NEXT STOP THE MOON?
Newspaper headlines have been full of speculation about the collectors market over the past few days, reporting new records despite the wider economic outlook remaining gloomy. Here's a quick summary of what's been happening.
Highlights from Bonhams Monaco- Bonhams Aston Martin - RM Ferrari
Les Grandes Marques à Monaco- Bonhams, 10th May, Monte Carlo
For Europe's longest running car auction Bonhams produced a decent catalogue containing a few gems but generally reflecting the continuing difficulty in finding high quality, fresh motorcars in today's market. Estimates were generally bullish and this resulted in a slighter lower sale rate than in the past. There were few surprises, the Bugatti Type 55 cover lot changing hands to a trade buyer at €2,097,500 (slightly below estimate), a fair price for an honest example of this legendary French roadster albeit with non-original bodywork. Second highest seller was a rare Ferrari 365GTS, one of just 20 built, liveried in black and in presentable condition but far from concours. This attracted plenty of interest and sold to an agent in the room for a strong €799,500. Of the two Ferrari 275GTBs entered, one was withdrawn (the owner's wife apparently intervened) and the other, which had been rebodied, unsurprisingly failed to sell. The '1927 Mercedes-Benz S-type' was withdrawn pending investigation into its authenticity, but for those fond of this period Bonhams offered a WW2 amphibious VW Schwimmwagen in a fetching shade of Afrika Korps Sand, which blitzed all expectations at €149,500.
Left: Rebodied Bugatti Type 55: fairly priced at €2.1m
Right: Rare Ferrari 365GTS (one of 20) set €799,500 benchmark
Left: A Mercedes S-type...or not? Doubts forced its withdrawal
Right: Achtung baby- record breaking Schwimmwagen (€149,500)
Interest in Group B era rally cars is building and Bonhams offered several: the roadgoing Lancia 037 sold for a healthy €123,050, whilst the equivalent 037 racer found no takers. An Audi Quattro Sport SWB offered by the local trade changed hands for €97,750 whilst a recently sold Peugeot 205 T16 rally car was just too expensive at €300,000 and went home again.
Left: Strong bidding on Audi Quattro Sport: €97,750
Right: Small car, big price: optimistically reserved at €300,000 so it went home
Despite the lack of fireworks this long established, benchmark sale achieved a very respectable total: €8.2 million.
Aston Martin & Lagonda Motorcars - Bonhams, 17th May, Newport Pagnell
Headlined by an unrestored DB4GT road car which had been recently offered in the trade and was implied as having covered 18,300 miles from new, Bonhams marketing paid off handsomely, two telephone bidders taking '0145R' way past its pre-sale estimate to set a new record at £1,079,500 which I suspect will take some time to repeat.
Left: Over £1m: new price level for 'time warp' 18,000 mile DB4GT
Right: Ultra rare series 1 Lagonda V8: £254,500
Other surprises included £254,500 for a 1976 Lagonda saloon (ie the ultra rare, V8 shape four door), £309,500 for a perfectly standard, brown 1968 DB6 Volante and maddest of all, £89,500 for a 'barn find' 1957 DB2/4 saloon, nowadays a Bonhams speciality, entered by Le Mans winner Richard Attwood who had been expecting £12-15,000.
Left: Coffee bean DB6 Volante price showed these are in fashion
Right: Bonkers prices for barn finds have become a Bonhams traditione
This sale confirmed the current interest in Astons and although not every entry established new highs, it showed that the market for special examples of this British marque is every bit as active as that for their rivals from Maranello.
Ferrari Leggenda e Passione - RM, 18th May, Maranello
The big one. Eagerly awaited by owners and speculators (if there is a difference these days), the results were flashed around the world in minutes. Upon closer inspection of the lavish catalogue there weren't actually many 'discoveries' but two 250GT California Spyders, a 250LM (entered just days before the auction) and a 512M still make an impressive line-up at any sale.
Left: F1 Ferraris: faster on the track than in the saleroom
Right: Last minute entered 250LM begins trip back to US for €4.51m
The most incomprehensible result I can remember at any classic car auction was the price at which the 250GT SWB California Spyder was hammered as sold: €6.4 million plus commission (not including 5% EU import taxes which are also due), in other words almost $11 million. Consider that RM announced pre-sale that the car did not have its original engine, and that the car's specification and condition were unexceptional: no 'hot' engine, no lightweight body, nothing except James Coburn as its second owner to distinguish it from others. The last three 'no stories' comparable cars (SWB versions with the all-important covered headlights and original engines) have been sold recently in the $5.5-6.0m range by savvy owners. As the Americans say, "go figure".
Left: Bidding finally stopped at €6.4m, a (slightly baffling) new record
Right: "You do know the bidding was in Euros?" Original supplying dealer Jacques Swaters meets new owner, DJ Chris Evans
By surprising coincidence this result just beats the existing all-time record for a car sold at auction, the Bugatti Royale which achieved £5.5 million 21 years ago.
More revealing, a correct LWB California Spyder was sold minutes later for €2,365,000, significantly below its bottom estimate. Had this car not been in the same auction, the owner would probably have assumed after the SWB result that his car had just appreciated by 30%: this proves how one sale doesn't make a market.
Left: Fearsome 512M was conspicuously good value at €2.1m...
Right: ...as was LWB California, just 1/3 the price of the SWB version
Back in the real world, cars which set new price levels but deserved to do so in view of their history or condition included a beautiful silver-green Lusso with fitted luggage (€759,000); the well-documented and stunningly restored 275GTB/4 of Lynx chairman John Mayston-Taylor (€1,320,000) and the so-called 'Competition' 250GT Lusso (€1,100,000).
At least two of the feature cars were sold for less than equivalent models achieved last year: witness the Daytona Spyder (€962,500 this year, €1,045,000 in 2007) and 512M racer (€2,090,000 this year, €2,640,000 for a similar 512S last year), but when you analyse the dollar equivalent, this year's Daytona is actually more expensive and this year's 512 is only 10% less than the example sold in '07.
Perhaps surprisingly given the weak dollar, as with the 512M a US buyer snapped up the trade owned 250LM which had been consigned less than a week before the auction. Given a restamped (although original) engine, new nose section and budget restoration, the final price of €4.51m (just over $7m) was market correct.
One veteran onlooker commented to me: "This auction is all about fashion" and sure enough, classic road cars in perfect order which could be driven and admired right away generally sold extremely well, classic sports-racers appealing to serious collectors sold normally, and modern, pure race cars (think F1 and 333SP) attracted less interest: think of a pyramid with only die hard Ferraristi at the top.
None of which will probably stop owners of anything with a Prancing Horse or Aston wings on it thinking that Father Christmas has come early...