An American in London: Market Comment
November 2012

An American in London: Market Comment

by Dave Kinney

The RM sale at Battersea is effectively not just an auction, but also a gathering place where those in the collector car business get together to discuss, barter, bitch and (yes, possibly) even rave about the current state of affairs.

If you read the headlines from newspapers, magazines and blog postings around the world, late 2012 is nothing close to good economic times. Yet values in the world of desirable old cars continue to climb upwards, seemingly non-stop, and to some, unreasonably so.

The last major RM auction with a worldwide audience was in August in Monterey, California. Between all the auction players there (Bonhams, Gooding, Mecum, Russo and Steele were also present) more records were broken there than at any other series of collector car auction sales in history. It was a high-water mark that might never be seen again - but we have said that before.

Auctioneer Max Girardo and his wing man Peter Wallman running the show Auctioneer Max Girardo and his wing man Peter Wallman running the show
Weary after bidding? She'll console you with a £10k armchair or a Union Jack humidor... Weary after bidding? She'll console you with a £10k armchair or a Union Jack humidor...

It is within that context that we take a look at the highest profile offering at RM’s London auction, the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Alloy Gullwing.  At $3,876,000 (£2,400,000), had the car sold it would have been one of the most expensive alloy Gullwings in history, topped only by the astonishing $4,620,000 paid at Gooding’s Scottsdale auction last January.  As a no sale, it’s easy to look at it as a disappointment; if we turn that around however, we see a market that still has some circuit breakers and will only pay so much, even if the car on offer is one of just 29 in the world. 

Among the more interesting sales are the dramatic showings for the 1960 Bentley S2 Continental Coupe at $352,716 (£218,400); this can only be interpreted as a strong price in a strong market.  Ditto the ultimate classic Bentley Continental, the freshly restored 1952 R-Type Fastback, chassis ‘BC7A’ (star of the ’52 London Motor Show), at a healthy $859,180 (£532,000) it too was an impressive result. While Porsche and Aston Martin prices remain very strong, for the most part high caliber cars continue to bring impressive bids. 

Rarest of the rare, lightweight Gullwing attracted lightweight bid Rarest of the rare, lightweight Gullwing attracted lightweight bid
Famous Bentley Continental made £532,000 Famous Bentley Continental made £532,000

Without counting the motorcycles on offer, the total selling price was $22,451,988 (£13,902,160).  Of the 91 cars offered at RM London, 76 of them sold, a strong 83.5% success rate.

From my perspective as an American, it was interesting to see the large array of American cars, mostly convertibles that were offered at the beginning of the sale.  With only one exception, each of these cars sold in London for approximately the same amount they would have brought at a major east or west coast U.S. sale.  These were not bought to be repatriated back to their home country, instead they will be scattered all over the globe by buyers who will undoubtedly use and enjoy them in the coming years.

For all the noise about the interconnected world, in the early part of the 21st century, nothing beats the personal touch of getting together, live, to resolve differences, break bread, and share the camaraderie that is part of our small, but ever expanding collector car world.

American motoring expert and journalist David H Kinney founded USAppraisal in 1990 to serve fellow car collectors and is a senior member of the American Society of Appraisers (ASA). He writes for publications around the world and is a respected auction analyst on both sides of the Atlantic.

Latin V12s vied for bidders money: Ferrari 250GT was £235k, Maserati MC12 came from same collection as alloy Gullwing and will continue to keep it company Latin V12s vied for bidders money: Ferrari 250GT was £235k, Maserati MC12 came from same collection as alloy Gullwing and will continue to keep it company

Editors Comment

By Simon Kidston

This wasn’t a vintage year for RM’s ‘Automobiles of London’ auction- there are simply fewer ‘fresh’ cars and exciting discoveries to go around these days, which is partially responsible for price inflation- but nonetheless my old friend Max Girardo and his team have built this into the British capital’s benchmark car sale.

Both headline cars were familiar faces: the alloy Mercedes-Benz Gullwing had changed hands this spring, and the Ferrari 250GT Tour de France was a ‘no sale’ in Monaco a few years earlier. The latter scraped by to find a new home whilst the highest bid on the Gullwing, at a level which would have provoked applause if every owner didn’t now think his car deserved what one achieved in January, was declined by the consignor staring at the auctioneer from row three.

£2m Ferrari 250GT Tour de France sold slightly under estimate, but '59 with open headlights is the least prized variant £2m Ferrari 250GT Tour de France sold slightly under estimate, but '59 with open headlights is the least prized variant

Such is the fervour of bidders to find the next ‘sleeper’ that cars which would barely have tickled their paddles a few years ago did, on more than one occasion, defy conventional wisdom. When was a regular Ferrari Daytona coupe last sold for £319,200? Possibly in 1989, at least until last week. A well-known UK dealer announced to me later: “I’ve got one which is twice as nice.” Really? Why? “It’s low mileage and mint.” Oh, and red. That’s missing the point: the auction car stood out by virtue of stunning, original colours, Plexiglas headlights and superb presentation by RM.

Likewise the Lamborghini Miura S, sold for a bullish £397,600, looked the part (despite wearing 4x4 tyres) and was the right car on the right day. Porsche’s 1990s homologation hooligan, the ‘bad boy’ 993 GT2, had everyone crawling over it during the viewing and soared to £324,800, even more than the record breaking 959 ‘Komfort’ at £308,000 (thanks to sub-1,000km mileage but despite Saudi title papers which don’t suggest regular maintenance visits to Stuttgart…). These are perfect illustrations of the changing tastes of a new, younger generation of collectors and, more specifically, growing appreciation for the arguably undervalued Porsche marque.

Delicious 'celeste' Daytona set new record, whilst quirky DB6 Shooting Brake returns to the grouse moor... Delicious 'celeste' Daytona set new record, whilst quirky DB6 Shooting Brake returns to the grouse moor...
Miura S: almost £400k despite 4x4 tyres... Miura S: almost £400k despite 4x4 tyres...

Other highlights included £249,400 for a much admired pre-production Lancia Stratos prototype; £246,400 which confirmed the Koenigsegg CCX depreciates almost as fast as it accelerates; a sole bid of £632,800 which committed someone who hopefully plans to own it for a long time to an average Aston Martin DB5 convertible, and a meager bid of £11,200 for a Mercedes-Benz 600 which looked as if it had been left outside in a war zone. It’s a far cry from the £270,000 paid here for the decrepit landaulet version three years ago, but as the old English proverb goes, “One swallow does not make a summer.”

I’ll spare RM’s blushes and not dwell on the unique 2005 AG Excalibur, brought to the sale by its creators all the way from, er, Lithuania. Whether it’s a future classic, you’ll be the judges.

Images courtesy of Tim Scott.


Sub-1,000km Porsche 959 came from Saudi and cost new owner over £300k Sub-1,000km Porsche 959 came from Saudi and cost new owner over £300k
Swarovski crystal controls and 30 inch wheels, anybody? Meet the AG Excalibur... Swarovski crystal controls and 30 inch wheels, anybody? Meet the AG Excalibur...
Recession? £280k was paid for the 'bike, £784k for the Alfa...Spot the 993 GT2 (a whopping £324,800) in the background. Recession? £280k was paid for the 'bike, £784k for the Alfa...Spot the 993 GT2 (a whopping £324,800) in the background.