Bonhams’ auction in Monte Carlo got off on entirely the wrong foot. Firstly, France’s slow vaccine roll out meant that Monte Carlo is still under curfew at 8 p.m. As a result, all attendants had to be back in their hotels in time for dinner, which left the organisers little choice but to start the event at the decidedly abnormal time of 2pm, reducing the participation of many American collectors for the time zone difference. In addition to this, the Grand Prix Historique had many other limitations, which also limited the presence of collectors. It is no coincidence that Historics has shifted its focus to Ascot while RM has abandoned its plans for this year.
It is therefore in this context that the results of the auction on 23rd April must be read. Indeed, whereas a quick glance at the results might show this auction in a poor light, Bonhams’ courage was indeed rewarded: in the end, with 68% of sales (17 out of 25), not that much lower than the 77% they took home in 2018 and an average price of lots which passed from €350,000 ($423,314) in 2018 to €312,000 ($377,355) this year, the drop, under the circumstances, was very well contained.
The only truly sore point is when comparing total turnover: from €14.4m (roughly $17.5m) in 2018, it dropped to €5,300,000 ($6,410,191). This number includes the €3,646,650 awarded in the hall, plus the best estimate of three additional sales made immediately after closing, including the top lot, a 1936 Delahaye 135S Competition Court estimated at €800,000 – €1,000,000 which changed hands after the excitement fell, for what was officially described as “within the estimation values” and which we valued at €850,000 ($1,028,049), as well as two Ferraris, a Dino 246GTS and a 550GT LM which together we estimate were sold for €800,000 ($967,576). It’s too early to guage the overall sentiment in Europe after the US and England performed so well, but the indications are, however, that the buyers are beginning coming out in force.
Let’s look at some of the cars that were sold.
Do you know how many Isderas have come up for auction over the last 15 years? Two. We first talked about it a few months ago when one rocked Paris at RM. This made collectors of this semi-unknown brand see numbers before their eyes and one of them made the most of it by putting another one on the market. At Bonhams there was one of the 30 Imperator 108i from 1991, a Mercedes 5-litre V8 engine producing 296 bhp (the same as the Mercedes 500E) and the inevitable gullwing doors. Originally purchased by a Japanese collector, the car was imported back to Europe in 2016, fresh from a restoration costing over €130,000, the car was presented in silver with a black interior. The estimate also reflected the renewed interest in Isderas: €500,000-€700,000 was in fact an unthinkable figure until last year, and yet the final price of €690,000 ($834,534) touched the upper limit of that range. A truly remarkable achievement.
Among the many cars up for auction, the Cisitalia D46 Monoposto was one of the more interesting ones. Because while it’s true there were far more expensive cars (in the end it was estimated at just €150,000-€200,000) on offer, as well as some that were more beautiful or fun to drive, the Cisitalia was the one with all the right credentials to participate in the next Grand Prix Historique in Monaco. As a rule, racing cars like these have dark and dubious histories, while in this case its pedigree was clear and linear. Totally restored (but with the bodywork preserved) it features the engine from a Fiat 1100B – incorrect – but it also came with the original powerplant. The final selling price of €158,125 ($191,247) was only just within the estimate range but if it were possible to prove that this was the actual car used in the 1947 Swiss Grand Prix (as suspected by more than one brand expert) that number would inevitably rise considerably.
The most curious car of the sale was undoubtedly the 1949 Georges Irat Sports 2-Seater. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, don’t be discouraged because it was a minor brand that had a discrete run towards the late 1920s and then almost went bankrupt with the onset of the Great Depression. After the war, however, there was a desire to start again and this unknown brand launched no fewer than three prototypes at the Paris Motor Show between 1946 and 1949, the last of which was the example offered in Monaco. With both chassis and 1100cc engine from Simca but with coachwork by master craftsman Labourdette, it is not really at home on the track but will certainly hold its own at any Concours d’Elegance event, snubbing other more prestigious models with several more zeros on their price tags. The €71,300 ($86,235) sale was perfectly within the €70,000-€100,000 estimate and I consider it rather little given the potential it clearly has. Extraordinary.
At an auction with these numbers, it’s easy to think that no cars broke through their estimate ceiling, but you would be mistaken and the 1958 Aston Martin DB Mk III DHC proved it. This was one of 85 examples built and was originally sold in California (so was a very rare left-hand drive model). With only two owners until 1989, it then became queen of the competitions by winning its class at the Monterey Festival Concours that sam e year and participating at Pebble Beach in 1998. An expert restoration was completed just a few days ago (read also: expensive) at Aston Martin Works, during which the car changed colour to its current light blue – unfathomable seeing as the car was originally green and now the market takes these things very much into account – and received an engine upgrade. Maybe the good weather played a significant role or perhaps it was just the quality of the restoration, but the initial estimate of € 250,000-€300,000 was quickly surpassed and the car was sold for €368,000 ($445,085). And that’s without considering any duties if the car remains in Europe.
If we also add the 1936 Delahaye 135S Competition, the top lot, a dream to drive in the most classically romantic way, sold for over eight hundred thousand Euros, we can conclude that the market is alive and eager for cars to have fun with, whether it’s on the track, at competitions or, simply, for a pleasant drive. We await confirmation.