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Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - Keith Martin's publishing business started with a publication devoted to classic Alfa Romeos. It's grown to encompass the entire collector car world, with 30,000 copies of his flagship magazine delivered each month.Like fine art, a classic car’s value is set only by how much someone is willing to pay for it.

Analyzing that price for collectors around the world is a team of experts, led from an office in the former Jantzen headquarters off Portland’s Sandy Boulevard.

Portland’s Sports Car Market magazine has become the definitive source of information about the value of classic vehicles and the mastery of being a car collector. “I would like to think of that we are the journal of record for the collector car world,” says publisher Keith Martin.

According to Martin, classic cars have evolved in the 27 years that his magazine has been in existence — from interesting things to collectibles, the high end of which is approaching art in terms of prices. A 1962 Ferrari GTO sold for more than $38 Million at JOHN VINCENTBonhams auction last year in Monterey, Calif.

The price of what a collector car is worth is generally set when it crosses the auction block and the hammer falls to mark a sale. That’s when Martin and his team of 13 staff members and more than 30 correspondents worldwide step in to study the transaction.

“That price becomes the pivot point for analysis,” says Martin.

They ask questions such as: Was the price paid in line with historical prices? If not, why not? Does the price represent a trend, or is it an outlier? Did the vehicle’s condition figure appropriately into the price paid? Not just anyone can do that analysis, but Sport Car Market has collected a group of writers that includes some of the most respected names in the business.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - In 2007, publisher Keith Martin started a second magazine devoted to the collecting of American cars. The new publication features extensive coverage of the classic Corvette market.“Every place there’s a car event we have a representative. In Asia, Australia, Europe, Canada, North and South America — we go where stuff happens,” says Martin.

When I first met Keith Martin, he was printing a small Alfa Romeo market publication out of the basement of his northeast Portland home. We worked together covering the new car market, but that’s not where Martin’s passion lived. It was with the classic sports cars that he grew up driving.

“I got my first sports car when I turned 16,” he says, “it was a 1962 or ’63 Bugeye Sprite.”

He’s always had sports cars. “I don’t exactly know why, but they just work for me and they’re in my blood. Small displacement engines, and interesting gearboxes,” he says, adding “you’re working like crazy. I believe that you respond to things that require you to have a mastery of to enjoy them.”

I had the pleasure of joining Martin on a rally several years ago, in the middle of the night from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. He taught me about getting into sync with the rhythm of road, and finding the right beat to maximize your performance in driving the car.

His path to ownership of an internationally-recognized auto collector’s magazine took an interesting route. Martin studied intellectual history at Reed College before studying dance at New York’s renowned Julliard School, later founding the first professional ballet company in Oregon. Eventually the journey took him to Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo, where he mastered the business of buying and selling exclusive cars.

At the time, there were many “market letters” with analysis of one marque or another. In 1988, Martin started his own, devoted to the Alfa Romeos that he grew up with. It was focused on collector auctions and the prices paid for vehicles in what was then a very hot market.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - Portland has a vibrant collector car market, evidenced by events such as the Forest Grove Concours dElegance. SCMs Keith Martin (center) emcees the event, talking with notable local car collectors Bob Ames (right) and Monte Shelton.By 1992, Martin added a British Market letter, doing all of the writing, photography and layout on his own, between trips to the auctions. He even bought the press to print the publications. Overwhelmed with the work of putting out two magazines per month, in 1993 he merged the existing magazines into the first issue of “Sports Car Market Letter,” adding German cars to the mix.

Fast-forward to 2003, when the magazine dropped the word “letter” from the title, went full-color throughout and began distribution on mass-market newsstands. Since 1995 they had been using artwork on the cover, but with the wider distribution it was replaced with the highest quality photography available. In 2007, Martin launched the bi-monthly American Car Collector magazine, focusing more on domestic collector cars, with a special emphasis on the Chevrolet Corvette.

The role of the magazines has shifted through the years, as now auction prices can be found nearly instantly on the internet. Today readers enjoy the print publications “because you want to find out what our experts think of those prices,” says Martin. “Our job is to say that there’s a 65 Mustang that was red and black with wire wheels in condition 3 that sold for $20,000 and we thought that was a lot of money for that car.”

SCM and ACC reach a customer demographic that is the envy of other publisher. A majority of SCM’s readers have achieved a net worth of $2 million or more, and 41 percent have five or more collector cars. About 30,000 copies of each issue are distributed through subscriptions, newsstand sales and automotive events.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - Local car collector Bob Ames is interviewed by Sports Car Market publisher Keith Martin as crosses the stage at the Forest Grove Concours dElegance in his 1927 Type 37 Bugatti Grand Prix.They’ve expanded the roles of the magazines to help readers develop their collecting in an organized, disciplined way. What’s in your collection depends on what you want from it — do you want it on display, or are you going to use it? Martin uses most of his cars, pulling them out of the garage like a wine connoisseur takes bottles of wine out of a cellar. If he’s going on an Alfa Romeo rally, for example, he has an exceptional example of an Alfa Romeo.

“Cars are about 115 years old, from that first Mercedes Motorwagen,” says Martin, “so we’ve been printing for about a quarter of the time that vehicles have been in existence.”

John M. Vincent is a third-generation Oregon journalist. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or @OregonsCarGuy on Twitter. He welcomes your suggestions for this column.

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