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The latest from Gstaad and end-of-year Market Round-up

And what a year it's been. We've seen new benchmarks for just about everything during 2008 up to the Ferrari 250GTO, ranging from the fashionable 250GT California Spyder and 250GT SWB berlinetta to all-time greats like the Bugatti 57S and Rolls-Royce Phantom II, modern classics like the McLaren F1 and, its paint barely dry, even the new Bugatti Veyron Roadster. Considering that the year began with the world economy looking slightly unwell and ended with it in intensive care, the resilience of the classic car market is little short of miraculous.

McLaren F1 at RM  Porsche 904 at Bonhams
Left: Low mileage McLaren F1 bucked supercar, super depreciation trend
Right: Porsche 904 with 911 engine and replacement chassis: €621,000 at Goodwood

Our last full newsletter followed the Pebble Beach auctions in August (watch our new video to witness the action first hand), and of course much has changed since then. September saw financial markets tumble, yet Bonhams Goodwood Revival sale achieved strong results for its headline Porsche 904 despite a checkered past which includes two chassis sharing the same number and its four-cam engine long since missing in action. Late October saw RM's London extravaganza which was covered in our last news flash to subscribers, and since then we've crunched the numbers to produce the graphs below which illustrate how many cars were sold within, beneath and above estimate compared to previous auctions such as Monterey, Maranello and last year's inaugural Automobiles of London sale. It makes for interesting reading.




NB: Cars without published estimates were treated as sold within estimate

London was also the platform for the launch of the new Hagerty Classic Car Auction Yearbook published by Adolfo Orsi and Raffaele Gazzi's Historica Selecta consultancy. This is a really useful reference tool if you're trying to chart trends in the classic car market over a longer period of time. Below I've chosen three of their graphs which highlight how the percentage of cars sold (compared to those offered) at the leading international auctions has varied over the past 15 years, how Ferraris in particular have fared at those same auctions (compared to their owners expectations) and how three typical collectors cars- the Gullwing, Daytona and E-Type- have appreciated in comparison. It probably goes to prove the old adage that it pays to buy the best.

A valuable reference tool for anyone who collects motor cars


Average auction prices for M-B 300SL Gullwing (silver), Ferrari Daytona (red) and Jaguar E-Type OTS (green)
(Source: Historica Selecta)


Average percentage of cars sold (vs those offered) at international auctions, 1994-2008
(Source: Historica Selecta)

Average percentage of Ferraris sold (vs those offered) at international auctions, 1994-2008

(Source: Historica Selecta)

We covered RM's London results immediately after the sale, but in case you missed them, here's a link to the feature. Everyone's been talking about the $4m achieved by the low mileage McLaren F1 and this has tempted a couple more out of the woodwork, including a 2,400 mile car we've secured. At the time of writing the open headlight Ferrari 250GT SWB California Spyder that RM offered is still unsold, and I suspect that serious buyers are waiting for the covered headlight example which Gooding will be offering on 17th January from the mysterious Van Kregten estate.  Given that the family is letting everything go without reserve, this should finally put to rest the question of what a 'no questions' SWB California Spyder with covered headlights is really worth (those flimsy Plexiglas covers, to the amazement of anyone outside the classic car world, can add almost $1 million to the value...).

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Left: Gstaad Palace: "A hotel for people who think Credit Crunch is a new breakfast cereal"
Right: Ferraris await new partners in the ballroom

Back to 2008, though, and rounding off the season this weekend was Bonhams' now traditional sale in the Alps at Gstaad's famous Palace Hotel, a favourite retreat for those who think Credit Crunch is a new kind of breakfast cereal. Exactly ten years ago my team and I first laid out thirty classic Ferraris in the basement of this fairytale venue, decked out like Santa's grotto for the occasion, and hoped that buyers would brave the snow to come and bid for them. Luckily for us they did, and since then this auction has grown to become one of the most exclusive fixtures in the European classic motoring calendar; a place to meet, to be seen and perhaps even to be tempted by something for the garage, despite increased competition in recent years from Maranello and beyond prompting Bonhams to broaden the entry criteria to all Italian marques.

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Left: Brutal 121LM dogged by questions about engine originality
Right: UK entered 275GTB/4 fresh from major expenditure: sold for CHF.1,078,000 post-auction

Headlining this year's auction were two Ferrari sports racing cars from the estate of the late French collector, Antoine Midy. The first, a rare 121LM sports-racer, led much of the legendary 1955 Mille Miglia in the hands of debonair Eugenio Castellotti before retirement: this six-cylinder model was once described as "a disastrous experiment" by Ferrari historian Antoine Prunet, and there was much pre-auction debate as to the originality of this example's engine (the car raced at Le Mans but the engine bears no scrutineers stamps, for example), but it's still a formidable looking machine which opens the door to all manner of exclusive events. Several serious collectors were seen carefully poring over it during the viewing period, but all seem to think they can crack a better deal after the auction so for now it's unsold.

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Left: Ferrari 212- big on history, small on sex appeal
Right: Ferrari Tour de France didn't impress bidders

From the same stable, although perhaps more reminiscent of Noddy than Castellotti, the diminutive Ferrari 212 barchetta bodied by Motto did actually finish the original Mille Miglia (in 3rd place, no less) but Motto isn't Touring and nor did this car ooze the drama of the 121LM. It didn't sell either.

The third 'big ticket' item was a 1958 Ferrari 250GT Tour de France berlinetta which had spent much of the past 30 years lying in bits in Sweden before being "rebuilt and reassembled" for a French dealer. It carried a bullish estimate considering that post-1957 cars like this can no longer take part in the historic Mille Miglia and "reassembly" by persons unknown (whoever they are, they have a large stock of black spray paint) doesn't bode well for Pebble Beach. Potential buyers weren't impressed and sat on their hands.

The owner of the black, 10,000km Enzo bullishly declined a bid of CHF.1,070,000 (just over Eu.700,000), whilst the owner of the black 275GTS was more pragmatic and let it go for less than he had paid here just twelve months earlier. The numbers achieved in Gstaad may not be as representative these days as the much larger US auctions, and with a success rate of 44.5% the results are open to the half full or half empty interpretation: you can either point to last year's 74% sold or take cheer that even in turbulent times, not everyone is sitting on the fence.

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Left: Ferrari 212 raced by Phil Hill changes hands privately after 50 years
Right: Heavenly Ferrari: one-off 250LM road car reaches new heights

'Big ticket' items have always changed hands away from the auction spotlight, and the last quarter of 2008 has seen the bulk of activity conducted privately. Despite the current financial turmoil (some would say 'because of', but I'm not one of them) deals continue to be struck which would raise eyebrows even in good times. Remaining with Italian cars, those which we can report without betraying confidences include a Ferrari 375MM Pinin Farina Spider purchased in 1994 for $900,000 and recently sold for tenfold that amount; the first Ferrari 250GT SWB California Spyder built (thankfully not red) which has been purchased by a well-known German soccer star; a lovely Ferrari 212 Vignale Berlinetta raced by Phil Hill which last week entered new ownership for the first time in 50 years (a new price record for the model) and one of my all-time favourites, the one-off Ferrari 250LM road car built by Pininfarina (one word since 1958) for the '65 Geneva show, another record breaker approaching double the figure achieved by RM in October for a race car. But as they say, try to find another...

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Left: Plastic and fantastic? Corvette Grand Sport expected to top $5m...
Right: Flamboyant Talbot Lago teardrop, a highlight at Gooding next month

Looking forward to 2009, we won't have long to wait before taking the temperature of the market. January's Scottsdale auctions will see some great cars "crossing the block" as they say Stateside, with RM offering the most valuable Corvette of them all, a genuine Grand Sport and - doubtlessly lured out by the $8 million Gooding achieved for one in Monterey - a Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante. Gooding is responding with not just the aforementioned Van Kregten collection, but also a Talbot Lago T150SS Goute d'Eau, the Pebble Beach winning Daimler Double Six and a Le Mans finishing Ferrari 250GT SWB berlinetta- the first good 'comp' version we've seen at auction in some time, so one to watch.

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Left: First owner Earl Howe with Bugatti 57S
Right: Same car after 50 year hibernation: expect fireworks at its sale

But by far the most eagerly anticipated car of all, and probably the most exciting 'find' to come to auction since the Mercedes-Benz SSK auctioned at Goodwood for £4.2 million back in 2004, is yet another Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante. Considering that only 17 were built, and that until last summer one hadn't appeared at auction worldwide for 7 years, it's extraordinary that three should come up in a six month period. But the car which Bonhams will be offering at Retromobile is arguably the best of the bunch, having been kept fanatically hidden by its reclusive late owner of 50 years. It was built for the Patron of the British Racing Drivers Club, the dapper motoring aristocrat Earl Howe, and hasn't been touched for decades. As auctioneer's dream scenarios go, it's about as good as it gets. Let's see if bidders agree...

What the others say:

David Gooding, US auctioneer: "There is no doubt that the slowdown in the world economy has pushed forward some amazing opportunities for buyers. At Gooding & Company we are finding more and more that there is a flight towards quality, in every price category. Whether it is $50,000, $100,000, $1 million and above, buyers want the finest, and sellers have to be realistic. There are quite a few buyers but they do not want compromise on what they are buying. Many of us believe that great cars have held up in value quite a bit better than other assets over the last few years."

Mike Sheehan, US Ferrari broker: "Taking emotion out of the equation, Ferraris are not cars, but commodities, and their value is a reflection of the ever-changing economic world in which they change hands. As with all markets, it's a case of supply versus demand. Right now, the supply is ramping up and the demand is winding down."

Adrian Hamilton, British dealer: "The market at the higher level is still alive and well - the most important criteria is that any Motor Car being offered has to have superb and provable period history and is sensibly priced. If the these two qualities are adhered too buyers will be found - with interest rates being so low and the return on deposits the same, now is the time to invest ones money in tangible and enjoyable assets rather than placing funds with Icelandic Banks for safe keeping....!!"

Marcel Massini, Swiss Ferrari historian/ broker: "Main problem today is to find really good cars that have not been on the market for a long time, fresh cars not seen in many years. But values should not be the only factor, after all, Ferraris are meant to be driven! Buy what you like and enjoy and forget values. You only live once."

Gregor Fisken, British dealer: "I can only speak of our own recent experience, such that have put together over five million pounds worth of deals in the last few weeks, much helped by remarkable buying power  from buyers taking advantage of the weak pound.  All that on the back of a very very good year. However we are going into turbulent times and from past experience though a little more stock may come to the market less of the great cars owners will risk trying to sell at auction but the pattern of trade will revert more to specialist dealers who can negotiate discreet transactions."

For a non-car perspective...

Aurel Bacs, Head of Watches, Christie's: "The international auction market for vintage collector's wristwatches has proven to be rather resilient to the current crisis producing solid and often strong results. We believe this is mainly due to the truly international audience coming from 5 continents, regardless of age, cultural or religious background. At Christie's, we have witnessed sold rates between 74% and 95% at all auctions this fall (Dubai, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York) and saw even an increasing number of bidders. We can clearly see that quality watches perform better than the commercial pieces - quality defined by makers name, rarity, condition and provenance but not by the absolute value."

And finally, our take:

We've noticed that most collectors seem happy to maintain their current level of investment in cars- they might trade up if the right opportunity comes along, but they'd often prefer to part exchange something they already own. Equally, nobody seems in a hurry to sell anything, although I expect next year will bring more cars out of the woodwork. It's a great time for the cash buyer.

Last but not least, we wish you all a very Happy Christmas and 2009.

Simon Kidston

Photographs courtesy: www.ultimatecarpage and Marcel Massini