Market Latest: From Monaco to Newport Pagnell
Guest market review by Steve Wakefield
In the space of just seven days, over $70m was traded on collectors' cars ranging from a $42k Fiat 500 to a DB5 that looked as if its 'barn' had been hit by a cruise missile (it sold for £393,500, that's around $650k). The two sales were held by RM (in Monaco, on 10 May) and Bonhams, at a slightly less exotic Newport Pagnell on 17 May.
RM had the luxury of the Mediterranean as its backdrop, not to mention the night sky when the roof was opened dramatically half way through proceedings. It was also held during the Monaco Historics weekend, although such was the distance from the new venue to the gridlocked paddock that many potential bidders were arriving considerably foot-sore.
At RM, another high-profile smash and grab on the Côte d'Azur was accomplished by the sole bidder on the 'no reserve', ex-James Hunt Hesketh 308 F1 car, which sold for around $385k, far below its lower estimate. And that's despite a pre-event drinks party graced by the ever-colourful Lord Hesketh and Freddie Hunt. Given the location, you could say that lady luck was shining on the British TV and radio personality who won the car that night.
Top-seller at RM Monaco was the rare 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C, a car in just 'everyday' condition and with virtually no competition history in period. Sell it did, though, for €5,712,000, around $7.9m. Consider that a sister example with Le Mans history, one of the 12 built, failed to sell at RM's London auction last September at a high bid of £2.1 million (€2.6m/ $3.5m), apparently finding a buyer afterwards for not much more.
A general note on racing cars at auction. Some, such as blue-chip Ferraris and their like already have a (high) value, and competition success has an effect, to a greater or lesser degree. You sort of know where you are. Others fall into the 'what can you do with it?' camp, where provenance lies a very distant second to the car's eligibility to race. A perfect example was the beautifully prepared 1982 Mirage M12 Group C car that sold for absolute peanuts: €84,000, a third of its lower estimate, and probably far less than the cost of its 3.9-litre Ford DFL engine alone.
As a contrast, the 1956 Maserati 450S Prototype ticked almost every box - but when the auction house feels the need to repeatedly issue the gentlest of caveats that an entry's provenance might be 'inconclusive', cars at auction tend to get hammered, and not with a triumphant "Sold!" accompanied by a round of applause. Few cars with 'stories' can withstand the intense scrutiny of a public auction unscathed.
Back to business. Another highlight at RM was the pretty 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Pinin Farina Cabriolet Series I that sold for €4,704,000 ($6.5m). Only four years ago you could buy these more highly fancied Series 1 cars for, oh, say $2,145,000. In fact, in 2010 you could have gone to Gooding's Scottsdale sale and bought this very car (that had been the property of a respected former co-chairman at Pebble Beach) for $2,145,000. Which makes you think: where else could you have tripled your money in four years?
But there are genuine winners and losers at auction; it's not all 'up', and the 'downs' can surprise. We tipped the voluptuous 1959 Lancia Flaminia Sport Zagato. It was in a great colour ('Lancia' navy blue) and had the 'double-bubble' roof and desirable faired-in headlamps. Auctioneer Max Girardo was kept busy fielding a flurry of bids and the hammer eventually fell at a price (with premium) of €571,200: that's about $785k, easily a world auction record.
Another Lancia, the 1955 Aurelia B24S Spider America, went for what many felt was a 'cheap' $1m. It's hard to say why as it stood up to close inspection and looked fabulous, in Dove Grey with Borrani wire wheels, yet compared with Gooding's blue-with-solid-wheels B24S that achieved $1,815,000 at Scottsdale this year, it was a bargain.
In total, RM grossed €41,303,830 at Le Sporting Monte Carlo on 10 May. Ninety-three percent of all lots sold. The sale was RM's best-ever in Europe.
A week later, Bonhams held its annual all-Aston Martin event in the rather more prosaic surroundings of Tickford Street, Newport Pagnell. The star lot was the £350,000 - 550,000 1970 Bahama Yellow DBS from The Persuaders!, although tucked away near the end of the catalogue was a 1961 DB4GT Zagato 'Recreation', estimated at £800,000 - 900,000. Things can go two ways with these late lots: they'll either be the one everyone waits for, selling strongly, or are often put at the back of the catalogue as the auction house doesn't want a 'no sale' to kill the atmosphere for following lots.
Unsurprisingly, not only did Lord Brett Sinclair's DBS make big (£533,500, or around $880k) money, the Zagato wannabe never really got anywhere and failed to sell. At approaching £1m, buyers want the reassurance of originality and 'if I need to' ability to sell at short notice. Frankly, the DBS is in a different collectability league.
In addition to the big-selling 'barn-find' DB5 which, to be fair, did carry a desirable "DP' prototype chassis number, Bonhams had eight other cars in varying states of disrepair, all of which sold. Sane men might goggle at the nearly £400k paid for a DB5 that needed at least another £200,000 - 250,000 spending on it, while Lot 209, a perfectly respectable 1965 DB5 in Black Pearl, restored to at least a 'good' standard, sold for £449,500. But it happens every year.
As with events at Monaco there were winners and losers. The US-spec, 1984 LHD V8 Vantage went for a strong £208,700, while several DB2s slipped under the radar and were genuinely affordable, at trade prices in a normally retail environment. Take the 1952 DB2 Drophead Coupé that was possibly a little too 'original' for some at £169,500. Or the bargain of the day, Lot 234, the 1955 DB2/4 Mk I.
This car was purchased new by Girling, being used as a test bed for disc brake development, and was quite possibly the first road-going Aston to be so equipped. It was then sold to Vandervell Products, of Vanwall racing cars fame. This is provenance with a capital 'P'. Yet, despite auctioneer James Knight's efforts to rally the room, it sold for just £107,900.
One car we fancied - in fact, Simon had even gone to the trouble of booking a fitting for a matching 'Mr Fish' velvet suit - was the 1969 DB6 Volante. Now labouring under a fairly thick coat of flat navy, the car's original colour was the flamboyant Sixties shade 'Roman Purple'. It sold for £539,100. Not being a more desirable Mk II, the costs of renovating this car to 'as new' make it an uneconomic proposition. "Hold the chalk and shears, Crispin, Mr Kidston's having a change of heart..."
Bonhams grossed £8.7million at Newport Pagnell. Of the 50 car lots, 45 sold.
So that's the latest from the European auction scene. Originality is all. Rare, of the-moment models sell big (the S1 PF Cab and the $369k Porsche 964 RS), while the glare of the auction spotlight will shine into the most remote corner (the 450S). And never, ever, underestimate a 'barn-find' at a Bonhams' Aston sale: shabby chic is in, and the shabbier the better...