Market Analysis

Market Commentary - which classics are selling, by whom and for how much

Market Commentary - as Covid-19 kills thousands and destroys the immediate future of many economies, which classics sold before traditional auctions were shut down and what cars have been changing hands on-line and for how much?

Before it became impossible, if not illegal to hold auction ‘gatherings’, even on a stand-alone basis away from major events, three out of the four major annual sales at Amelia Island were still able to take place in Florida, where £59.9m was invested in 308 non-essential automobiles, 88% of those offered.

At the beginning of the month, it was also business very much as usual at Brightwells in Leominster and at Historics at Ascot Racecourse, where 'live' attendances held up surprisingly well and 146 cars sold for £1.45m in a 74% sold Wednesday sale in Herefordshire and 124 cars, 66% of the total, fetched another £4.09m on a Saturday in Berkshire.

MARCH SALES REVIEWED by Richard Hudson-Evans

A 1932 Bugatti Type 55, one of 11 Super Sport Roadsters retaining original and definitive Jean Bugatti designed coachwork, had been estimated by Bonhams to fetch $6,500,000-9,500,000 (£5.01m-7.32m). But with still matching chassis, engine, drive-train and coachwork, and eligible for the Mille Miglia Retrospective and Le Mans Classic, the former Pebble Beach Concours class winner from the Estate of Dean S Edmonds Junior realised $7,100,000 (£5,467,000) to become not only the top priced car at the three Florida sales, but the most valuable car sold at auction this year on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the same Bonhams auction pavilion at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club, and in second place in the Amelia Island auction results, was a 1907 Renault Type A1 35/45hp, one of four survivors commissioned by Willie K Vanderbilt for American racing with Renault Bros coachwork. Having been previously exhibited in the Indianapolis Speedway Hall of Fame Museum for more than 60 years, one of the greatest motorcars of its era fetched $5,332,500 (£2,566,025), 113 years after most probably winning the 1907 Brighton 24 Hours.

The 1967/68 Con-Ferr Meyers Manx Dune Buggy with Corvair 2.6 Flat-6 in the tail, cast for a supporting role to Steve McQueen in ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ movie, made $456,000 (£351,120), forecast money. And by sale end, 89 of the 116 cars in 3 glossy catalogues had sold for $21.2m (£16.32m), an average of $238,202 (£183,416) with a 77% sell-through rate. One year ago, 92 out of 108 cars sold for $15.8m (£12.17m), an average of $171,626 (£132,152) with an 85% sell-through rate.

Whereas by the end of their two-day sale on Saturday 7 March at the Ritz-Carlton, the RM Sotheby’s team had sold 93% of the 146 lots in their catalogue, their clients spending $35.73m (£27.51m) on 136 cars, an average of $262,695 (£202,275) per classic bought. At the same sale in 2019, 117 of the 141 cars sold for $38.1m (£29.34) at an average price of $325,219 (£248,879) with a 77% sell-through rate.

Their prices this year were headed by a new to the market 2003 Ferrari Enzo that had been in the care of the Lingenfelter Collection for 15 years for $2,782,500 (£2,145,525), the third highest priced car sold at the Amelia Island sales this year. In fourth place was a beautifully restored 1938 Bugatti T57 Cabriolet, the only 3-seater with Aravius style body by D’Ieteren, sold for $1,655,000 (£1,274,350).

The North American House also sold a well restored 1963 Ferrari 250 GT/L Berlinetta Lusso award winner for $1,600,000 (£1,232,000) and a 1961 250GT S2 Cabriolet for $1,352,500 (£1,041,425). A Canepa-upgraded, California street-legal 1987 Porsche 959 Komfort cost $1,050,000 (£808,500), an as-new 2004 Porsche Carrera GT auctioned Without Reserve $786,000 (£605,220) and a 2019 911 GT2 RS Clubsport far exceeded pre-sale estimate at a final $527,500 (£406,175).

At the beachfront Omni Amelia Island Plantation meanwhile, the Gooding & Co top ten was led by a 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 40/50hp Phaeton sold for $2,205,000 (£1,697,850) from a 1969 Lamborghini Miura P400 S Coupe at $1,435,000 (£1,104,950) with a 1976 Porsche 934 Race Car $1,380,000 (£1,062,600) in pursuit.

$995,000 (£766,150) was paid for a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster and $978,500 (£753,445) for a 2019 McLaren Senna Coupe. A 2017 Ford GT made $967,500 (£744,975), a 2009 RUF CTR Coupe $808,000 (£622,160) and a 1972 Maserati Ghibli SS Spyder $753,000 (£579,810).

Gooding’s gavel wielding Brit, the auctioneer Charlie Ross hammered away 83 of the 89 cars catalogued for $20.8m (£16.02m) at an average of $250,784 (£193,104) with a week-topping 93% sale rate. Whereas at the same sale one year ago, 78 of 89 consigned cars sold for $22m (£16.94m) with an average price of $282,666 (£217,653) and an 88% sell-through rate.

Although soldiering on in the face of uncontrollable Covid-19 with a business as usual approach, these may nonetheless have been the last major auctions to be held in front of ‘live audiences’ for months as grim reality rapidly shut down international travel and whole industries ran out of customers and money.

Before Covid-19 had really taken over the airwaves and Big Brother was still in his box, Brightwells viewing unit and excellent cafeteria were packed with consumers who had made the journey to the Herefordshire firm’s Leominster HQ to check out a 198 lot catalogue in person.

Buyers in the saleroom and listening on-line were then prepared to spend £1.45m on 146 cars in what amounted to a 74% sold sale day. A just over lower estimate £84,000 was forthcoming for a 25th Anniversary 1988 Porsche 911 Turbo and a close to guide £47,000 was accepted for a 1969 Ford Escort Mk1 Twin Cam.

By the weekend however, there was wall to wall coronavirus on all channels, and it was even more remarkable that so many punters went to Royal Ascot, not for the races, but for a beautifully presented Historics auction, as it turned out the last traditional sale held for classics in the UK, indeed in the EU, until further notice.

After provisional bid conversions, 124 or 66% of the 188 cars displayed in the Grandstand atrium and on the forecourt outside sold for £4.09m. Among the headliners were a 1970 Aston Martin DB6 Mk2 auto with fabric sunroof sold for £304,480 and the £291,500 1969 Lamborghini Islero S which played a supporting role to Sir Roger Moore in ‘The Man Who Haunted Himself’ movie.

Only a few days later, H&H were able to offer Tuesday viewing both inside and outside the Duxford hangar until the Imperial War Museum were instructed to close their doors to visitors, which resulted in the sale itself taking place the next day behind closed doors, though on camera. Those who had not been e-alerted and had turned up to the Museum to bid in person were at least redirected to a local pub, where all-important documents could be examined, commission bids left or bidding by link to Duxford had been laid on.

After provisional bid conversions, the Warrington firm should be congratulated therefore for selling 63 cars, 55% of the 115 cars in their catalogue, for £1.85m. The once Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands owned 1938 Lagonda LG6 Drophead Coupe was bid to £182,000 under the gavel and sold for £204,750 with premium. Whilst the £65,250 auction performance of an only two owner 1974 Ford Escort RS2000 Mk1 fitted with Broadspeed steel arches from new was impressive.

By the time ‘socially-distanced’ viewing had opened for 91 cars in the Bicester Heritage Hangar 113 for the Bonhams MPH ‘Drive-Through’, national lock-down was imminent and the sale itself was pulled. Of the ‘Sealed Bids’ that were placed for cars however, 31 were accepted by vendors and at least 34% of cars entered did sell for £354,338. Prices were led by a £35,625 1988 Ferrari 412 for four with manual box, a £29,250 1976 Porsche 911 SC 2.7 Sportomatic, a £27,000 2014 restored 1957 Land Rover S1 and a £25,987 1948 Alvis TA14 Duncan Coupe project.

The following weekends’ Goodwood Members Meeting was cancelled and, even though the auction tent had been erected, Bonhams were unable to hold their sale, even behind closed-doors, on-line. Most of the 82 cars consigned were then offered on a ‘Private Sale’ basis to an absentee public, 18% of them subsequently selling for £2,120,440.

The 14 sales were led by the catalogue cover featured 1956 Lister-Maserati 2-Litre Sports, Brian Lister’s chassis BHL 1 built for Archie Scott Brown to race, sold for £575,000 and a 1937 Lagonda LG45 4½-Litre Fox & Nicholl Le Mans Team Car Rep for £170,200. A 1971 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spyder Conversion by Autokraft pre-sale estimated at £350,000+, a JDC rebuilt Goodwood winning c1958 Lister-Jaguar 3.8 ‘Knobbly’, for which £220,000-280,000 had been suggested, and a 1974 Ferrari Dino 246GTS guided at £215,000 or more were all sold, too, though the prices paid have not been published.

The Covid-19 pandemic prevented the Palm Beach Auction, RM Sotheby’s 18th annual South Florida sale originally scheduled for 20-21 March from going ahead at the International Raceway in physical format. Instead, this became their first catalogue sale to be staged via the auction house’s time-based On-Line Only digital platform, where 259 cars crossed the virtual block.

During the 20-28 March internet auction process, nearly 900 absentee viewers from 44 countries registered to bid, 36% of them bidding with RM Sotheby’s for the first time. With 615,000 page views over seven days and interested parties participating from around the world, bidding accelerated as each lot neared closing time, with numerous lots extended by up to 30 minutes due to competitive last-minute bids. By the time the sale i-book was closed, 173 or 67% of cars offered had sold for $13,62m (£10.49m).

Supercars proved to be the highest fliers on-line with a 1996 Porsche 911 GT2, one of 194 road-going GT2s built that had been added to the print catalogue following the transition of the sale to an on-line format, selling on a sight-unseen basis for $891,000 (£686,070) and an as-new 2019 McLaren Senna with a mere 200 miles under-wheel fetching $847,000 (£652,190).

Perhaps the most telling of all the reality during the month were the 25 out of 29 sales achieved by The Market, the on-line only platform, where 86% of cars continually being offered on a timed-out basis changed hands for a socially-distanced £752,045, a monthly house record, with an average of £31,335 spent per car.

For among higher value consigned and sold via this internet route this time were a Ferrari trio, a previously restored 1973 Ferrari Dino 246GT for £215,500, a 1976 308 GTB Vetroresina for £87,000 and a 1985 308GTS QV for £46,250. Whilst £91,000 was paid for a 1962 Jaguar E Type 3.8 S1 FHC in RHD and a high £27,695 for a 17,000 low mileage 1979 VW Golf GTI 1.6 Mk1.

The Market - charging their sellers 5% commission and, unusually, no fees to buyers, who pay what they bid - claim to have sold over 600 collector vehicles with a total value to date of in excess of £5m at prices and a sales rate of 80+%.

Even though this sector of the commodities market is not immune from the fall out of global ‘pandemonia’ without cure, and is on the cusp of becoming more influenced by on-line valuations rather than prices previously paid in physical auctions that have been rendered historic, 903 cars - that’s still a not unhealthy 66% of the 1371 total auctioned - sold for £81.64m at the traditional and virtual auctions reviewed on this website during March.