At the highest level of the U.S.-based catalog-sale collector car auctions, Gooding & Company and RM Auctions are the major players, with Bonhams now a hard-charging, fast-rising contender.

All three of these companies are now going toe-to-toe in Monterey, Scottsdale and Amelia Island. There will be no shortage of high-dollar fireworks as billionaires compete for delectable multi-million dollar collectibles.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other important, high-end players including Barrett-Jackson, Auctions America, Mecum, Russo and Steele, and Worldwide — and the first-time-effort of Rick Cole in Monterey deserves a nod.

But during Monterey Classic Car Week, all eyes were on the three major players, the cars they offered and the results they achieved. In the world of European exotics, they are the market makers.

I have long maintained that the collector car market is undergoing an overdue correction. Prices last peaked in 1989, and it wasn’t until two years ago that benchmark cars, such as Ferrari Daytona coupes, exceeded their former high levels.

If you bought a Daytona for $500,000 in 1989, you’ve had to hold it for 25 years to make a profit, not allowing for interest, maintenance and lost investment opportunities. I wouldn’t call that a stellar long-term return.

However, if you jumped in two years ago and bought a Daytona for $300,000, and were able to sell it today for $750,000, that’s a pretty good deal. But timing the market is everything, isn’t it?

The Insider’s Seminar at Gooding

The panelists at the 2014 Gooding/SCM Insider’s Seminar in Monterey were both sanguine and slightly bemused by the numbers coming in. The seminar took place on Saturday, so they had the results from Thursday and Friday to parse.

At one point, I asked the panel whether $1.5m would buy a first-rate steel-bodied Gullwing. Simon Kidston replied, “That’s yesterday’s price. One made $2.5m last night.” In this fast-moving market, we are considering changing the value estimates of top-tier models to “priced fresh daily.”

David Gooding had his first auction at Pebble Beach 11 years ago. SCM held an Insider’s Seminar there that year — and has every year since. In a landscape now crowded with collector-car panels and discussions, the Gooding/SCM Seminar continues to stand out.

David Gooding has always encouraged our experts’ independent and thoughtful analyses of his lots. This year’s seminar featured Miles Collier as the keynote speaker, and he addressed three of the tipping points to consider when deciding between restoring or preserving a car. Kidston, Carl Bomstead, Donald Osborne and Steve Serio joined Collier on the panel to discuss the current market and trends.

Following the panel discussion, each expert led groups of collectors in evaluations of cars being offered for sale.

The seminar was completely sold out, with standing-room only, and an enormous amount of information was shared in two hours.

Our next seminar will be at the Gooding auction in Scottsdale, AZ, on Thursday, January 15, 2015. More information can be found on p. 148.

Tales of the GTO

Bonhams’ sale of the Ferrari 250 GTO, s/n 3851 GT, was the most closely watched moment of the weekend. While some pundits had predicted a sale of $50m or more, the hammer fell at $34.65m, with a total price paid with commission of $38.1m.

This was exactly in line with what Bonhams expected. In a conversation with Bonhams’ principals the night the car was revealed at their New Bond Street headquarters on June 30, I was told that they pegged the car at $35m.

When Bonhams placed the GTO alongside the other 38 made and compared its history and provenance to theirs, it was neither the best nor the worst. They decided on their internal estimate accordingly, and they were on the button. I am told that there were over a dozen bidders preregistered who had the financial qualifications to bid on the car.

Thirty-eight million dollars is a lot of money for a car, and it is a new world record for a motorcar sold at auction. This sale proved that there is real money for real cars — and that this money is going to be thoughtfully spent. Bidders at this level are rarely swayed with market hype. They didn’t amass their wealth by making imprudent decisions.

Up and up and up

When looking at the overall Monterey results from a Google-Earth perspective, there is no question the high-end market is buoyant and full of confidence. The overall totals from Monterey this year, of $464m, are up $150m, or nearly 50%, from last year.

All of the parties involved in Monterey this year should go home satisfied. RM had the highest total at $143m, and they got $26.4m for their 275 GTB/C special. Bonhams claimed second place, with a total of $108m (with 35% of that represented by the GTO). And Gooding came in at $106m.

Mecum sold $34m, Rick Cole $24m during the weekend (with another $34m announced in the three weeks following, for a total of $60m) and Russo and Steele $12.1m, all up from last year. Our comprehensive report on the week begins on p. 94.

It’s a party

Gooding’s Sunday night sale certainly won the award for the most social event of the weekend.

The auction tent was absolutely packed, and the atmosphere festive.

Rupert Banner, Vice President of Business Development of Bonhams, commented to me that night, “Collector car auctions continue to be a celebration of the enthusiast community. Art sales are completely different, and you won’t see a parade of Impressionist owners carrying their paintings through downtown Carmel.”

Not only are the sales and market values strong, but the underlying enthusiasm of collectors and the rewards they find in owning and using their cars continues to grow. It doesn’t seem like a bubble to me. ♦


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