Photo by Frederick
What would it take to put you in a warbird today? Warbird sales
entrepreneur Mark Clark hams it up with a P-51 he previously sold.
July 29, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
- Mark Clark’s awning provides shade with a view of the Warbirds
flightline at AirVenture. His easygoing, hi-howya-doin’ chat with
drop-in visitors is always affable, never flappable.
Even when headlines decry financial peril,
Mark’s not worried. Or if he is, he doesn’t show it.
As president of Courtesy Aircraft Sales
specializing in warbirds for decades, he has seen earlier crises based on
high interest rates and fuel costs bounce off the relatively impenetrable
shield of warbird investments.
Does the current economic atmosphere mean a
decrease in warbird values? “Rather than a decrease in price, we see a
decrease in transactions,” Mark says. “The rate of turnover slows
down.” Before the current fiscal issues, warbirds accelerated in value
rapidly. “The kind of feeding frenzy of the last couple of years has
kind of calmed down now,” Mark says.
Now, prices tend to mirror inflation. “The
value of a warbird as an investment has certainly out-performed the stock
market in the past few years,” he adds.
And that’s a point he likes to make to
Mark says he can’t predict what range of
warbirds will sell best in differing economies. High-dollar machines sold
well over the winter months; now low-end warbirds are moving ahead, he
“If I could figure that stuff out, I’d
have retired years ago.”
Most of Mark’s buyers have an emotional
connection to warbirds; sure, the aircraft are investments, but they mean
more than that.
Mark breaks his placid smile long enough to
ponder if he has customers who are only in it for the money. “Maybe it’s
someone I don’t know.”
He describes his typical client: “Their
interest is to fly something that is interesting.”
Mark says they are often driven by a passion
for things that are “bigger, better, faster.”
But not necessarily cheaper.
For them, investment opportunity “is just
the icing on the cake.”
His clientele ranges from professionals
bringing in high dollars to people who are, as Mark describes it, members
of the “Lucky Gene Club”—inheritors of wealth.
No stranger to warbird ownership, ambitious
Mark Clark bought a P-51 Mustang fighter for $65,000 when he was 25 years
old. “The only way I got to fly a Mustang was to buy it, and have a very
friendly banker,” he explains.
What goes around comes around in the rarified
atmosphere of warbird sales. Mark sold his P-51 years ago and has resold
that same airframe as a broker four times for different owners.
The costliest? A multi-million-dollar B-17
deal. A single-engine fighter can easily break seven figures.
Does he ever talk a client out of buying a
high-performance, high-dollar warplane? “There have been times,” Mark
acknowledges, when a pilot’s skills don’t live up to the pilot’s
dreams. In at least one case, he resold a warbird for free, taking no
commission, just to help a customer who bit off more than he could chew.
Often, insurers get to the client in time to make certain the pilot is
qualified for the warbird of choice; it’s not a lesson to be learned the
As warplanes of World War II age, will new
jets eclipse them in sales?
Mark doesn’t see that happening with
aircraft that require an entourage of technicians to service their systems
before each flight.
But no matter, the vintage Mustang he sells
this summer may be the same one he recycles for a client in a few years.