Let me start by saying that I have never actually been to Essen. Despite this, it is all too easy to form a preconceived idea of it. Since it is home to a huge steelworks and to two of Germany’s most important electricity companies, and, according to Wikipedia, counts a coal mine among its few visitor attractions (!?!), I, for one, find myself picturing it as a large industrial city with a constantly gray sky, even in summer, and cold and unfriendly people. Obviously, this isn’t a true picture at all, quite the opposite! But whatever the place is like, there is no doubt that, for one week every year, Essen is heaven on earth for motorheads. This is because it is the city that hosts Europe’s largest classic car show (surely reason enough for the sun to peep out from behind the clouds!). Like all major events in recent months, the RM Sotheby’s sale that had been scheduled to take place at the end of March, during the Essen Car Show, underwent a change of plan. When the pandemic exploded in Europe, the catalog was already complete, and many of the lots were already on their way to Germany. What was to be done? Initially there was talk of postponing the sale, and the show itself, to the end of June, but as soon as it became clear that the health emergency was far bigger than anyone had imagined, it was decided to move the whole thing online.
Now, following several weeks of online auctions, we know that this format has nothing to fear from comparisons with traditional sales, and therefore I don’t expect to surprise anyone by saying that the Essen auction proved to be an excellent sale (to put it mildly). Nevertheless, to underline my point, here are two “cold” data that illustrate the event far better than lots of words can: first, 91% of the lots were sold (making this one of RM Sotheby’s best sales in Europe in a decade), and second, the event generated a total of EUR 19,246,540 — the highest amount ever recorded by an online classic car auction.
The sale was divided into two parts: the first day was given over to the 94 cars belonging to the Petitjean collection, all offered without a reserve price, while day two saw 90 cars from different collections crossing the virtual block.
Most of the cars in the Petitjean collection were built between the second half of the 1950s and the end of the 1980s. All have been unused for a number of years and will therefore need extensive checks before they can take to the roads once more. On the other hand, they were very attractive lots, both for collectors and for dealers, since most of them are highly marketable models.
The highest price fetched by these Petitjean cars was EUR 759K, paid for a 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster. This specimen is one of the 30 originally manufactured with Rudge wheels, which are far more common on the Gullwing, and it featured the typical combination of silver over black interiors. Even though it just failed to reach its pre-sale estimate of EUR 800K – 1.1 million, I consider its final hammer price more correct, particularly in view of the amounts fetched by similar specimens at Amelia Island.
The same could be said for the 1966 Maserati Mistral 3.7, which sold for EUR 102,300. We recently came across another example of this model, mentioned in my piece on RM Sotheby’s recent “Driving into the Summer” auction: an aluminum-bodied specimen in need of restoration, which sold for USD 62K. Admittedly, the Mistral 3.7 in the Essen online sale was in better condition than the one sold in the USA, but it is worth remembering that years of inactivity can sometimes put potential buyers off a car. For this reason, I regarded this car’s pre-sale estimate of EUR 120 –150K as pretty optimistic. The auction house proposed a price, but, in the end, it was the market that decided.
Another car that cannot be overlooked is the 1968 Lamborghini Miura, perhaps the sexiest car of all time. It’s about a year since we last saw, at auction, a Miura in the original P400 configuration, the one with “long lashes” so to speak, and so I was curious to see how much it would fetch. Considering that this car, too, will need to undergo some checks before it is once again ready to roar, the estimate of EUR 700 – 800K seemed perfectly reasonable, and in fact the final hammer price was EUR 715,000. Fans of the model (like fans of any model) tend to overestimate the value of their favorite car, and since I am a true Miura lover, I am tempted to say that the buyer got a bargain, however I will refrain from doing so in order to preserve my impartiality!
The star of the second day was a 2020 Porsche 935 “Martini” (a special series built by the company on a Porsche 991base with a 700 HP engine), which sold for EUR 1,320,000. However, since this was essentially a “factory ready” car, there is little to add.
The 1939 Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet dressed by Gangloff was a more interesting lot. After being exhibited at the 1939 Geneva Car Show, it was used as a demonstration car by Bugatti team driver Jean-Pierre Wimille. In 1964 it was purchased by Gianni Mazzocchi, the founder of Italy’s leading automotive magazine, who kept it in his museum until 2016. This is where the story starts to get really interesting: in May 2016 it was offered at an RM Sotheby’s sale in Monaco, where it fetched EUR 660,800 (after an estimate of EUR 500 – 600K). I have studied the catalog of that sale repeatedly and, other than an overhaul of the carburetors, fuel pump and exhaust system, no major work is mentioned. Now, four years on, its owner managed to make over EUR 100 K on it, selling it for EUR 770,000.
Trend considerations apart, the other important point to make in relation to this particular transaction is that this Bugatti is a pre-war car for connoisseurs’ market, not really a “piece” for an online auction.
My advice? Keep an eye on the model, as it might well surprise us. After all, it already has!