We were waiting for this “Old Continent” auction to see if the European market shows obvious signs of recovery like we’ve seen in the USA. The answer is “yes”, but it’s a cautious one for several reasons: 73% of the cars on offer were British (19 in total) and of these, 11 were Aston Martins (42%). Not a representative sample, therefore – if there had been one or two more red Italians or silver Germans, we could have drawn more precise conclusions. Secondly, we must bear in mind that the number of important buyers in America is much higher than in Europe, as illustrated in the annual ranking of our Yearbook, The Key and this, fatally, animates exotic sales events like these.
One very positive fact remains: after the February sell-out (ok, it was just 5 lots…) Bonhams’ latest auction on 19th May in their New Bond Street headquarters in London, sold 21 cars out of the 26 on offer and an additional two changed hands after the event, raising the sales percentage from 80.76% to 88.46%.
As for turnover, there’s very little to complain about: even without considering the two lots whose prices were not published (they were estimated at £280-360,000 overall) they managed to take home £4,081,925 (€4,722,665) almost 100% (99.68%) of the pre-auction estimate of £4,095,000.
In short: even if we’re still awaiting confirmation, the “Old Continent” is back. But we need to keep it under observation. We will do just that.
In this particular case, it’s no wonder that the top lot was an Aston Martin DB6 Volante from 1968. One of the 140 examples of the first series built, this example was in “triple black” (exterior paint, interior and hood) from new but the car had been updated to Vantage specifications. While the change improves its performance, it undermines its originality. Sold for £425,500 (€491,492) (estimated at £400-500,000), but if the new owner can document when and by whom it was changed, that value could increase. Good luck.
Just one year younger than Aston, therefore built in 1969, was the De Tomaso Mangusta. The Mangusta has always been an underrated model: mid-engine just like the Miura, 401 produced (half as many as the Miura and one third of the number of Daytona’s that left Maranello), a 4.7 or 5.0 engine with plenty of “oomph”. And yet, perhaps due to its American engine or the absence of pizzazz, the Mongoose costs a fraction of its rivals. This example, one of 50 with single headlights, black with a red interior, restored to concours standards between 2008 and 2015, changed hands for £201,250 (€232,840), in line with the estimate of £200-250,000. How much would the alternatives have cost?
One car that has benefited from considerable appreciation is the BMW Z8. Until a few years ago, you could buy beautiful, low mileage examples for around €110-130,000 (and I remember when they dropped below €100,000) – and I will admit that if I could, I would have bought one – but it would appear that those times have passed. Even the lot offered by Bonhams from 2000, in silver with red interior (the most common combination) and 47,300 miles – about 75,500 km – on the clock, was estimated at £150-180,000 and sold for £155,250 (€179,620).
Let’s move on to a different type of car. It hasn’t been subject to a strong revaluation, but it’s precisely for this reason that the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost 40/50hp Tourer from 1920 is a bargain. Here, however, the detail that stands out is the coachbuilder: Bithal & Nago, an obscure coachbuilder from Hazaribagh, India. Although this particular example was made for the local Imam, it reminded me how many Maharajas, during the period of English rule, bought Rolls Royce’s and Bentleys and had them coached by local artisans, a fascinating and broad topic that deserves further attention. Brought back to its homeland in the early 1980s, this example was purchased by the seller in 1988 and by that time had travelled just 2,500 miles. The engine was also refurbished last year as the last complete restoration was carried out by the previous owner and therefore it was in need of a refresher. Estimated at £100-130,000, it sold for £89,700 (€103,611).
Choosing a favourite from the sale was quite difficult, and right until the end I had two options.
The first: the 1962 Lancia Flaminia 2.5 3C Sport Zagato in grey with red leather interior, that had remained in a barn from 1979 to 2015 when it was discovered by Thornley Kelham, Lancia’s legendary restorer. Sold to its current owner, who commissioned an excellent restoration that lasted 4 years with a £322,000 bill to prove it. Since then, the car has become a queen of many concours d’elegance competitions where she has won numerous awards but has only travelled 4,000 km on the road. Her elegant and sporty lines left me utterly spellbound and the £280-340,000 estimate fell into second place. Sold for £281,750 (€325,447), the buyer essentially paid for the restoration, and got the car for free!
But in this “duel” for the Best of Auction, at least for me, the winner was… drum roll please… a replica! Not just any replica but a Superformance GT40 Coupé. Not only the sensational lines of the first Ford GT40 combined with the iconic Gulf livery, but under the hood a 550 bhp Roush 7-litre engine, a roll cage and a modern air conditioner. Completed in 2012, it has had just two owners; the first kept it for 5 years and drove it just 598 miles, while for the past 4 years the seller has practically kept it in his garage and added just 255 miles to the tally. With less than 1,000 miles on the clock, and all these features, the £100-120,000 estimate was a bargain. But it doesn’t end there: they sold it for £97,750 (€112,910)!