A double bet for RM in its first auction in presence in Europe since February last year.
The first bet was made with a sale held on the Italian market, renowned for not being particularly auction-friendly. The idea was to organize a sale in the magnificent Palazzo Serbelloni in Milan the day before the departure of the Mille Miglia. In truth I will admit that I had more than a few doubts about the potential success because Brescia is not very close to Milan. But boy I was wrong.
The other bet came just four days later in Lichtenstein with the sale of Norbert Seeger’s collection consisting exclusively of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. Here too, the location was quite risky as it was the first auction ever held in the small Principality, but above all for the type of car: the large English sedans, especially the pre-war ones (there were 8 out of 25), have lost some of their appeal compared to a few years ago.
Yet the RM machine worked, and it worked very well indeed. Of the 19 cars offered in the Italian city, 14 changed hands, with an estimated €11,635,000 ($13,825,300) turnover compared with the €12,600,000 ($14,971,950) estimate, which translates to 73.68% of lots sold and 92.34% in value. And with average sales prices of €831,071 ($988,243) per car, we’re talking about Pebble Beach levels! It should be stated that RM’s reputation led to many of the cars being sold to bidders calling in by phone or online, and so very few bidders in the room managed to take something home.
At Eschen, in Liechtenstein, any doubts about the success of the sale were quickly dispelled: all 25 cars on offer were sold, many above their estimates. Against an initial estimate of CHF 6,085,000 (Swiss francs) (just over €5.5 million or $6.5 million), the sale closed with total sales of CHF 10,160,125 (€10,117,077, $12,042,488). And if the average price of CHF 442,965 (€404,683 or $481,699) isn’t comparable to the sale in Milan, the 181.99% result in terms of value (100% of the lots) is probably the best result ever for an auction. Some might say it’s easy to sell all of the cars when 19 out of 25 were without reserve. But if prices jump to these levels, then any comments are superfluous.
And now let’s enjoy the cars:
In Milan, the top lot was a Ferrari 275 GTB that once belonged to Roger Vadim (and his wife Jane Fonda), who purchased it new in 1966 before selling it in 1968. But this was an “old friend” because it had previously been seen during Retromobile in February 2015 with an estimate of €2.75-3,250,000. At the time, it went unsold. After a complete restoration during which the car was taken back to its original metallic blue colour and now Ferrari Classiche certified, it was sold for €2,255,000 ($2,684,216), right in the middle of its current estimate of €2-2.5 million.
Herr Seeger’s top lot from his collection was also an old acquaintance. One look at the 1933 Rolls Royce Phantom II Brougham by Brewster and you’ll never forget it. Its “aerodynamic” line (at least by 1930’s Rolls Royce standards…) with that super-inclined windshield impressed me when I first saw it in Munich in 2010. But after more than a decade, memory can betray you so I did some checks and found that it had already come up for auction in 2008, and at the time it was sold for $2,310,000 (approximately €1,567,000). Then it appeared in Monaco, where it was sold for €1,456,000 ($1,730,092). And now, after 10 years of what has been a rollercoaster market? Well, with pre-war Rolls Royces, prices are written in stone because it changed hands for CHF 1,580,000, practically €1,442,078 ($1,716,563), a difference of just 1% from 11 years ago.
After the explosion in group B prices in recent years (if you want to know more about this market you might find this interesting), it seems that this type of car has stopped for a moment to catch its breath. RM brought the prototype of the Lancia 037 Rallye, the famous (and hyper-documented) SE037-001, perfectly restored and offered by one of the world’s most famous Lancia collectors. The estimate was undoubtedly “high” at €700-900,000, far more than the current €451,000 world record for a road-going version of the same car, and the bidders agreed with me: at €630,000 ($749,914) the offers stopped. High or low? Maybe high right now but if prices start rising again…
If Group B cars have been charging ahead, the Milan auction highlighted an interest in cars from the Tourism categories, from DTM to the English ETCC, and other national championships. The 1996 Alfa Romeo 155 V6 TI that participated in the ITC (Italian Touring Championship) with its minimum estimate of €700-800,000 very nearly went higher, selling for €792,000 ($942,749). A new world record for the model after the TZ2.
It was not the only record set at the Milan auction: the Lamborghini LM002, also known as the “Rambo Lambo”, with prices rising as if they were powered by its Countach V12. Estimated at €225-275,000, the model at auction, despite not being in its original colour, set a new record when it sold for €393,125 ($467,952).
The car that got the hall excited in these two RM auctions was sold from the Liechtenstein collection. Only 18 Rolls Royce Phantom IVs were made, and the 1954 model on offer had been customized for Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth’s sister). It should be said that estimating this car was not at all easy, and not only because of its unique history, but also because it had not been sold for at least 20 years. The estimate of CHF 400-600,000 reflected a lot of common sentiment – and I think the price was correct too – but it only takes two collectors to send prices flying and that’s exactly what happened: +464% above the minimum estimate and sold for CHF 2,255,000 (€2,060,772 or $2,456,192).
Could it be that after all these youngtimers with their plastic interiors at and crazy prices, buyers are rediscovering the value (and restoration costs) of old aristocratic ladies?