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'I' For 'Inconsistent': Behind the Monterey Market Headlines

Confused? You wouldn't be alone if you were studying the results of the Monterey auctions and wondering whether we're at the top of the market, the bottom or somewhere in between- although it would probably take the world's most enthusiastic salesman to suggest that The Good Times are just beginning.

$9m Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante headlined Gooding's auction. You should have seen the Mae Wests on it...

The headline numbers tell you that at the most important classic car auction event of 2013, over $300 million changed hands, up from $265 million last year. But equally relevant is that just 57% of the total 1,280 cars on offer found new owners: the rest went home. Compare that to the 66% which sold last year and the results suggest that whilst the market is bullish, and the prices of certain cars continue to accelerate upwards, not everything is following. The drop in the success rate confirms what most insiders know already. As the best floats to the top, the gap with the rest gets wider, but that doesn't stop the owners of 'the rest' trying to jump on the bandwagon.

In private the Monterey auctioneers will tell you that this year they had to work harder than ever to persuade the best cars out of the woodwork, and they would probably forgive me for saying that this wasn't a vintage year for consignments. A few highlights aside- and they weren't necessarily confined to the most expensive cars- the real 'finds' were few and far between.

Talk of the weekend was record breaking NART Spyder
Rare '14 louvre' Ferrari TdF broke $9m, up 30% from last year

The talk of the weekend, the one-family-owned 1967 Ferrari 275GTB/4 NART Spyder, blew apart the record books not just because it's one of ten, nor because to many it's the ultimate rag top road car. It was as much because of the touching story behind this example, and the charitable cause to which the proceeds are being put (which gives no tax benefit, in case you're wondering) which inspired the buyer to set a new benchmark for a road car at auction. Having represented him at the sale, it was amusing to be offered all manner of less exalted Ferraris in the immediate aftermath at dizzying price levels, including a fixed-head version of the same car which the vendor now deemed should be worth just as much...as if to prove the bandwagon point above. It's rather like assuming that all identical sunglasses are worth the $80,000 which a famous actors were sold for.

Small car, big price: almost $1.5m, another record smashed
The first $2+m Cobra road car, with just 3,000 miles

Elsewhere the results were inconsistent. Take, for example, that benchmark classic, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL. A decent Gullwing was snapped up for $1.1 million at Bonhams, whilst an admittedly better example at Gooding made $1.7 million: a $600,000 difference? The lovely, patinated 300SL roadster in its ultimate, alloy engine version at Gooding made a well deserved $1.62 million, yet at RM the same model in its earliest, far less desirable incarnation was sold for just $230,000 less.

Gooding's beautifully restored Porsche 356 Carrera Speedster achieved a scarcely believable $1.485 million, yet the following evening an arguably more remarkable Porsche 356 Carrera Coupe, which had spent 55 years in one rocket scientist ownership (yes, really) and was original down to the last detail, struggled to achieve half the price of its open counterpart. Bonhams sold a very low mileage but equally scruffy early Cobra for a whopping $2+ million, whilst an unrestored Lister-Chevrolet from the same stable, owned since new (bought in '62 for $5,000) and hailed by Bonhams as "The most original Lister in existence" barely dented expectations at $1.4 million: the two cars' pre-sale estimates were virtually the reverse of their final selling prices.

$8.5m Big Mac: how high is the sky?
Merc S-Type was 2012 Pebble Best of Show: well-bought at $8.25m

A generational shift was also in evidence. Many experts felt that pre-war cars were attracting fewer bidders, whereas interest (and prices) soared for many late model sports cars that a few years ago would have been shunned by many collectors. A Ferrari F40 for over $1.1 million? A Lamborghini Countach LP400 at over $800,000? Or a higher price for a regularly used McLaren F1 road car ($8.5m) than last year's Pebble Beach winning Mercedes-Benz S-Type Saoutchik roadster, a show-stopper fresh from a $1.5m restoration ($8.25 million)? Times are changing, and the slow bidding on the Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante (endowed with unusual protruding headlamps dubbed 'Mae Wests') and absence of any bids above reserve on both heavily rebuilt Type 35s showed that even Molsheim's finest weren't immune.

Last 45 years were kinder to Ferrari 375MM than first 14...

Somewhat entangled histories may have held back the prices on some of the other headline cars but they still sold. The 'market fresh' Ferrari 375MM had enjoyed one loving owner for 45 years, but this couldn't disguise remodelled bodywork, a replacement engine and the back axle too: these things didn't matter a jot in '68 but nowadays they give Ferrari speculators heart palpitations. It made $9 million: so much for valuable Prancing Horses needing Ferrari Classiche certification to sell. RM's Jaguar D-Type had been one car, then became two for decades, then reverted to one during restoration, but it had been well done so a US west coast collector took the plunge at just under $4 million. The stories of these two look almost dull in comparison to the Maserati A6G/2000 Spyder, a lovely looking confection effectively built around an original body found clothing a tired Triumph TR3. Someone still paid $2.5 million for it.

Jag D: two for the price of one
Once upon a time there was a pretty body...No, don't ask

So what does all this tell us? Trying to analyse human behaviour, much less predict it, sometimes defies logic. And in our market that's a commodity in even shorter supply than the best cars. Don't even think of asking the wider question about the meteoric rise in the collectables market in the face of wider political and economic turmoil, but until I meet an economist who also knows the classic car market, this is our quick take:

-The best gets more expensive, the rest usually gets sent home, but sometimes even the dregs de la crème get lucky.

-Focus is shifting from older to younger cars.

-There is still price disparity and the odd 'fair deal' for those on the ground.

To see the hard numbers witnessed by Hagerty click here.

Images courtesy of Gooding & Company, BonhamsMike Maez, Shamrock Motoring Images, Massimo Delbo', Winston Goodfellow and John Lamm

STOP PRESS: Bonhams held a press conference last night at their Bond St HQ to announce they will sell the well-known Ecurie Ecosse collection of British enthusiast Dick Skipworth, including the team's Jaguar C and D Types and their famous streamlined transporter, all liveried in the distinctive Ecosse Blue. The auction takes place in London on 1st December. Follow our Facebook page for more news on this and RMs auction this weekend in London, including the Laidlaw competition car collection.