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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedWant to buy a warbird?
By Frederick A. Johnsen, EAA AirVenture Today

Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen
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 wannabe buyers.

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 observes.

“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 hard way.

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.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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