Market and auctions

2020 Auctions. A year that teaches. A lot.

Cliff Goodall’s view

Photo credit: RM Sotheby’s, Bring a Trailer, Gooding

2020 was not just a pandemic: it was 12 months, 366 days, 8,784 hours or 527,040 minutes, of events, people and great achievements such as the 40 potential vaccines developed: never seen before! 2020 was also the year of over 10,000 cars offered for sale at one hundred important auctions that gave us many things to think about: what, I hear you ask? Here is our ABC…

A as in… Alfa Romeo BAT. Let’s recap: the three BAT (5, 7, and 9D) cars were sold for $14.84 million at the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York in late October. Why it is important: with this sale, cars finally and completely entered the art world. Perhaps not yet on par with painting and sculptures (the Giacometti that sold for $25 million made that quite clear), but certainly appreciated and very well received in such exclusive and timeless company. It won’t be the last time…

The Alfa Romeo BATs: sold as art by Sotheby’s. Not surprising considering their magnificence

B as in… Bugatti.. The five cars that commanded the highest best prices of 2020 were all Bugatti (more precisely: two Type 55s, one Type 59, one Type 57 and one Type 35) and all pre-war. Why it is important: those who had already written of the pre-war period were disappointed. In truth, the pre-war market is splitting in two: on the one hand, there are those precious examples with significant histories that continue to rise. On the other hand, normal sedans that struggle to find a role. But there’s still work to be done here.

£9,535,000 which today means €10,548,093 or $12,877,971 is the price at which this perfectly original Bugatti Type 59 Sports was sold by Gooding & Co. The record price for 2020

But also B as in… Bring a Trailer: The well-known online auction site specialising in historic cars was sold in June to the Automobile division of the media giant Hearst for an undeclared sum. Rumours have it that earlier this year, the founders of BaT had turned down an offer of $40 million from one of the major auction houses so the figure is likely to be slightly higher than that. Why it is important: because on the one hand it showed that the giants are interested in online auctions of historic cars and understand the value of the community that Bring a Trailer, with passion and professionalism has managed to create and cultivate. Conclusion: value is determined by much more than just the car.

The Bring a Trailer site, bought by media giant, Hearst, offers all kinds of models. An example is this 1988 BMW M3 E30, which sold for $250,000. In this case the deal was made by the person selling!

C as in… Concealed Collections: the large private collections have remained very much the preserve of physical sales. The reason is fairly obvious: as they are all located in the same place, logistics are simplified, and not having 10 days to think about it but only a few minutes pushes some collectors towards impulse buying, in many cases spending far more than the market value. Why it is important: from the point of view of collectors, the philosopher’s stone is this, selling entire collections without reserve is a guarantee of success. For auction houses, on the other hand, it is proof that physical presences at auctions will always be fundamental.

2020 confirmed the great attractiveness of auctions dedicated to single collections. In this image, some cars from the Elkhart Collection sold by RM Sotheby’s with notable success

D as in… Digitization: The world of classic cars, in the face of the events this year, has been revolutionised and today it’s quite normal to talk about online auctions. Why it is important: for some time now, auction houses had been taking baby steps in this direction, but now they’ve sold a Ferrari 250 GT Coupé by Ellena – by no means a Youngtimer – for a higher figure than it had reached a few months earlier at Pebble Beach, the game has changed completely.

This Ferrari 250 GT Coupé built by Ellena set a significant first this year: sold at one of RM Sotheby’s online auctions for $671,000, it exceeded the price reached by the same model at Pebble Beach

Finally, F as in… flop: yes, just like every year 2020 had its own particular flops. Bonhams in Goodwood and RM in London were two of them. In both cases the main culprit was the difficulty to raise bids (physical distances and various other complications) that did not help potential buyers. Because we should never forget that ours is a passion: if we are asked to fill out dozens of forms before shelling out millions, where is the fun? Why it is important: learning from your mistakes is fundamental. With patience and level-headedness, even this “dark night” will pass and the sun will rise once more. In the meantime, don’t force bidders to deprive themselves of their dreams.

What is the overall assessment of online auctions at the end of 2020? By all accounts a positive one as those that didn’t work were victims of over-complex rules that ended up discouraging potential buyers: nothing is more exciting than raising a bid in the hall. But even buying online must be an easy and spontaneous activity, which was not always the case