What's My Car Worth? Simon's Mid-Year Market Health Report
By Simon Kidston
If you read the headlines you can probably be excused for believing the classic tucked away in your garage is appreciating faster than the home above it, the wine in your cellar or the stock certificates in your bank vault. Every magazine and press release appears to report some obscure new record with each passing auction - and there's seemingly a new one of those being announced every week.
The reality is somewhat different.
We work in the classic car world every day, and have done for decades, speaking to colleagues and collectors around the world to gauge the temperature of the market. Without false modesty we think we know better than most what's hot and what's not.
Like any statistic - just ask most governments - figures can be interpreted to suit your purposes but the underlying mood of collectors is arguably more revealing. Let's take a snapshot of 2015 auction sales as we've just reached the mid-year point in the classic car market, and see what they tell us.
TOP FIVE HITS
1. 1935 Aston Martin Ulster 'LM19' works car: £2,913,500 at Bonhams Goodwood, 26 June 2015.
Stellar history, undisputed provenance, event eligibility, handy performance, good looking and a great badge. What other pre-War Bug/Alfa/Merc/Bentley has come up recently that you can say that about? The huge price (almost double bottom estimate) and frantic bidding reaffirms our faith that there is still a healthy market for the best pre-war cars. But only the best.
2. 1973 Porsche 911 2.4S ex-Richard Hamilton (artist): £393,500 at Bonhams Goodwood, 26 June 2015.
The early 911 market has arguably been hyped more than any other over the past two years, but this car took it to a new level - and got away with it. A well-specified example of a popular model, originally owned by a respected artist but no Warhol, which was bought from the artist's family, restored and flipped for a healthy profit at auction despite being no stranger to the market. It shows why auctions are still the canvas of choice for a different kind of creative talent.
3. 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB California Spyder ex-Alain Delon: €16,288,000 at Artcurial Rétromobile, 6 February 2015.
Once again, auction magic, but here the story was for real: the ultimate convertible sports car owned by the ultimate '60s Gallic screen legend, tantalisingly untouched and hidden for 44 years. This had all the ingredients, and didn't disappoint. It proves that when (and however unlikely the wherever) true diamonds in the rough turn up, the sky's still the limit.
4. 1923 Bugatti Brescia with Maron-Pot et Cie coachwork: €834,400 euros at Artcurial Paris, 22 June 2015.
When did you last see a completely original sports Bugatti? Disproving the theory that, like the opposite sex, cars usually have to first look good to attract male attention, this Noddy-mobile lookalike busted its estimate to surprise everyone. It tells us more about the growing quest for originality, and perhaps the auction stars aligning, than the value of Bugatti Brescias.
5. 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet sold for $473,000 at RM Scottsdale, 16 January 2015.
Fashions come and go, and that applies to classic cars as much as clothing. Now is limelight time for Merc's big open-top cruiser beloved of Hollywood producers and German financiers, and this clientele isn't used to waiting: the right model, in the right spec, in the right condition, in the right place- here and now - can still hit the jackpot. Such is the premium for instant gratification.
TOP FIVE MISSES
1. 1960 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Competition Berlinetta: NOT SOLD at RM, Villa d'Este, 23 May 2015.
Auctions are great when you own the best and are serious about selling it, but if you don't, tread carefully. The chattering classes of the saleroom will magnify every shortcoming and question just as they fawn over great stories. In a slower market sellers can no longer assume that the tide will lift all boats. When an owner decides to sell, he or she gets one chance, so choose wisely.
2. 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB California Spyder: NOT SOLD at RM, Villa d'Este, 23 May 2015.
Will it drive any differently to the Delon car? No. Is it well restored? Yes. Is it fresh to the market and exactly the right spec? No and not quite: the 'no cost' headlight covers the first owner didn't order now make a multimillion-dollar difference to its value. The devil's in the detail, and at this level, buyers know their stuff - and that includes knowing what they want. 'Almost' good enough won't cut it - but the fact that the owner turned down €11.5m after the auction reminds us that stagnation is the stubborn alternative to depreciation.
3. 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spyder: $7.7m at Gooding Scottsdale, 16 January 2015.
Against an estimate of $8m - 10m this fell well short and was back on the market with a healthy dealer mark-up just weeks later. The seller is rumoured to have declined a higher, private offer before consigning it. He decided to roll the auction dice instead. Win some, lose some...
4. 1956 Maserati 200 SI: NOT SOLD at Gooding, Amelia Island, 13 March 2015.
Selling cars isn't a perfect science, and the market for them isn't rational, which meant that for a while sellers could put a finger in the wind, imagine a number and ask that for their car. If they didn't get it at first, they could wait and they might. By the time of this brave attempt the wind had changed.
5. 1971 Lamborghini Miura 'SVJ': $1,897,500 at RM Scottsdale, 16 January 2015.
Reassurance, perhaps, that logic sometimes prevails. This car had been doing the rounds of the auction houses for years, always puffed up as the fifth SVJ of the four originals built. As proof that you're better off with a genuine example of a great car than a questionable example of a rarer one, a 'bog standard' SV went on to sell for $2,310,000 at RM two months later...
So what's really happening? The market's changed. Buyers are taking their time to decide and if in doubt, sitting on the fence. Sellers are equally cautious, unsure whether now's the time to part with something which has been a great investment and where to put the money if they do. Auctions have become the public barometer of market health, with wild swings of activity following every eagerly anticipated result. All eyes are on the Monterey auctions, and the high profile buyers and sellers who'll effectively determine the temperature of the market in the following months. It's a big responsibility for them and the auction houses...
Our advice? Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose...as always both buyers and sellers need to do their research, be ready to act decisively (there's a monetary value to straightforwardness and mutual respect) and get on with it. Sellers would do well to heed the reply of the original Lord Rothschild when asked how he had become so wealthy: "I always sold too soon."
The K500 Index started the year at 448.80 and stood at 448.90 at 30 June 2015. For further information, see www.k500.com.