Market and auctions

Bonhams Monterey. Seeing is believing

Cliff Goodall’s view

Photo credit: Bonhams

The auctioneer visible online, four minutes per car, some pretty serious lots on offer and instant sales. Or not, given the results of this auction which had been organized with a spirit that could mildly be called “as if nothing had happened”. This must have been the orders from Bonhams headquarters when they decided to organise their alternative auction to the sale at The Quail (as part of the now-cancelled Monterey Car Week) because out of all the active auction houses, Bonhams was the one that changed its approach to sales the least.

The most obvious thing was, of course, how the enchantment unfolded. Exclusively by appointment, all the cars were viewable live in one place (holding it in the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles was a very nice idea). Then there was a real-life auctioneer who, in front of a camera, called in the offers. And finally the timing of a normal auction: not the usual 3-4 days but 4 minutes tops, and on to the next lot!

And if all this was clear from the start, what got me thinking was the kind of cars on offer. Top lot: an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Cabriolet, a triad of pre-war Mercedes-Benz valued at over $1 million each, a 1935 Aston Martin Ulster and finally an Aston Martin DB6 Shooting Brake. Let’s just say some very risky lots to take to an “online” auction. And indeed, unfortunately, they all went unsold.

1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Cabriolet Figoni went unsold at $4.6 million

Even the numbers did not reward Bonhams’ choice. With Gooding offering 19.7 million compared to the 123.9 of the previous year (about 16%) and RM offering 47.4 compared to 204 in 2019 (22.7%), Bonhams put 36.5 million on sale compared with 55 just 12 months ago, some 65% of the previous value and a sign of great optimism.

But the experiment failed. And despite selling 62 cars out of the 98 on offer (63.2%, which put it very close to the 66% recorded by Gooding), the big difference with this last auction was that at Bonhams, many top lots went unsold and sales totalled just $12,625,730, a disappointing 34.58% of the estimated value and less than half the result obtained by Gooding.

And yet all the ingredients appeared to be there and this experience will no doubt play an important role in the reflections on the future of techniques and sales choices: Let’s examine the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Cabriolet which went unsold. In 1934, it was delivered as a chassis to Figoni in Paris to be bodied as a Cabriolet (one of just five built). Despite the many adventures that cars of this type usually encounter throughout their lives, this car came with original bodywork (also recognized by the top expert Simon Moore), matching numbers, and a restoration (some twenty years ago) carried out by Patrick Ottis. But above all, the estimate was correct: in January in Arizona, another Figoni-bodied example went unsold at $8.7 million, this time the estimate was $6.5-7.5 million, which also left room for a mild refresh in case one were deemed necessary. And yet, as I said, the bids didn’t go beyond $4.6 million. I agree with the seller who decided to keep it.

1959 Porsche 718 RSK Spyder sold for $2.232,500

The most expensive car to change hands at auction was, therefore, a 1959 Porsche 718 RSK. Number 31 of the 35 produced, this model, nicknamed “The Giant Killer”, was purchased new by Bernie Vihl, who gave it to Bob Holbert (the first Porsche dealer in the USA). Holbert used it in numerous SCCA races in 1959 and 1960, winning on many circuits, as well as at the Bahamas Speed Week in 1959 from which he returned home with a cart full of trophies. Purchased by the current owner in 1974, it was mechanically restored in 1981 while the bodywork and interior were refreshed in 1985. The car hasn’t been enjoyed as much as it deserved in recent years, so the estimate of $2.8-3.2 million should definitely include an additional figure for some light intervention. In the end, however, luck smiled at the buyer who managed to take her home for just $2.232,500.

The deal of the day? There were several and also at very low prices: from the 1986 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet at $31,360 to the Dodge Viper RT/10 at $39,200, but also a rare Cord 810 at $34,720 (what a great dashboard!) or a common Jaguar E-Type (S3 V12 Roadster at $35,840) but this time, since the theme was Monterey, I will “I shoot high” and mention the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona.

1972 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Berlinetta sold for $434.000

Manufactured in 1972, this example was purchased through Chinetti in October 1973 by its first and only owner. Not the most stunning example on the market, with American specifications and those horrible side repeaters, painted in the typical Resale Red – even if it was its original colour – some twenty years ago and the absence of Ferrari Classiche certification. Among the positive points though were undoubtedly the immediate usability and it having factory-installed air conditioning and electric windows. But we’re talking about business so it was the price that mattered: very low estimate of $425-475,000, it was sold for $434.000. To put this into focus: this is the cheapest example sold since 2013.

2018 Bugatti Chiron went unsold at $2.1 million

The car I would have taken home? We’re in Monterey so I think you’ll allow me to break my own rule and choose a million-dollar car. I recently read a couple of articles about the Bugatti Chiron and I have been fixated with this model. Did you know it has real diamonds embedded in the speakers? Or that the logo on the steering wheel is made of sterling silver? Bonhams offered one that came with over $400,000 in options including the full green-painted carbon fibre body (the only one in the U.S.) and just 400 miles on the clock from new. Even at $2.1 million (unsold, against an estimate of 2.5-2.8 million) I could not have afforded it anyway and it wouldn’t have fitted in my garage. But I could fix that by leaving it in a parking lot and sleeping in “my” Chiron every night. Now that I think of it…