Market Latest
March 2010

Market Latest

If you follow the value of your classic cars, and especially if you’re thinking of making changes to your collection anytime soon, you should take a look at US expert Rick Carey’s overview of the recent Scottsdale auctions below.

By Simon Kidston

Every January for almost four decades the resort town of Scottsdale in Arizona has drawn the major players of the classic car scene: both the auction houses and the collectors who frequent them, in recent years progressing from the US-focused likes of Barrett Jackson to now include more international style firms RM and Gooding. There’s no doubting that B-Js formula is profitable- with admission charges, on-site sponsorship, consignment fees for sellers and auction tent space rented to third parties hawking anything from jukeboxes to burgers, Barrett-Jackson doesn’t do ‘boutique’- it does Big with a capital ‘B’. And with 1,193 cars entered for their 2010 auction, the emphasis remains very much on quantity. So whilst B-J will be delighted to have sold 100% of their consignments (and their accountants will undoubtedly have the last laugh), with an average price of $56,000 their results don’t reveal much about the upper reaches of the classic car market.

 

This is balmy Scottsdale: the calm before the storm... This is balmy Scottsdale: the calm before the storm...
Quality or quantity? 1,193 cars is your answer Quality or quantity? 1,193 cars is your answer

I’ll leave you to read Rick Carey’s excellent Scottsdale analysis, merely commenting that both RM and Gooding’s figures suggest sellers are being realistic and the auction houses are working hard to get deals done: note that both firms offered more cars compared to 2009, and both sold close to 100% of their low estimate catalogue totals. Whilst values are clearly softer- look at average car prices and the sales totals- the fact that seven cars changed hands at hammer bids of over a million dollars confirms cash buyers are still there for the right cars at the right prices.

On the other side of the world Bonhams kicked off the European sale season with their most ambitious Retromobile auction to date: close to 100 cars may seem an appetizer by Scottsdale standards, but in Europe it’s a blockbuster. The widely promoted but rather less documented Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 (Missing in Action from 1937 until worth something in the 1970s) failed to move any bidding paddles, whilst the ‘lake find’ Bugatti stole the headlines when it sold for three times its estimate, prompting one wag from the owners club to comment that other sellers will now be queuing up to submerge their cars.

Alfa 'Monza'- the post-1937 crash photo has been censored Alfa 'Monza'- the post-1937 crash photo has been censored
'Lake find' Bugatti- they didn't show this side in the catalogue! 'Lake find' Bugatti- they didn't show this side in the catalogue!

The real action, however, has been taking place away from the salerooms. Even the whiff of a Ferrari 250GTO coming to the market gets Ferrari chassis number spotters in a frenzy, the price usually increasing with each retelling of the story, but it’s now common knowledge that a good, ‘no stories’ example has set a new benchmark at $26m in a private deal between its long-term Californian owner and an up-and-coming Texan collector [footnote: it was last sold in 1983...for $300,000]. And if proof were needed that GTO owners are usually astute businessmen, the happy seller has promptly invested part of his proceeds in…another GTO, a rare high profile automotive victim of the credit crunch which was being sold by liquidators. I believe bankers call it arbitrage.

Those are not the only Ferraris to have changed hands in the past few weeks. A very 'proper' 166 Touring barchetta, a stunning 375MM which scored a perfect 100 points at Pebble Beach, one of the ten genuine 275GTB/4 NART Spyders, a Series 2 275GTB/C, a Series 1 365GTB/4C Competition Daytona and a well preserved 512M have all been on the move recently with seven figure numbers attached.

Other 'big ticket' cars moving to new homes include a pair of very significant ex-works Jaguars, a C-Type and a long nose D-Type (we're into eight figures now), acquired from a prominent UK collection by a young English enthusiast. Elsewhere we've seen an ex-Works Aston Martin DB3S establishing a new price level, an ultra rare Cobra Daytona heading to South America and a Le Mans winning GT40 entering new ownership. It would be indiscreet to comment on prices before they're disclosed elsewhere, but you can draw your own conclusions.

Coming up soon…the action moves to Monte Carlo, backdrop for the glamorous Grand Prix Historique and, of course, the auctions with which this weekend has become synonymous. RM have decided not to brave their 250GTO ‘on the block’ after all (it’s now a private sale with an offer pending) so its place as the feature lot for their inaugural Monaco auction has been taken by something altogether more esoteric: a genuine 1940 Mille Miglia BMW 328 roadster. And the estimate? The old saying goes “If you have to ask the price…” but in this case believe me, you really don’t want to know…

The most expensive item ever repossessed with four wheels... The most expensive item ever repossessed with four wheels...
Ambitiously estimated? It's the car on the left, but for its price today you could have bought the entire BMW business in 1940 Ambitiously estimated? It's the car on the left, but for its price today you could have bought the entire BMW business in 1940

Stop press: rumours are flying around the auction world as news leaks out that two of Bonhams’ key European specialists have just defected. The question is to where? Doubtlessly we won’t have to wait long to find out.

 

A “Measured” Scottsdale
Meteorology Excepted, That Is

By Rick Carey

There was more excitement in the air over Scottsdale this year than in the tents and ballrooms where the auctions went on. That’s not intended to denigrate the auctions, only to call attention to the fact that the big news was the weather which flattened Russo and Steele’s two 250-meter long, 25-meter wide preview display tents and sent portions of one of the flying over the adjacent 101 Loop Freeway, stopping traffic for several hours and the auction for two days.

Even Barrett-Jackson’s mighty framed canvas structures threatened to lift off and depart for Kansas (or at least Colorado). The Polo Field parking turned into a quagmire but potential flooding was held in check by a phalanx of pumps with 6.9 million gallons (a million cubic meters) per day capacity. The now fully tent-protected and freshly asphalted preview area stayed relatively dry and secure and although the staging tent threatened to take off and the vendor, sponsor and main Expo tents were evacuated the auction went on with minimal disruption.

Russo and Steele resumed selling their survivors on Sunday and continued into Monday but understandably their results haven’t been finalized yet – and besides, the 2010 Tenth Anniversary Russo and Steele auction is in no way comparable with any of their prior sales. 

'I'm sure it will polish out'- auction presentation, but not as you know it 'I'm sure it will polish out'- auction presentation, but not as you know it
$3.74m D-Type was high sale of the Scottsdale weekend $3.74m D-Type was high sale of the Scottsdale weekend

  

If you’ve been in Phoenix when it really rains (and I have) you know that the desert soil absorbs little or nothing. What falls from the sky runs off into a non-existent drainage system, flooding everything and turning the “dry” river beds (which pass for city parks, playgrounds and streets 99+% of the time) into raging torrents. 2010 was a wind disaster for some, but the forecast possibility of over 6” of rain in 24 hours never materialized, sparing the auctions from an anticipated deluge.

 

The overall impression from this year’s Scottsdale (auction shorthand for the Phoenix area) auctions is a measured, prudent, considered approach to the unprecedented car collecting opportunities offered.

 

Reported in summary here are the three relatively unscathed auctions in Phoenix/Scottsdale: Barrett-Jackson, Gooding and RM. The latter two expanded their sales to two days for the first time, RM devoting its Thursday evening sale exclusively to British cars.

 

It’s been observed in the past that car collectors (and collectors in general) tend to hold on to their optimism and nurture their passions well beyond the onset of general economic disruptions. That would seem to have been borne out in Scottsdale this year, a week which despite the climatologic upheaval saw plenty of people on the ground and plenty of money in the auction venues. Lacking, however, was the sense of abandon that has characterized prior Scottsdale events. Bidders favored reliable, predictable, even mundane collector cars with track records of maintaining value. Gone were the showoff moments, the “I have money, my friends are watching on TV and I want to flash my bankroll” events where fanciful consignments brought fanciful bidding contests.

427 Cobra claimed sold at $3.78m last year, definitely sold this time with an 82% haircut 427 Cobra claimed sold at $3.78m last year, definitely sold this time with an 82% haircut
Gorgeous 250 PF spyder: fair value at $2.145m Gorgeous 250 PF spyder: fair value at $2.145m

 

Few records were set and across the board the auctioneers and their minions worked hard to find bids and keep them coming. At Barrett-Jackson there were several high profile disappointments. On the RM block auctioneer Max Girardo labored to extract enough to get the DB4 GT sold. It is a tribute to the consignment teams at both RM and Gooding that their reserves recognized the complex environment and improved the auctions’ overall performance against estimate from last year.

Perhaps the most admired car in the Gooding auction was the Allemano bodied Maserati A6G/54 Berlinetta which fetched a mid-estimate $390,000 ($429,000 with commission.) In Thursday’s British car feature RM offered ten Aston Martins ranging from a 1931 1 ½ Litre International Two-Seat Touring (s/n A1/100) which brought $154,000 with commission to their top sale of the event, DB4 GT (s/n DB4GT0175L), the last DB4 GT built, which hammered sold for $910,000, $1,001,000 with commission. A matched pair of fastidiously restored (i.e., better than new) DB Mark IIIs, drophead coupe and saloon (with sliding sunroof), (s/n AM30031402 and AM30031725 respectively) brought $330,000 and $275,000 with commission. Eye candy was provided by a DB4 “GT Zagato” Replica with competition preparation and a fabulous livery of brightly polished aluminum which brought a relatively modest $192,500 with commission.

Volvo styling + brilliant presentation= $429k (sorry Mr Allemano) Volvo styling + brilliant presentation= $429k (sorry Mr Allemano)
'Not enough power to pull the skin off a rice pudding' but still an Aston...hence $154k 'Not enough power to pull the skin off a rice pudding' but still an Aston...hence $154k

There were just six transactions concluded with hammer bids of $1,000,000 or more, all of them at Gooding’s sale led by the D-type Jaguar XKD-528 at $3.4 million hammer, $3,740,000 with commission and the Series 1 Ferrari 250 GT Pinin Farina Cabriolet 1181GT at $1,950,000 hammer, $2,145,000 with commission. They were followed in order by the Disappearing Top Murphy Roadster Duesenberg J (s/n 2490, engine J-461) for $1,815,000, Hispano-Suiza J12 Cabriolet s/n 14018 for $1,540,000, Alfa 6C 1750 Series V Gran Sport Zagato s/n 10814391 for the same money and the ex-Cunningham team Costin-bodied Lister Jag for $1.1 million (all including commission.) Honorable mention goes to the one-owner Cobra 427 S/C CSX 3021 which brought $935,000 hammer, $1,028,500 with commission against an estimate of $1.8-$2.5 million, a car that was reported sold at the Rupp auction in Ft. Lauderdale just over a year ago for $3.5 million ($3,780,000 with commission) but the successful bidder went home to Greece and never sent the money. [Write to the EU finance ministers- they share your pain!- ED]

Last year, by comparison, there were seven $1 million transactions, six at Gooding and one (the Ford Tri-Motor airplane) at Barrett-Jackson, for a total of $16,610,000 against which the 2010 total of $11,880,000 comes up a little short.


In conclusion, the impression created by the Scottsdale auctions is more “reassuring” than “encouraging”. Things aren’t looking up, but there were a tremendous number of cars sold and they brought generally appropriate prices. That bodes well for a stable, predictable, liquid market during the coming months. 

Rick Carey is the Auctions Editor of Car Collector and Victory Lane magazines. He has been musing on collector car market auction transactions since 1991 and has yet to figure them out.

Images: courtesy RM, Gooding, Rick Carey, Massini AG