Flash Market Report
January was the month of the blockbuster Arizona sales, with established players Barrett-Jackson and Kruse joined by relative new boys RM, who are ruffling a few feathers with their glossy catalogues and slick marketing. Once again the sales figures didn't disappoint, with Barrett Jackson claiming a 100% success rate for the 1,239 cars which crossed the block inside their gigantic tent (like the auction itself, said of course to be the world's largest): a total turnover of $108 million. This year, however, internet forums and the occasional magazine editorial have dared to question how it is possible to satisfy 1,239 vendors with the prices bid, to the point where one well known magazine publisher was even ejected from Barrett-Jackson's auction. I doubt this is the last we'll hear of it.
Left: Showtime...it could only be Barrett Jackson.
Right: 10,000 miles from new- stunning 'Bauer' Duesenberg SJ at RM.
What is certain, however, is that B-J has established itself as the premier 'muscle car' platform whereas RM is cornering the local market for high end European classics. In the heady '80s it wasn't uncommon to see Ferrari 500TRs and such like at B-J: this year there were just 6 Ferraris on offer, the most expensive a 365GTC/4 with the roof chopped off (at $121,000), compared to well over 200 Fords. It's funny how every year B-J seem to achieve crazy money for equally crazy cars: last year it was the $4.2 million bus, this year $5.5 million for a 427 Cobra with twin superchargers and a three-speed auto 'box. It's perhaps not entirely surprising they only built two. Other highlights included $632,500 for an early Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster and $852,000 for a 1955 Kurtis 500SX, an evocative piece of Americana virtually unknown on this side of the pond.
Left: Yes, it really made almost two and a half million dollars.
Right: Genuine Cobra 427 SC $1,430,000 at RM.
Down the dusty desert road from B-J's tent, RM were comfortably installed at the Biltmore Resort Hotel where a rather more manageable 114 cars were on offer, of which 106 changed hands for a 93% sale rate totaling $29,874,850. Top seller, and my favourite car of the weekend, was an outlandish 1937/40 Duesenberg Model SJ Cabriolet, complete with its original purple leather upholstery, at $2,805,000 (billed as the last Duesenberg built, it was actually a left-over chassis which wasn't bodied until 1940). The most incomprehensible result for European onlookers was $2,420,000 paid for a 1971 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda convertible (which I guess cost about as much as a Jaguar E-type coupe when new- so much for hindsight) whilst the $1,430,000 bid for a 1967 Cobra 427 S/C seemed high although it was one of just 30 genuine 'Street/Competition' 427s built, just about the ultimate 427 if you're into burning rubber. Consider that a proper, 'no stories' street Cobra 427 was sold in Germany last month for €400,000 ($525,000), and there's no doubt that there are still plenty of pricing anomalies if you offer the right car in the wrong place.
Left: Auto Union: all spruced up and no place to go...
Right:One owner Mercedes-Benz 540K seemed good value at EUR1,1m plus premium.
Arguably the same could be said for the 1983 Le Mans winning (and 1982 runner-up) Porsche 956 offered at the same auction, left 'on the block' with a high bid of $2 million: seemingly not even enough to buy a Hemi 'Cuda these days...
The most important European sale of the year so far was Christie's eagerly awaited Retromobile event in Paris on 17th February, headlined by what the company predicted would be 'the most valuable car ever sold at auction', the 1939 Auto Union V12 Type D Grand Prix car, which instead became the most valuable car ever to be withdrawn from auction at the very last minute "pending further exploration into the car's race history, in collaboration with Audi Tradition", or so we're told. Rumours abound and, rather like the inside story at B-J, we'll try to report the facts as they become clearer.
Left: Extravagant Delahaye attracted strong interest but sold under estimate at EUR160,000 plus premium.
Right: Four times Le Mans veteran Talbot Lago T26GS.
It's no coincidence that the early Auto Union publicity helped persuade other vendors to consign cars to Christie's sale, and there were some gems amongst the 50 or so vehicles on offer. The one-owner 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet A has been floating around the market for a while now, and although like most seventy year olds it's had its fair share of adventures (including being manhandled when stolen by gypsies in the 1960s), it's a handsome car but raised a sub estimate €1.1 million plus premium on Saturday night in Paris.
Previously in the same collection as the Auto Union, the quirky 1951 Talbot Lago T26GS barquette may not have looked to everybody's taste but its race history was undeniably impressive (with no fewer than four Le Mans starts, including ill-fated Pierre Levegh's penultimate) and it was hammered sold for €1.2 million plus premium.
From racy to regal, the 1990 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI was the last of these bespoke limousines to leave the factory and cost its first and only owner, George Moore CBE, a whopping £600,000. Judging from the catalogue text Mr Moore is obviously a man of means and style, and one couldn't help admiring the man who chose a chauffeur driven Phantom as his daily transport (his preceding 1985 model was also entered for the sale): this car had perfect provenance and a human interest angle, but the car only changed hand post sale for €150,000 plus premium despite a modest estimate of €180,000-250,000. I loved this line: "The owner's chauffeur will be present at the sale [to] assist any enquiries that prospective buyers may have." Now that's how to reassure buyers. Priceless.
Left: Depreciation! Last built Phantom VI at Christie's Retromobile.
Right: EUR710,000 for a hot and steamy ride.
Undoubtedly the star performer at Christie's, though, and a refreshing change from the usual 20th century highlights, was the vapor powered 1891 De Dion Bouton, estimated at €120,000 to €180,000 but sold for a premium inclusive €710,000. There's obviously plenty of steam left in the veteran market, if you'll excuse the pun...
The next major fixtures are Bonhams Les Grandes Marques à Monaco in May and RM/ Sotheby's Leggenda e Passione at the Ferrari Factory in Maranello. Stay tuned.