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Winter 2007 Market Update


No, not a political party rally, just a car auction. For those who are wondering, judging by recent sales we're not there yet. All eyes were focused on RM's results at the end of October for their inaugural 'multi marque' European sale and their first foray into the ultra competitive UK market. I'm not sure whether the unusually high turn out of collectors from the around the globe for this event reflected a sudden urge to discover the delights of Battersea (uncharted territory for most high rollers and some Londoners) or a prudent decision to monitor the market (and their investment) first-hand. I've no idea what they thought of south London but they cannot have been disappointed with the auction, which was headlined by superfluous road cars from F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone's private collection backed up by mid-level (but saleable) road cars owned by Italian childrenswear entrepreneur Beppe Prevosti and a significant part of what remained of flamboyant video game tycoon Abba Kogan's collection. It was clear from the outset that RM intended to do whatever was necessary to ensure the auction was perceived as a success. A massive advertising campaign targeted not only the traditional classic car press but also the business papers and 'new' money. A lavish 1920s themed party the evening before the auction attracted 911 attendees (yes, exactly 911) amongst which various TV personalities, models and of course Bernie Ecclestone himself: it was amusing to watch successful businessmen queuing up for his autograph.

In contrast to traditional 'Old World' auctions, RM don't appear to do low key, two hour long sales. In Battersea bidders were treated to a black backdrop with studio lighting and the star of the show, the Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster, rising from behind the stage when its turn came accompanied by what sounded like the Star Wars soundtrack. Had Darth Vader emerged to help spot bids I don't suppose anyone would have been surprised (we got Rob Myers instead). In the event it sold to a German intermediary in the room for £3,905,000 (he also snapped up the SSKL replica for £1,045,000), which seemed like the right price but translated into dollars takes the model to a new level. It's perhaps not surprising that only 4 Lots went to the USA. More revealing, however, and contrary to what many market observers assume, there was not a single bidder (or buyer) from Russia, China or the Middle East. No City money was splashed around, and all the big ticket items went to established collectors. An Argentine bidding war broke out upon Abba Kogan's 1931 REO racer which had been well used in pre-war South America (it doubled its estimate at £440,000) but fellow FIAT 500 owners shouldn't read too much into the £11,000 achieved by the Ecclestone example as the lady buyer apparently thought she was bidding in dollars (RM being Canadian, of course...).

Highlight of the Kogan collection was the ex-Dick Seaman Delage Grand Prix car once owned by wealthy privateer Rob Walker (who would have turned in his grave if he knew RM had described him as a 'timber merchant'... as the heir to the Johnny Walker whisky fortune his passport gave his occupation as 'gentleman'). After a good toasting in a 1968 garage fire this exquisite single seater had been heavily rebuilt which probably accounts for it remaining unsold, as was the ex-Lord Brocket OSCA barchetta (also a car with a sticky past although not entirely accidental).

rm_ferrari_america  rm_bizzarini
Left: 2 + 2 Ferrari: two seats too many but still £148,500.
Rebodied Bizza made whopping £253,000.

There were strong showings from the lower/ mid value road cars in the Prevosti collection, including a Ferrari 330GT America (£148,500) which the buyer will find has not yet had any of its instruments connected when he first drives it, a handsome Iso Grifo which had been fully restored after losing an argument with a tree (£121,000), and a rebodied Bizzarrini 5300GT Strada (£253,000), also reborn after an earlier mishap (but not cloned like so many of its sisters...).

mb_300sc  bmw_507
Left: Good buy: just £153,000 bought one of only 53 300Sc Roadsters built.
BMW 507 looked great in the catalogue...

Although 'bargain' is perhaps too strong a word, there were good buys for those with a keen eye. The handsome Mercedes-Benz 300Sc Roadster from the Ecclestone collection was one of just 53 made and if it was as strong mechanically as cosmetically, at £153,000 the buyer got a good deal for a car more exclusive and expensive than a 300SL when new. In comparison, the black BMW 507 proved that a good catalogue photographer can work miracles and at £423,500 one hopes the new Belgian owner wasn't bidding by telephone.

rm_lancia_astura  rm_lancia_astura_period
Left: The dictator's car went home.
Is that a bid, Sir?

The only car from the Ecclestone collection for which there were no takers despite ownership by at least one powerful dictator, the ex-Mussolini/ Hitler 1938 Lancia Astura Lungo parade car had been hastily shorn of all Fascist insignia and flags before the auction, having apparently caused much consternation amongst Sotheby's New York based management...

Looking forward now, and there are several heavy hitting auctions on the horizon and some refreshingly interesting cars on offer. The Christmas round of London sales is headlined by Bonhams at Olympia, where the oldest known Rolls-Royce (of 1904 vintage, no less) is estimated to break the million pound barrier. Given the significance of the marque and therefore of this car, which was last offered to the public 103 years ago, I'd be surprised if this diminutive little 10hp runabout didn't do rather better than the estimate. Should it be worth less than a steel Ferrari SWB berlinetta?

bonhams_1904rr  hispano-suiza
Left: It may not look much but this little car represents the genesis of the Rolls-Royce legend.
Fit for a 1920s tycoon: the rakish Hispano Suiza Coupe de Ville.

Also entered for the same auction is a stunning 1924 Hispano Suiza H6 Coupe de Ville by Parisian coachbuilder Jacques Saoutchik, fully restored (the striped interior trim will suit those with an outgoing personality) and in concours condition. Estimated at £250-300,000, it may be a little formal for some tastes but it's a perfect combination of money-no-object engineering and coachbuilding: the 1920s luxury car I'd want in my garage.

blower-bentley  flack-brm
Left: Truly better than new: Blower Bentley with replacement engine, body, supercharger and chassis frame.
Sole survivor: the only BRM Type 25 spared by the factory (the other 10 were scrapped) and a familiar sight in historic racing for the past two decades.

Blower Bentleys have been much talked about since David Gooding sold the Ann Klein example known as 'The Green Hornet' for $4 ½ million at his Monterey sale. The superficially similar (but rebodied) Blower unsold at Geneva's Sportscar Auction in October shows that 'the rest' and 'the best' are further apart than most owners of 'the rest' realize, and now another Blower is to be offered at Bonhams, although its replacement engine, body, supercharger and chassis frame might mean it is not bought as an entry for Pebble Beach's Preservation Class.

Consigned at the last minute (this morning, apparently), the post-war entries will be led by one of Britain's great Grand Prix cars: the sole surviving BRM Type 25. Of the 11 built, it is the only one to have avoided being written off or scrapped by the team when no longer competitive, its status as the marque's first championship race winning chassis ensuring its survival. After a fatal accident involving its late owner Spencer Flack it has been rebuilt and returned to the track. Have at least £750,000 spare if you want to own it next month.

A couple of weeks later the chic set will be gathering at the fairytale Palace Hotel in Gstaad, Switzerland, for the tenth edition of Bonhams' once Ferrari-only (now anything Italian) auction. Has it really been that long? There's something reassuring about the Palace, where the price of drinks makes the cars look affordable, and there's always something of a festive atmosphere, especially if you've just sold something for seven figures. Heading the early line-up (there's more to come) are a one-off Siata 8V coupe by Bertone and a very pretty black Ferrari 275GTS- even after recent price rises these still look good value compared to other open Ferrari spyders.

bonhams_52siata  bonhams_275gts
Left: Big carrozzeria, piccolo motore: one-off Siata 8V by Bertone.
Right: Super suave black 275GTS can be yours in Gstaad.

Into 2008, Bonhams have announced that, perhaps unsurprisingly, they are taking Christie's spot at Retromobile following the King Street firm's retreat from the classic car market (inevitable unless Steve McQueen owned 50 Lussos), which is likely to give the local French auction houses cause to choke on their Pastis, and perhaps having the same effect on established players RM and Barrett-Jackson (read Bud Light for Pastis), David Gooding will be riding into Scottsdale next January, taking on the traditional "pile 'em high and sell 'em without reserve" auction houses. Sounds like the perfect script for a Western...

See you at the Palace bar.

Photos Credits: RM Press Office / Bonhams Press Office / Dux family album.