It could easily be argued that one of the prettiest swept-back designs of the 1930s was on the very few Airline Coupes that graced MG chassis.

The design was created by H.W. Allingham, and the cathedral-style lighting panels on the sliding sunroof, the spare tire neatly blended into the swept-back tail underneath a metal cover, and the effect of the tail that tapers inward at its base are of particular note.

Then there is separation molding down the sides of the car — which allowed for two tones — and the full flowing fenders with the rears flicking up at their ends. The low profile is achieved by dropping the body over the outside of the chassis.

Despite all of the detail and thought that went into the styling, there is actually still an accommodating cabin and relatively large doors to enable easy access for taller adults. In total, it is thought that a mere 51 were ever constructed, and it is worth noting that the majority of those cars were built on the 4-cylinder MG PA and PB series. Only seven were fitted to the more-potent NA/NB 6-cylinder cars, and of those, three retain original Airline bodies.

Noted collector Gene Ponder was a huge fan of the MG brand and particularly of these aerodynamic coupes. It must have been incredibly rewarding for him to have achieved ownership of such a rare car when he acquired this example in 2000. It is understood that the car was perfect for the exacting restoration that ensued. In doing so, Ponder had the car’s color changed from two tones of green to his preferred red, accented by black side panels.

One of the more troublesome details to get correct was to track down the right Borrani wheels, which were sourced at the considerable cost of $9,000. As is evident to this day, the restoration was a thorough and high-quality job, befitting the importance of the car. These cars have a jewel-like quality and remain among the most collectible of all MG cars. Even among those, this ultra-rare, 6-cylinder, NB-powered coupe stands out as being a very special Airline.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1936 MG NB Magnette Airline Coupe
Number Produced:Seven (N-type Airline coupes)
Tune Up Cost:$600
Chassis Number Location:Brass tag on left firewall
Engine Number Location:Brass tag on left side of valve cover
Club Info:The North American MMM Register
Alternatives:1935 Fiat 508 CS MM, 1935 Riley Imp, 1936 Jaguar SS 100 2.5 liter

This car, Lot 358, sold for $186,500, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams Scottsdale, AZ, sale on January 17, 2013.

One of the most interesting facets of my work for SCM is seeing old friends cross the block. The SCM Platinum Auction Database allows the user to search by chassis number — and see each listing made of the car when it has been sold. Comparing each sale of a car tells a story, but as in every case of analyzing statistics, the numbers alone aren’t enough. It’s important to look behind them to figure out what they might actually mean.

I wrote a profile of this very MG ND Airline coupe, which appeared in the August 2007 issue (p. 46). This Airline had recently been sold, in April of that year at RM Auctions’ Ponder Collection Sale for an immense $398,750 — an amount I called extravagant.

For this sale of the car, Bonhams passed it along from a selection from the Oldenburg Collection to a new owner for just under half the 2007 sale amount. This sharp drop in the price of such a wonderful car makes one want to understand why this happened.

So, what happened?

A possibility is that the car deteriorated sharply in the intervening 56 months. I didn’t see the car in 2007, but I did see it in Scottsdale, and I can say it was still quite sharp indeed.

Another explanation could be that there was a collapse in interest in pre-war MGs, with a glut on the market seeking a shrinking pool of buyers. I can’t give the numbers on the global market for pre-war 6-cylinder MGs, but I can say that I’ve not seen advertisements or auction listings for a plethora of NA/NB cars, so that’s unlikely.

The last major aspect in comparing the two sales of this car has to be the time, venue and circumstances of the most recent auction — and it is here that I believe we’ll find our explanation.

A major collection’s sale

Bonhams did a superb job of presenting the Oldenburg cars, as they did the rest of their lots in Scottsdale. While the late addition of the 20 cars from the collection did have an impact on the already-planned display layout, the cars were nevertheless well shown among the other excellent lots Bonhams gathered for what would be a very successful sale.

Esteemed collector Miles Collier has written in the pages of this magazine about the impact that a major collection’s provenance can have on a car’s value. He laid out a persuasive — and correct — argument that a vehicle that has been a part of a known, established — and most importantly — curatorially respected collection could see its value enhanced, sometimes significantly, for decades after it had left the group. Perhaps one of the best examples cited are cars from the former Harrah Collection. Despite the decades that have passed since it was broken up at auction, the imprimatur with which the Harrah Collection stamped the cars still carries weight with a large portion of the collector market.

The Ponder Collection was not quite Harrah’s, but Gene Ponder was a perfectionist who lived and loved MGs, and he spent what it took to find and restore the best examples. Where none existed, he created the most authentic replicas. This MG was by all accounts and agreement the real thing — and a truly special piece of MG history.

So we have a known and respected collection provenance, to which we add the multiplier — the single-collection sale. It has been seen repeatedly that the concept of putting bidders in a room, preferably ‘dans son jus’ on-site where the collection has lived, produces a feeding frenzy to delight the most jaded of auctioneers.

It was perhaps a bit of this irrational exuberance that yielded the 2007 result, which, as an aside, was achieved on a pre-sale estimate of $200,000 to $250,000.

Today’s MG market

In the current market, an MG ND 6-cylinder alloy-bodied roadster, one of 24 built and with very good period and vintage race history, has been for sale for a while at a major dealer in the Northeast with an asking price of $125,000. Another roadster recently sold in the U.K. with an asking price of $94,355 (£59,995). The Airline’s special body and greater rarity would certainly put it on a higher value plane than the roadster, so a price approaching $200k would not be unreasonable.

An unknown in this equation is what Mr. Oldenburg paid for the car, which he purchased from the Ponder sale buyer. Someone took a haircut, but we don’t know how evenly divided it may have been.

Mr. Oldenburg particularly appreciated Ponder’s upgrade to hydraulic brakes on this Airline, which indicates that driving was an important part of his purchase decision. If he indeed did enjoy this fabulous car on the road, then he received his money’s worth for the buy. I would have to rate this sale a good deal for the buyer and perhaps for Mr. Oldenburg as well, who we hope took his discount when he bought it. ?

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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