Market and auctions

Bonhams online: when marketing works

Cliff Goodall’s view

Photo credit: Bonhams

The season of online auctions for the larger auction houses seemed to have passed. Gooding abandoned this method in June, now using it only for automobilia. RM not only decided to make these sales increasingly rare (in the first half of the year it had 6, in the second just 3), but it’s also placing fewer and fewer important cars there – at their last sale they took home less than $1.4 million in total sales, the equivalent of a single lot in Monterey.

It seemed almost obvious that Bonhams had also decided to invest fewer resources in this sector, especially in light of the recent purchase of The Market and its interest in expanding it in the USA. And instead, the recent online auction that took place “in conjunction” with the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance was more than a success.

Just like being behind the wheel: everything you need to know to fully understand the situation

Some numbers to put this into perspective: 95.35% of the lots were sold (just 2 out of 43 didn’t change hands), 144% of takings compared with the estimates ($4,327,400 or €3,731,320 against $3,003,000 or €2,596,498) and some 19 lots – over 40% – that exceeded their maximum estimate.

So let’s try to unravel the secrets of this unexpected spectacle.

The first thing to note is undoubtedly the high number of cars entered without reserve: as many as 35 were destined to be sold to the highest bidder “whatever it cost”, in other words, 81.39% of all the cars on offer.

We could also point to the conservative estimates as another plus. It’s clear that a low estimate attracts offers but from the other standpoint no seller would accept ridiculous estimates for the car he wants to offer at auction. So if the estimates were low, it’s because the cars were destined to exceed them. A well-calculated risk. 

Just like being behind the wheel: everything you need to know to fully understand the situation

All this with the additional acquisition of “The Market”, with a welcome mix of skills between experts from the “real” world to the expert magic of nerds.

Finally, another decisive factor in the success of the sale; the type of cars proposed: there were 15 Rolls Royces from the 30s and 50s (the period that is stagnating), slightly less sought-after Aston Martins as well as a mix of particular cars, all accessible with a fairly limited budget. And I think this was the key to them hitting the mark: all the cars were too expensive for normal online auctions but too cheap for face-to-face auctions. A world waiting for the perfect showcase, in other words. And they found it.

1966 Aston Martin DB6 Vantage sold for $500,000 (€431,425)

Top lot of the auction was a 1966 Aston Martin DB6 Vantage. This model was definitely desirable: left-hand drive, manual transmission, factory-fitted air conditioning and a restoration carried out by KKR. The estimate of $240,000-$300,000 might have seemed “tactically” low but I haven’t mentioned yet that the colour was not the original one and it had been stationary for at least 11 years, which meant it was in need of some love and affection. The sale price was almost double: $500,000 (€431,425). In August, a competition spec example of a DB6 Vantage changed hands for $808,000 (€698,625), so there is plenty of room for a thorough restoration.

2008 Porsche 911 GT3 RS sold for $313,000 (€270,075)

The second most expensive lot of the sale was also the only car I would have expected to see at a regular online auction: a 2008 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, 997 series. This was not the very rare 4.0 but the more common (if you can define it as such) 3.6 version. A quick analysis on the price of the model: this year they have sold three at auction, all with somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 miles on the clock and sale prices between $206,000 and $215,000. So does this example with 6,000 miles on the clock at an estimated $180,000-$220,000 seem correct to you? To me, yes, but the market disagreed because it changed hands for $313,000 (€270,075), a new world record for the model.

1989 Aston Martin Lagonda S4 sold for $145,600 (€125,630)

Another car that we thought had been put in the drawer of memories came close to setting a new world record. In addition to being one of 72 left-hand drive models, the 1989 Aston Martin Lagonda S4 had just 2,027 miles on the clock and changed hands for $145,600 (€125,630) against an estimate of $60,000-$90,000. We haven’t seen these figures since 2015.

1947 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Touring Limousine sold for $47,040 (€40,588)

In a sale where a third of the lots were Rolls-Royces or Bentleys, my choice was a car with the nicest story, and I would have paid very little for it. In 1947, Rolls Royce organized a tour of the largest American cities to show off the latest versions of their cars and collect orders. The “flagship of the fleet” was the Silver Wraith Touring Limousine with coachwork by Hooper that in 1951 became part of the collection of Cameron Peck, after passing through the collection of Sam Scher. We are talking about the pioneers of collecting, and this alone was worth more than the estimate of $40,000-$50,000. In this case, they hit the bullseye: sold for $47,040 (€40,588).

1972 De Tomaso Pantera sold for $67,200 (€57,983)
1966 Sunbeam Tiger sold for $42,560 (€36,722)
1972 Volvo 1800E sold for $12,320 (€10,630)