lia Crowe
“We’ve maintained relationships for years with customers, and a lot of customers who bought a car off of us 20 years ago still are doing it today,” the 42-year-old says, “I can think of multiple people who have bought 10 or 15 cars off of us over the years and I certainly appreciate their loyalty.”
The Victoria-based company saw its highest-priced car sale this spring—a whopping $7.9 million USD for a rare 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Alloy Gullwing.
“There were only 29 of them made and that was the third one that we have sold,” explains Tim, who’s also sold 48 of the coupe and roadster variants of the 300SL.
“Right now, we have four in stock and we’ve probably transacted the most of anyone else in the world that isn’t a restoration shop. We love the cars—they’re probably one of the most recognized cars in the world with the doors that go up. They’re iconic and they were just so ahead of their time in terms of technology and performance.”
Several of those sales have been in the last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic. And given that the non-alloy versions fetch more than $1 million USD, it’s a pretty strong indication of the health of the collector car market.
“Business is exceptional and we’ve sold about 120 cars on Bring a Trailer [a digital auction platform], which is now one of the biggest auction sites in the world. Over the last year they’ve set all-time records for car prices and we’ve sold three of the highest-priced cars that they’ve ever sold.”
It’s not at all what Tim and his team expected when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in March of 2020, shuttering businesses and rocking economies across North America and the world.
“We obviously got a big scare and thought there’s a good chance business is going to be non-existent. We made an effort to get rid of as much inventory as we could as fast as we could,” he says. “As it turned out, March wasn’t as slow as we thought it would be, April was busier, May, June, July and August were good and it’s been up, up, up every single month. What we did learn from it is that the vast majority of people have more time on their hands than they’ve ever had to sit and look at the internet and buy things they’ve always wanted.”
It’s a far different outcome then the last time the world changed overnight. Silver Arrow was incorporated in May of 2001—less than four months before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.
“My biggest learning lesson was it doesn’t matter how much you know, your world can change very quickly,” Tim explains. “At that time, I was buying cars in Canada and selling them in the United States and every US dollar was worth around $1.55 to $1.60 Canadian. And then the borders closed. I learned very quickly you can’t count on the cross-border exchange being there. We had a good wake-up call right away.”
Silver Arrow rode out those challenging times and business has been booming ever since. In addition to David Street location in Victoria, the company has a warehouse in Blaine, Washington that it ships vehicles from, and a facility in Scottsdale, Arizona [home of the famous Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions] that’s used as its US-operations base.
“I would say about 70 per cent of our business is outside of Victoria and of that, 70 to 80 per cent is out of Canada,” Tim says. “I think for business this next year, we’re going to make a deeper impact in the US market and build our local consignment business up more and more.”
Silver Arrow ships cars all over the world and Tim has helped buyers build $100 million-plus collections. Right now, he says the market is trending towards a much more modern era of collector vehicles.
“There are a lot of the cars from the ‘80s and ‘90s that have had huge leaps in value the last few years, and a lot of your old-timers that were collectors of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s cars are becoming a little obsolete,” he says. “We’re finding that the 40-year-old collector isn’t looking for that. They’re looking for a car from the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s—cars like Acura NSXs that came up in 1991, the Ferrari Testarossa or Lamborghini Countach. Those were very special in their time and are gaining a great deal of interest from younger collectors.”
As the company celebrates its 20th anniversary, Tim says the key to success is adjusting to forks in the road while keeping to your core principles.
“You certainly have challenges along the way, but you need to stick to your fundamentals,” he advises. “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’re going to do.”