Perhaps we should call them “the ghosts of Goodwood”. Let’s not exaggerate, it’s better to be a little cautious. Ever since 1994, Bonhams (known then as Brooks) has organized an auction on the charming estate of Lord March, now Duke of Richmond, in the south of England.
This auction has been the jewel in the crown for Bonhams in the United Kingdom: for decades this place has seen cars of the likes of the Mercedes-Benz W196 (which at the time set the world record for any car), the Ferrari 375 Plus, the first Aston Martin DB4 Zagato, all cars of over £10,000,000 in value. In this hallowed place records have been set that still stand to this day: I am reminded at this point of the ex-Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin’s 1929 4 ½-litre supercharged ‘Blower’ Bentley.
Even if 2021 opened under the best auspices – the desire to get together and take advantage of this rediscovered freedom pushed the market upwards – both on Amelia Island in America where waves were made, and in Europe (see RM) – why didn’t the numbers respect this trend at the Bonhams auction held on 9th July?
The two top lots went unsold while the other blue-chip investments went for just above their minimum estimates (including commissions, and if we exclude these none of them reached their estimates) which translates to 58.06% of total sales – equal to 36 cars out of 62 on offer – and sales that only just exceeded half of the total estimate: £7,552,140 (€8,826,950) out of £14,041,000 (€16,419,615).
Let’s take a moment to try to understand what determined this year’s result: there are numerous factors at play here and one in particular was unquestionably the excessive optimism of the estimates. The other, the anticipation of what’s in store for the week of Monterey. After so much fasting, the great auctions have returned and the choice of where and how to invest one’s money has pushed many collectors to reflect a little more than they would have normally. The third factor, looking at past editions, can also be found in the level of cars on offer at the enchanting location of the Festival. Not a spectacular record-breaking car in sight.
We’ll start our analysis by taking a look at the top lots that went unsold. The first was a 1972 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 TT3 3-Litre Racing Sports Prototype. An ex-official car used by the De Adamich/Vaccarella duo in numerous competitions, including Le Mans in 1972 where it finished fourth overall. The estimate was £1.8-£2,200,000 (€2.1-€2.8m) but bids stopped at £1,300,000 (€1,520,200). It’s hard to make comparisons because it’s been decades since a TT3 appeared on the market. In 2017, a TT12 with a very important history (ex-Merzario, ex-Pescarolo, winner of the 1975 World Championship) went unsold with an estimate of $1,800,000 (€1.5m or £1.3m), a much lower figure if we convert dollars to pounds. So I think the estimate for this car was too high.
A similar fate awaited the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible. Despite receiving an offer of £920,000 (€1,075,000) it remained unsold even though a comparable model changed hands at Gooding in February for £836,000 (about €970,000). Why then? The example offered by Bonhams once belonged to the famous actor Peter Sellers and also to Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth. For the auction house, this “lineage” was estimated at around £500,000 (€585,000) (bringing the price to £1.3-£1,700,000 or €1.5-€2,000,000) but the market thought differently.
What about the top lots? A 1928 Maserati 26B GP and a Formula 1 Ferrari Dino 246/60 stored for many years and estimated at £900,000-£1,300,000 (€1-1.5m). Both were sold for £967,000 (€1,130,800).
A very lively market also for the Ferrari F40. A 1990 model gave the two racing cars a serious run for their money. After prices fell between 2015 and 2017 to around £700,000 (€820,000), with sales now back in presence they have started to rise again. The one offered by Bonhams was a perfect “average example”, with 17,800 km on the clock (which isn’t low for this model). It lacked Ferrari Classiche certification and so the estimate of £800,000-£1,200,000 (€925,000-€1,400,000) seemed decidedly optimistic to me. I was mistaken. It changed hands for £883,000 (€1,032,500).
A 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLR 722 Edition Coupe also fared very well. A limited series of the supercar developed with McLaren that had travelled just 8,000 km from new. At the end of the description there were some warning signs: it had not been used for some time and the engine required attention, and if it had remained in the UK, it would be subject to 20% customs duties. Despite this and other grey marks, the estimated £180,000-£240,000 (€210,000-€280,000) was quickly exceeded and the car was sold for £287,500 (€336,200), I assume by a European buyer who avoided the infelicitous 20% additional charge.
And the deal of the day? We will mention three but each came with their own defects, Bonhams did not report them but I will.
The 1938 BMW 327 Roadster was a great deal at £57,500 (€67,240) (against an estimate of £85,000-£100,000 or €100,000-€115,000). Obviously, there was a “but”, or rather two. The first was that it had been converted from left-hand drive to right-hand drive, which for a car is always a bad sign. The second detail is that it belonged to the same owner for almost 50 years with reasonable doubts about its maintenance history. In addition, we should point out that the engine was not the original one and that this particular model is not very competitive in historic races because it runs in the same class as the more powerful 328. This should answer many of the questions behind the price paid.
The second deal of the sale was the 1963 Lagonda Rapide Saloon. We saw one a couple of months ago at ACA,when one was sold for £167,400 (€194,365), more than double the £78,200 (€91,450) paid at the Goodwood auction (against an estimate of £70,000-£100,000 or €80,000-€115,000). The difference? It came from the United States and had to be imported and re-registered (5% of the sale price), it had been in storage for several years and the license plate was not in the Hire Purchase Investigation database, making it a headache to buy. Nothing that can’t be solved with a little patience, however, and at that price a little patience transforms it into a very good purchase.
But perhaps the best deal of the sale was one of the 50 examples of a Ferrari 250 GT with coachwork by Carrozzeria Ellena. Here, either there were no defects or they were very well hidden: restored between 2005 and 2008 by DK Engineering (magicians of this craft) and Ferrari Classiche certified. The only fly in the ointment was the year of production: built in 1958, it is not eligible to participate in the famous Mille Miglia and that vastly reduces the opportunities to enjoy it. Estimated at £700,000-£900,000 (€800,000-€1,000,000) was sold after the event for £514,166 (€601,270).