Market and auctions

Clouds over the online?

Cliff Goodall’s view

Photo credit. RM Sotheby’s

The recent successes of RM’s online auctions have galvanized the Canadian auction house and this has led to the addition of two new virtual appointments to its summer calendar.

The first of these two events was reserved for the European market with 107 cars (two of which were pre-war models with the rest evenly distributed across the following decades), with a very good mix from every point of view, from the brands – Ferrari, the most common, making up just one-sixth of the total offer – to the price ranges which went from €10,000 to €2,000,000.

In reality, despite the excellent premises, this sale disappointed expectations somewhat because with just 60 cars sold (out of 107) it claimed a sales rate of 56.63% while in terms of value it sold just €7,774,375 out of the €18,183,000 on offer – plus an additional €610,000 of automobilia, boats, tractors, etc., failing to go beyond a “poor” (by the high standards to which RM has accustomed us) 42.75%.

Looking for an explanation of this result, I think we can understand something significant: I could exclude the choice of cars on offer as well as the somewhat high prices (ok, some of them did not reflect the expectations of the current market but they were limited in numbers) so I think we can find an answer in two factors that in many ways are complementary: the first one is the oversupply of offers that have exploited the simplicity of organizing online auctions. The continuous opportunity to purchase ends up delaying, waiting for better occasions, or easing the tension by presenting alternatives that could turn up as early as tomorrow. If this is too frequent the tension subsides somewhat fatally. The second point, no less significant, is that the novelty effect of the method, with its unexpected success, is diminishing and the lack of any real socialization is beginning to emerge.

It is no coincidence that RM has announced that as early as September it will return to the real auctions,  those with a physical auctioneer and a real public, but it has not clarified whether this method will also accompany the virtual editions or whether the online sales season is now over. In a certain sense we could say that they can live together but in a complementary way with different offers aimed at the chosen technique. We will see.

And now let’s move on to the cars.

1966 Ferrari 275 GTB Alloy by Scaglietti sold for €1,430,000

The top lot of the sale was a Ferrari 275 GTB Longnose Alloy. Although this model is a typical design masterpiece, it had pretty much everything wrong with it. Originally Rosso Rubino, during the late 80s it was repainted in the predictable Ferrari red. At the time this colour might have been welcome, but times have changed and nowadays collectors look for originality. Then the engine, which at the beginning of the 1980s was replaced with one of the same type but, at that point, the numbers no longer matched. In this regard, however, RM had done an excellent job tracking down the original engine and being willing to share its findings with the buyer. Finally, the restoration performed in the early 1990s and in need of a number of light interventions. That said it was, however, a Longnose aluminium version so a very desirable model and the estimate of €1.7-1.9 million seemed to me to be more than correct. And yet the market made its decision, stopping bids at €1,430,000. In my opinion, this is definitely a bargain.

1989 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante ‘X-Pack’ sold for €230,000

Another car that was interesting, but for different reasons was the 1989 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante X-Pack. I won’t deny that I’d like to have one in the garage myself, but I wasn’t interested in it either for the hammer price, but as a comparison with another one recently seen at the Historics auction in Brooklands. The English one was blue, this one dark red, the other one had 40,000 miles on the clock while this one just 27,000km, the one in England was right hand drive while this one left. In the eyes of the market, the one sold by Historics was less interesting than this one by RM, but the first one was sold for £280,500 (roughly €309,000) while this latter exchanged hands for €230,000. It may well have been that being a Dubai(UAE) registered model lowered the price but even considering 20% customs duty, there is still a considerable amount missing to balance the books. This was a shock even for me and just goes to show that an important auction house name is no guarantee of high sales prices.

2004 Maybach 57 sold for €52,800

Not all cars sold by RM, however, were good deals for the buyer. This was the case with the 2004 Maybach 57. This model is a truly legendary creature: as long as an oil tanker, as wide as an oil tanker and as heavy as an oil tanker, it was originally designed for… oil dealers! Designed by Mercedes-Benz, it was expected to rival Rolls Royce (BMW Group) and Bentley (Volkswagen Group). 5.7 metres in length (1 metre longer than a Hummer H1) it had an interior of a sheikh and as a result the price was very high: in 2003, when it was presented, it cost almost €380,000, twice as much as a Bentley Continental GT. This 2004 model was delivered new in France where it travelled just 30,500km. The estimate price of €20-25,000 without reserve showed perhaps some pessimism about it, but I seriously doubt the experts expected to sell it for €52,800 or 164% above the minimum estimate. A breath of fresh air for a brand that never managed to resurface.

Of the (many) cars sold under their estimates which one would I take home? The choice is a tough one but in the end I chose my winner.

I discarded the 1985 Ferrari 308 GTB QV for €47,300. I weighed up the pros and cons and it turned out that while the QV (or Quattrovalvole) model is the most desirable injection version and the coupe version has always had a certain charm over the GTS, certain details (such as the painted indicator bumpers which should have been black) and the total absence of any certified history in the early years lowered its desirability. And then, it was in the run-of-the-mill Ferrari red!

1985 Ferrari 308 GTB Quattrovalvole sold for €47,300

And the winner is… an open top model, red (with black interior) and Italian but it was neither a Ferrari nor an Alfa Romeo. In this summer of 2020 that made us rediscover the value of freedom, with just €10,175 a wise buyer took home a Fiat Barchetta with 1,110 km on the clock from new! Needless to say, with this mileage the car was perfect (and original) in every respect. Then let’s face it: the 1.8-litre, 130-horsepower engine is more than enough to enjoy a lovely sunny day with the roof down. As if it were necessary, this is proof that you don’t need immense assets to have fun with classic cars, just the ability to look in the right places and have a bit of luck. Bravo to the new owner, I envy him a little.

2000 Fiat Barchetta sold for €10,175