Market and auctions

RM – The old-school approach

Cliff Goodall’s view

Photo credit: RM Sotheby’s

If we were to try and define the RM auction at Auburn (3-5 September) it could easily be compared to an American V8 engine. That’s right, because the power output of those thundering V8s isn’t down to the use of special materials or technical innovations but simply due to their enormous displacement; just as in the case of RM, where the considerable turnover was purely the result of the large number of cars on offer.

With 524 cars on sale, of which 445 were successfully sold (a very satisfactory 84.92%) – without considering the 9 sold after the auction for an undeclared figure, the total income from the sale was $16,762,475. With an average selling price of $37,668 it was about one eighty-third of the value reached at the Gooding auction in London which was held on the same days.

But the key element of this auction was not the cars or the results but the atmosphere. Finally, after a forced six-month stoppage, RM held its first non-virtual auction from Amelia Island. Since each auction house takes a different approach I think it is only fair to add RM’s: obviously in full respect for social distancing norms but also subject to registration; it was not possible to participate in the auction (even as a spectator) without registering at least 24 hours earlier on the official website and this, of course, left the merely curious at home.

But did this novelty stop the offers? I propose four examples to illustrate how it went.

The most expensive car of the auction was a 1935 Auburn 851SC Speedster. The seller clearly waited for this auction to get a better price for this car, a pre-war car that falls within the Full Classic category according to the CCCA with estimates that put it out of reach for most people. The sale price of $770,000 is slightly lower than the prices this model fetched towards the end of last year, but it was restored twenty years ago and we would need to study the history and conditions to make a fair judgement. Naturally, the choice to sell this to Auburn was a wise one: at an online auction it would have been hard pushed to reach the same result.

1935 Auburn Eight Supercharged Speedster Sold For $770,000

We could say the same for the 1936 Duesenberg Model J Tourster (with a Derham-style rebuilt body) sold for $632,500 and probably also for the three ex-Indianapolis cars from Bill Akin’s collection. The 1953 Kurtis 500B changed hands for $550,000, a 1961 Epperly sold for $407,000, while another model, this time a 1960 version was sold for $385,000.

Also worthy of note was the “performance” of the 1991 GMC Syclone. It’s the second time in a row I have talked about a “truck” (as the Americans call it) after the Mercedes-Benz Unimog from Bonhams. But whereas the choice of the Unimog was based on pure fun, the Syclone is the most interesting from a market standpoint. Pick-ups are becoming very fashionable in the United States, mostly because of their emotional value, and prices are starting to take off. In its day, this model was the fastest of its class with its V6 4.3 turbo pumping out 280hp which allowed it to cover the 0-60mph (0-100 km/h) dash in just 4.3 seconds. This model, from Dave Leimbach’s collection, had covered just 2,228 miles from new and was sold for $57,200, easily setting a new world record for the model (and doubling the previous one). From today, the Syclone has a new indicated list price.

1991 GMC Syclone sold for $57,200

From a sales success, we now pass over to the buyers to see some of the best deals of the event. The Porsche 914 has always been considered neither fish nor fowl by enthusiasts, partly because of the ambiguity of the name (in the USA it was Porsche, in Europe Volkswagen-Porsche). Obviously this uncertainty has kept the prices of all 914s very low indeed – excluding the very rare 914/6 GT that now fetches north of a million – but for some time the trend seems to have reversed, with the very best models now gravitating towards the higher part of $50,000. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the one sold at Auburn (in Signal Orange, a colour that increases its value) for $13,750 might seem like the deal of a lifetime, however there’s a catch. The car required a little more than a polish and, if things were to go south during the restoration, the future owner could find himself sinking under the sheer cost. Because whereas it’s true that the quotations have gone up, the restorers have noticed and magically their fees have risen accordingly.

1970 Porsche 914 sold for $13,750

The fourth entry for this “trip to Auburn” came from Duane Sell’s collection. If the Porsche 914 required effort to get it up to scratch, the 1957 Imperial Convertible was without a shadow of a doubt in dire need of a good (and therefore expensive) restorer. Created to compete against Cadillac, the Imperial Convertible had a Virgil Exner design complete with fins and chrome and a 6.4-litre 325hp engine. The car on offer, one of 1,167 built during the first year of production, also had servo brake, power steering and electric windows, none of which worked of course. Even if good examples fetch well into six figures, this one sold for $5,225 but might very well lose the new owner money at the end of the restoration. The trick here, is very simple: just have fun restoring it and have fun driving it. Your financial adviser might well start swearing but you can just switch your phone off. After all, they didn’t exist in 1957.

1957 Imperial Convertible Project sold for $5,225