Market Insight — What you need to know about the Monterey auctions
By Simon K The dust has finally settled after the greatest marathon of classic car auctions, concours d'elegance and automotive one-upmanship most onlookers - and even market insiders - have ever witnessed. They may take place thousands of miles away, but the outcome of the Monterey auctions influences the mood at the top end of the classic car market worldwide for months afterwards. Active collectors follow them closely: here's what you need to know...
It all started in the early 1950s as a friendly motor race through the forests which snake along the Pacific coastline bordering the picturesque Californian towns of Monterey and Carmel. After a fatal accident the racing moved to the newly built Laguna Seca track nearby, but by then the event had already evolved into a gathering which, over the decades, has established itself as the largest and glitziest display of classic cars in the world: the Pebble Beach concours d'elegance, named after the famous golf course whose 18th fairway provides the scenic backdrop on which these automotive treasures are proudly laid out. The classic car boom of the go-go 1980s brought the auction houses to town and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Monterey has seen auctioneers come and go. Christie's, once top dog here, has long since quit the classic car market in search of easier pickings, but their former lieutenants can still be found pulling the strings in various salerooms, mostly notably ex-Christie's car specialist David Gooding whose own auction tent now occupies the prized central location where his former employer once laid out its offerings.
In the opposing corner, heavyweight Canadian auction house RM has been around for even longer and pulls no punches when it comes to fighting its rivals to secure the top Lots. This year the competition was more intense than ever, and many questioned whether the auction houses were more concerned with taking business from their rivals than their ability to find buyers for all the cars they were consigning.
The supporting cast at this automotive equivalent of the Oscars includes the inevitable token Brit, Bonhams, and two colourful characters that almost appear to have arrived at the wrong party: Russo & Steele and Mecum. Think outlet store with flashing lights rather than Saks Fifth Avenue or Harrods.
Between them, these five auctioneers had lined up several hundred collectors cars, all hoping to find new homes. And against the odds, most of them did.
At the end of the weekend this is how the numbers stacked up, with some insight into why the top sellers made the prices they did.
RMRRMRM Total Sales (three days): $67 million (up approximately $32m from last year's $35.6m)
Percentage sold: 93%
Top 5 Sales:
1. 1938 Talbot-Lago T150 Coupe by Figoni & Falaschi: $4.6m
WHY: Previously sold by RM at Monterey in 2005 for just over $3.6 million to the late John O'Quinn, and a staggering price at the time. Today's price is even more remarkable considering it's built on a longer chassis with less dramatic notchback (ie not fully streamlined) coachwork by Parisian masters Figoni & Falaschi compared to their other 'teardrop' coupes. Restored for O'Quinn, shown at Pebble where it failed to win any awards so immediately re-restored to his order, and now offered by O'Quinn's estate. It hasn't been shown since the second rebuild, so the new owner can look forward to all the attention when he comes out.
2. 1954 Ferrari 375MM Berlinetta by Pinin Farina: $4.6m
WHY: An ultra-rare and handsome mid-1950s road racer, although this one distinguished itself on the big screen, not the track. Gorgeous Pinin Farina styling, eligible for all the hard-to-get-in events, and in lovely patinated condition. Sold to a Texas oil man (it helps) and to me the best buy of the auction.
3. 1949 Delahaye Type 175S Roadster by Saoutchik: $3.3m
WHY: Commissioned new by a British expat playboy who had a fascination with the triple-tailed Constellation airliner, hence the three vestigial fins on its outlandish Saoutchik coachwork. Powered by a wheezing 3 litre 'six', the drama's all on the outside, not underneath, but there's nowhere to go fast in Monaco (where it started its life) or Pebble Beach (where it's likely headed next). Fab, and fairly priced.
4. 1959 Ferrari 250GT LWB California Spyder: $2.6m
WHY: To use race car expert Thor Thorsen's priceless expression, the 'Dregs de la Crème'. It's the LWB version with steel bodywork and a front end modified to covered lights, and illustrating how selective the market has become, here it sold for a million dollars less (not a misprint) than at Goodings in '08. Bought on price and headed to Greece.
5. 1955 Jaguar D-type: $2.1m
WHY: Although D-Types dipped a little post-2007 and have now firmed up closer to $4m than $5m, when the authoritative book on the model records that a particular chassis "crashed, lopping trees 20ft above ground, seriously damaging car on landing; remains said to be spread on hillside many years later" it doesn't do much for its street cred with blue chip buyers. Half the price of a good D seemed plenty, even though another bid came in just after the auctioneer's hammer went down.
Total Sales (two days): $65.5 million (up approximately $15m from last year's $51m).
Percentage sold: 80%
Top 5 Sales:
1. 1959 Ferrari 250GT LWB California Spider Competizione: $7.3m
WHY: Although a LWB rather than the SWB version, this is the only one boasting alloy coachwork, competition engine, covered headlights, outside filler, long range tank and a 5th place OA at Sebring to top it all off. Bidding was spirited but a Mexican big hitter prevailed, paying the highest price of the weekend.
2. 1933 Alfa 8C 2300 Monza: $6.7m
WHY: Any Alfa Monza is a special car; although one of the few genuine survivors, this wasn't the most richly historied example and visually there wasn't much to make it stand out. The very best Monza might command something approaching eight figures today; bidding on this one was thin, but it scraped home to sell.
3. 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB Competizione 'SEFAC Hot Rod': $6.1m
WHY: Buyers are incredibly fickle these days, and the mere fact that a car is trade owned and has been available for some time is often enough to dampen their enthusiasm. Much has been said about this car but it now has factory certification and is beautifully presented, and that was enough for an east coast medical entrepreneur to step up and pay- just- enough to own it.
4. 1928 Mercedes-Benz S 26/180 Boat tail Speedster: $3.7m
WHY: From a casual glance, many observers would ask what makes this 'hot rodded' Mercedes 'S' type special, but add a colourful history involving the Marx Brothers lake racing it against fellow Hollywood A-listers and you understand its appeal to the US collector who secured it.
5. 1995 McLaren F1: $3.6m
WHY: Apart from the model's usual appeal, various factors came into play here: provenance (Oracle CEO and now Americas Cup winner Larry Ellison was the first of two owners), mileage and condition (3,100 miles and fully up to date with its $ervice programme), classic colours (silver/ black), all the factory accessories and, critically, California road registration, possibly the only F1 properly titled there. A local hedge funder is its new owner. Well sold.
Total Sales (two days): $18.2m (up approximately $5.1m from last year's $13.1m)
Percentage sold: 76%
Top 5 Sales:
1. 1973 Porsche 917 Spyder: $3.96m
WHY: Had this been 'just' an Interserie-spec 917 spyder, formidable though it might be to drive, this car would probably have struggled to raise more than six figures. Fortunately for the deceased estate selling it, however, it started life as a hallowed 917K coupe in iconic Gulf livery. Never mind that it lasted 5 hours at Le Mans in this guise before a monumental shunt led to the next 40 years as a spyder; I'll bet the new European owner is buying baby blue and marigold paint already. Very well sold indeed.
2. 1930 Mercedes-Benz 38/250 'SS' Tourer: $2.58m
WHY: The Prof. Porsche designed SS model represented evolution over the preceding S (as sold by Gooding) yet this example, which had been in the same family for 55 years and still wore its original coachwork, sold for over a million dollars less than the Marx bros car two days later. Not the raciest Mercedes on the market, but consider that Bonhams sold a sister 'SS' in May 2005 for almost €2 million ($2.57m) and this car looks good value if you wanted one.
3. 1967 Porsche 910: $797k
WHY: Frequently faked, impossible for bon vivant collectors to fit into, highly strung and bullied in competition by the Detroit V8 powered opposition until it rains. On the other hand, a Porsche badge puts it into a class of its own, and this was an ex-works car. Not easy to sell, especially at auction, so a fair deal to buyer and seller.
4. 1908 Thomas Flyer: $731k
WHY: A towering chain-driven Edwardian of thunderous proportion and performance. Not quite a name everyone recognises, and therefore limited to cognoscenti in its appeal. At below the lower estimate it certainly wasn't overpriced, but with so few changing hands, this result sets the new market value.
5. 1937 BMW 328: $665k
WHY: These giant-killing sports cars are being discovered by a whole new generation of collectors, and the €4+ million sale of the ex-MM 328 streamliner last May in Monaco has given them a further boost. Bonhams' car was well presented but not overdone, and ready for action. Expensive, but worth it.
Total sales (one day): $15m (up approximately $1.1m from last year's $13.9m)
Percentage sold: 45%
Top 5 Sales:
1. 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4: $1.4m
2. 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 convertible: $1.1m
3. 1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4: $1m
4. 1966 Shelby Cobra 427: $700k
5. 1971 Chevrolet Corvette ZR2 convertible: $466k
Russo and Steele
Total sales (one day): $6.1m (up approximately $2m from last year's $4.2m)
Percentage sold: 35%
Top 5 Sales:
1. 1971 AMC Javelin Trans Am: $770k
2. 1965 Shelby Cobra CSX2461: $649k
3. 1966 Lamborghini 350GT: $440k
4. 1968 Aston Martin DB6: $330k
5. 2005 Porsche Carrera GT: $265k
And a few other highlights...
You can learn as much about the market from Lots which went home unsold as those which set new highs. Ferraris, the staple currency of the collectors car market, accounted for the most valuable car sold and the highest profile 'no sale' of the weekend. Whilst a Mexican collector will be taking delivery of what has just become the most expensive LWB California Spyder ever sold, a Brazilian collector several thousand miles away will be getting his 250 Testa Rossa back again after declining an alleged bid of over $10 million as he holds out for the same price achieved by the black 250TR at RM's Maranello sale last year. This ignores- intentionally or otherwise- the checkered history of the Brazilian TR, which has made numerous excursions into the scenery in both period and historic racing, each time losing a few more original bits to restoration and race preparation. Being wealthy enough not to care about selling is one thing, but in that case there's little point in entering your car for auction and even less for the auction house to accept it.
Ferrari 250GT Tour de Frances didn't have a good weekend, with neither selling (it was questionable whether they even received any bids), but Mecum's car had changed hands privately before the auction (bidders don't like to think they're giving someone a quick profit) whilst the one offered at Gooding is an auction veteran and buyers rarely pay over the odds for stock clearance, whatever the marketplace.
Big money was however forthcoming from a major US collector for a well-specified Ferrari 500 Superfast at RM ($1.127m) and their handsome 410 Superamerica seemed fair value at $1.76m- although two years of ownership cost its vendor over $500,000.
Other Ferraris worth mentioning were an ultra rare 500 Mondial berlinetta with Mille Miglia history, headed to Switzerland at a relatively modest $1.567m (Gooding achieved $1.54m last year for a standard open car with non-original motor), $1.925m for the first FXX to sell at auction (now we know what they're really worth thanks to an Australian bidder) and $830k for a 10,000 mile Enzo, good value unless you've seen it being crashed on youtube...
On an encouraging note, buyers this year came to Monterey from further afield than ever before: RM's Cobra 289 racer, a car on which bidding stopped at $1.1m at Amelia Island just months earlier, sold to the Middle East ($1.595m), as did Gooding's pre-war Bentley, whilst a Chinese bidder at Gooding snapped up a pre-war Packard. Canada will be adding a Miura SV to its automotive fleet ($825k) and Italy will be getting back a Daytona Spyder ($990k) and a lime green Miura S ($533,500).
Finally, if you wanted the perfect illustration of the widening gulf between 'the best' and 'the rest', the mad $1,045,000 which Gooding achieved for a concours Jaguar SS100 smashes all records. Even if the restoration is alleged to have cost almost that much, it's about triple what the most bullish price guide will tell you. Compare it to a 'barn find' SS100 which RM sold for $242,500 and you see what I mean.
Are we seeing an asset bubble? As the saying goes, everyone knows the party will end but nobody wants to be the first to leave. On the other hand - and this is the standard line you'll often hear from sellers - there's a lot of money out there looking for somewhere to go. In 2009 the Monterey sales turned over $120 million; last weekend they achieved $172 million, a 43% increase. At least for now the party looks set to continue...
Images: courtesy Gooding, RM Auctions, Rick Carey, Mark Dixon, Cristián Bertschi, Marcel Massini, Ned Lawler