A Busy Month in the Markets
By Simon Kidston
In the past few days we've seen the highest value ever achieved by a one-day auction of classic cars and, perhaps more revealingly, the highest price ever paid for any automobile in a private transaction. It's almost enough to relegate the third Ferrari 250GTO sold this year to local news status...
RM's inaugural blockbuster auction this weekend in Monte Carlo during the Grand Prix Historique turned over €33,235,917 in a single afternoon, almost doubling the existing record in the Principality (set way back in 1989 under Robert Brooks' gavel) and establishing a new high for any classic car auction. Look closely, though, and the success of the sale wasn't down to euphoric bidding or a market which has suddenly gone into orbit; the key was a good selection of lots attracted by fresh, dynamic marketing and presentation, and keenly negotiated reserve prices in line with today's market.
For example, the bright and shiny yellow Ferrari 275GTB/4 - US trade entered and US trade purchased too - sold on a hammer bid of €680,000, an apparent bargain by recent standards until you factor in buyers premium and import taxes. The factory certified Daytona Spyder of the same hue, part of a leased multi-car package consigned from Germany whose vendor took a seven figure 'haircut' (to use a now-popular expression), sold to Milan for a hammer bid of €620,000- good value. The much-advertised green LWB California Spyder of British DJ Chris Evans finally found a new home at €1.85m (hammer), 20% less than had been asked privately, and the steel-bodied SWB berlinetta from the same stable, repainted in Evans' favourite white livery, was knocked down for €2.35m; like all of the above figures once you've factored in buyers premium etc, absolutely market correct in mid- 2010.
It just serves to confirm that if you have good cars to offer, at fair prices, there is no shortage of buyers. The fact that 89% of the Lots at RM found new homes speaks volumes.
Other highlights included the very elegant black Delahaye 135M Figoni & Falaschi cabriolet which had been on the market for some time- RM call it "stunning" but I would reserve that title for a fully spatted 'Geo Ham' roadster- which justified its US consignor's decision to send it to Europe, selling to a local buyer for almost exactly its previous asking price ($2.5m). An immaculate Ferrari 250GT Tour de France with no racing history went to a cautious Swiss-based buyer for an unusually generous €2.35m and a Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage - not usually an easy car to sell as it's not road useable, and one which had a hard life in historic racing - set another auction record at €2,464,000. The dramatic looking '33 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Town car by Brewster- only an American coachbuilder would have dared fit a windscreen worthy of a Chris Craft speed boat to a Rolls - surprised experts when it almost matched the $2 million it achieved two years ago in Monterey, a much more obvious venue for such a formal car.
Last but not least, the two cars which featured most heavily in RMs pre-sale marketing - the handsome black Ferrari 400 Superamerica Cabriolet with unique covered headlights and the ex-Mille Miglia BMW 328 nicknamed the 'trouser crease' for the sharp fold atop its wings - both changed hands, the former returning to the USA for €2.8m ($3.8m, ie considerably more than a LWB California Spyder) and the latter, initially consigned with a wildly optimistic €7 million reserve, sold in a private deal the morning after the auction for an undisclosed amount to a very active US collector in his ninth decade - proof that cars aren't always bad for you. Given that RM took bidding in the auction to €4.3m against a believed €5m reserve on the evening, and that underbidders didn't appear to be in plentiful supply, you'd have to call anything close to this level as very well sold indeed...especially when the car fetched around a quarter of that figure a decade ago.
Given that RM are the new kids on the block in Monte Carlo, it's rather a pity to see established players Bonhams- who in one form or another have held auctions in the Principality for over twenty years- unable to mount much of a challenge, further handicapped by the defection of their two main European car specialists in February. Bonhams' headline Ferrari 166/195 Cabriolet- which started life as a coupe and wasn't an oil painting in either guise- didn't get anywhere near its bullish €1 million bottom estimate, leaving a Cameron Millar-built Maserati 250F as the day's high sale, at a trade bid of €315,000. Bonhams needs to throw some serious firepower behind this auction if it is to avoid going the way of the once dazzling and now defunct Gstaad sale.
Whilst on the subject of Quixotic sellers, one should probably admire the optimism shown by the auction house re-offering the 1980 Ferrari 'Pinin' show car mock-up. Reminiscent of an Alfa Romeo 164 saloon powered by nothing more than PR, it had first appeared in the automobilia section of RMs 2008 Maranello auction where it was sold as a static curio on behalf of veteran Belgian Ferrarista Jacques Swaters for €177,000. Now with a Boxer engine under the front bonnet (which makes you question whether you've opened the wrong end), Coys had elevated it to 'star' Lot status for their 2010 Monaco Legende et Passion auction. Monsieur Swaters probably didn't mind having his name repeatedly mis-spelt in Coys' catalogue, but when he read that he had apparently died several years earlier Coys were obliged to issue a somewhat embarassing sale room notice. None of this will have made much difference to the Pinin's chances of selling given that road registration is the buyers responsibility, VAT is liable and a reserve price of - wait for it - €1 million. I hope the person who valued it doesn't advise buyers as well.
A continent away from the glitz of Monte Carlo, a private sale has just taken place which ends two years of speculation about the car's fate and establishes a new all-time high in the classic car market. Considered by many to be the ultimate expression of the motor car as an art form, the Bugatti Type 57S Atlantic of the late 1930s puts even a Ferrari 250GTO in the shade. Styled by Ettore's son and heir apparent Jean Bugatti, so rare and mysterious that historians cannot agree on how many were made or even survive (three and two is a best guess), most collectors would however agree that this grandfather of all supercars is about as good as it gets. Ralph Lauren famously has one, whilst the second Atlantic was owned for almost four decades by respected former American Bugatti Club president Dr Peter Williamson until his death in 2008, when David Gooding auctioned most of his collection to benefit medical charities. He's now been involved in the private sale of the family's Atlantic for an as-yet undisclosed sum thought to be in the region of $30,000,000. Stay tuned for news of where you'll be able to admire it shortly...
When Dr Williamson bought the Atlantic at Sothebys auction on 12th June 1971 in Los Angeles for $59,000, it was a logic-defying world record price. As the saying goes : "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose..."
And last but by no means least, the widely promoted '64 bodystyle Ferrari 250GTO which RM and their associates had recently offered is also on the move, this time from Japan to the British Home Counties. The new owner is a high profile young enthusiast and I'd love to be a fly on the wall when he shows up at the next ultra exclusive 250GTO Anniversary gathering with his new toy freshly repainted... in white.
Images: courtesy Gooding