July 2014 Market Insight
by Steve Wakefield
Holding an auction at an event has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side it's an opportunity to attract bidders who are 'there anyway', and this works well at race meetings such as the Goodwood Revival. The downside is that there are usually an awful lot of other people who happen to be 'there anyway' too - and most are present purely for the show. So, at a world-class meeting, there are often problems of access to the saleroom and no phone signal: the wrong crowd and too much crowding.
Within the space of eight days recently, Bonhams (Goodwood Festival) and Artcurial (Le Mans Classic) held 'event sales', and in total grossed an impressive $56m.
Bonhams' star attraction was the 1954 Ferrari 375-Plus, a car of such rich character that the Bond St house devoted a fair proportion of its catalogue description unravelling and clarifying its chequered past, which included just about everything which could be perpetrated against an innocent automobile and rival ownership claims which continued until hours before the auction. It sold, to someone happy to pay £10,753,500 for the car with its "ex-works story... jam-packed with astounding eccentricity, sometime mystery and now completely resolved intrigue..." as the catalogue skilfully put it.
The big ex-Le Mans and Mille Miglia machine generated almost half the gross at the sale. Which, considering the high quality of the hefty catalogue and its 89-car entry, is something of a disappointment. Particularly if you factor in £998,300 for the 1902 De Dietrich, £438,300 for the handsome 1925 Bugatti Type 23 Brescia and two Geneva-based bidders fighting it out for the low mileage 1975 Lamborghini Countach LP400 Periscopica, a battle that raised its eventual selling price to a scarcely believable £953,500. That's about $1.65m, and Bonhams had already stunned experts with a nicer $1,210,000 car at the 2014 Greenwich Concours sale.
Significant non-selling headline cars at the Festival included both Ferrari 275s (1966 Ferrari GTB 'long nose' alloy, and dull red 1966 GTS) which carried over-ambitious pre-sale estimates even by heady 2014 standards, the rebodied Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, all but one of the Vintage Bentleys, and the Aston Martin Ulster and Atom.
Racing cars are not always easy to move on, and Bonhams just scraped by on the ex-Graham Hill 'Gold Leaf' Lotus 49B. It was conspicuously good value under its estimate (£700,000 - 1,000,000) but found a buyer at £673,500. Maintaining a Bonhams tradition of selling 100S Healeys, the race-prepared 1955 car went for a bottom-estimate £673,500. Remember, auction houses still quote pre-sale estimates without premium and selling prices with it added which boosts results and can easily catch the uninitiated out.
£617,500 for the ex-Italian collection 1990 Ferrari F40 had the air of 'buy now while you still can'; it was last serviced officially 20 years ago yet still made around 20 percent over estimate, and went to a 40-something enthusiast who had aspired to own one since his teenage years.
And the reason for the non-sales at Goodwood? Probably a mixture of over-optimistic reserves and, in the case of the Bentleys, buyers' unrealistic expectations. You won't find 'matching-numbers' Cricklewood era cars, and the true, 'amateur enthusiast' owners of the 50s, 60s and 70s liked to swap parts about, both to keep each car running, as well as improving its performance at BDC race meetings.
Summary: Bonhams at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, 27th June 2014: 68% motor cars sold by lot, £22,850,570 ($39m) gross total.
Bonhams' Healey 100S would make a perfect Le Mans Classic entry, and it was only a week later that Artcurial opened its big tent for business in the infield by the assembly area on the Bugatti circuit. Greeting visitors outside was a row of Alfa Romeo GTAs, while inside, flanking the entrance, were two of the sales leading entries, the 1964 AC Cobra 289 and the 1973 Porsche 911 2.7 Carrera RS. Both sold; the well documented RS had generated much interest pre-sale and went for 580,500 euros ($789k), while the Cobra realised 761,000 euros.
That's around $1m - very reasonable for an ex-Le Mans entry, you might say, until further examination of the catalogue reveals the fact that few parts on the car today actually started, let alone completed, 24 hours of racing in June 1964. And nor did the vendor do himself any favours by presenting it as a modern historic racing 'hot rod', rather than the slim-tyred, narrow wheel-arched original of 50 years ago because nowadays originality is so important. As a comparison, at its Festival event only a few days earlier, Bonhams sold an authentic 1964 Cobra Mk II road car for £695,900 ($1.18m).
Artcurial listed two drophead Feltham Astons in the catalogue. Both were left-hand drive and in usable, original condition. Nothing special. The DB Mk III, estimated at 240,000 - 280,000 euros, was bought by a South American collector for 602,000 euros ($818k) and the 1953 DB2 (220,000 - 260,000 euros) stayed in Europe but for a similarly strong price: 435,100 euros, or around $592k.
Top-selling car on the day, in a saleroom not exactly bursting at the seams, was the 1961 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster with hardtop that sold at 1,115,600 euros ($1.5m). The 'Jaguar', 'Porsche 993', 'Solo Lancia' and 'Alfa Romeo' collections went pretty well, with one of today's market's favourites, a 1995 Porsche 993 RS (Touring Komfort) going nicely at 263,432 euros.
Picking random results from the catalogue, we'd highlight: 1967 Lamborghini 400 GT 'Interim', the last built and the most desirable spec, a new record at 607,920 euros (editor's note: bought by Kidston); 1971 Renault Alpine A110, catalogued as a Group IV car from the factory, a good buy at 107,280 euros if genuine; 1991 Ferrari F40, at 691,360 euros that's around $940k, another F40 sold into a hot market; 1986 Mercedes-Benz 500 SL, described as "as good as new with just 8,700km" - it should have been truly excellent, as it sold for 71,520 euros.
Entries that failed to find new buyers included the Maserati 3500 GT and Ferrari 'Daytona' bitsa racers, the 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Pininfarina Coupé and the Lancia Aurelia B24 Convertible.
Picking a trend at Le Mans, cars intended for the more affordable end of the market were just that, with bargains to be had. I'd put many Lancias, Alpines and Jaguars in that category, including the 1961 Jaguar XK 150S 3.8 Fixed-head Coupé for 48,872 euros. A week earlier Bonhams sold (an admittedly rare) 1960 XK150S 3.8 Drophead Coupé for £203,100, while last month H&H achieved £131,600 for a well-specced, but very 'preservation class', XK150S 3.8 FHC.
Post-sale, Artcurial stressed the international reach of its operation, with successful bidding from all over the world. But what a visitor to the saleroom from outside la belle France would have made of three microphone-equipped members of Artcurial's car department, including veteran Maître Hervé Poulain, all speaking at once in high-speed French is another matter. Re-opening the bidding on a lot after the hammer had already fallen also didn't go down very well with the audience which reacted with loud booing and departures en masse.
Summary: Artcurial at the Le Mans Classic, 5th July 2014: 82% motor cars sold by lot, 13,057,760 euros ($17.8m) gross.
Looking ahead to Monterey
Last month Gooding and Company announced that it had consigned to its Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance sale a Gulf-liveried Porsche 917K, the car illustrated in the poster of the Le Mans film. More has been made of this Steve McQueen connection than any racing history, with wildly varying estimates of value and twenty million dollars rumoured to be the auction house's target. In contrast to last year RM Auctions is playing catch-up at Monterey, with a heavily rebuilt Ferrari 250 LM and a berlinetta-then spyder-now berlinetta again 275 GTB/4 first owned by...yes, you guessed, McQueen again, headlining its line-up.
On 2nd July, Bonhams leapfrogged them both into the Pebble Beach limelight for the first time ever, announcing it was to offer the recently sold ex-Fabrizio Violati 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO at 'No Reserve' at its August 2014 Quail Lodge sale. The stage is set for a battle royal.
So, what price the GTO, and will it become "the world's most expensive car sold at auction"? Well, obviously "yes", to the latter - unless a Bugatti Atlantic or Mercedes-Benz SLR happens to comes to the market first, but more interesting will be whether a new player buys it, and if it beats the existing private sale record.
One thing is certain: as Simon has written elsewhere, "Bonhams had better get a bigger tent..."
Images courtesy of Steve Wakefield, Bianchi-Piras and Francesco Reggiani