Market and auctions

The suit doesn’t make the man

Cliff Goodall’s view

Photo credit: RM Sotheby’s

RM’s auction on 6th November in London felt like it was held… in 1981! The first feeling I got when I saw the location and the setting was akin to rewinding the tape 40 years or so.

There are several reasons for this: first, as RM was the sponsor of the London-Brighton rally (which was held the following day), they had organized the sale in the main hall of the Royal Automobile Club, an environment whose décor and style dates back to the Belle Epoque, unlike the typical and ultra-modern locations of the Canadian auction house. The only thing that clashed in all this classicism was the logo, albeit minimal, of RM Sotheby’s. English auctioneers, which seemed right in this context, even if RM is not, but they weren’t superstars (yes, there are superstar auctioneers).

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

40 lots in total, decidedly few due to the limits of the location and less than half of those offered in 2019, the last edition held with a physical audience. On the other hand, the cars were of very high quality with an average estimate that was double compared to two years ago.

This brought back to mind the feeling I used to get when participating in an auction was like going to the gala dinner of your charity club: a group of friends who meet every year and by pure chance take home that pre-war Bentley or the historic Bugatti.

The result? Far from satisfactory. Just 60% of the cars offered changed hands (24 out of 40) and in terms of value, this meant a very poor result of 41.49% of the estimated takings, equal to £7,474,025 (€8,714,450) against the £18,015,000 (€21,004,848) on offer. The average price per car was £311,418 (€363,102) though, very high but in line with other vintages.

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

The “blame” for the missing income can be laid on the shoulders of the two top lots: the 1952 Jaguar C-Type and the 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre “Blower”. The first was an old acquaintance of ours: we had already seen it on Amelia Island in 2020 (pre-Covid) when, against an estimate of $6.5-$7.5 million (£4.8-£5.5 million) it went unsold at $5.4 million (about £4 million). This time, with expectations lowered to £4-£4.5 million, it failed once again at £3.7 million (€4.3 million). Considering that it had already gone unsold once and that buyers of this model do many checks before committing, a second stain on its resume is a condemnation. I would have sold it.

1952 Jaguar C-Type went unsold at £3,700,000 (€4,325,000)

The Bentley “Blower” felt like it was in the perfect location to set a record. The first example of the 50 units produced of this legendary model and the only one produced in 1929. Shown at Olympia, it was used for demonstration purposes, as shown by the period test published in The Motor magazine using this very car. The estimate was decidedly ambitious at £3.8-£4.2 million, especially considering it had been re-bodied and there were some doubts over the engine. Here, too, the offer of £3,200,000 (€3,729,920), although lower than expected, should have been accepted.

1929 Bentley 4½-Litre Supercharged Tourer went unsold at £3,200,000 (€3,729,920)

These two failures favoured a very modern Ferrari LaFerrari from 2016, which ended up taking the title of queen of the sale. One of 499 examples, and the only one produced in the special-order livery of Vinaccia paint, it came to the auction with just 918 miles from new. The latest sales of this model date back to Pebble Beach, where two examples changed hands for between $3.25 and $3.41 million (£2.4-£2.52 million). The experts at RM were more cautious this time and it came with an estimate of £2.2-£2.5 million, selling for slightly less at £2,142,500 (€2,497,298). I would not call it a bargain for the buyer because the colour here mattered a lot: on this model, red is definitely more appreciated by the market. However, perhaps in the future, this uniqueness could turn the tide in its favour.

2016 Ferrari LaFerrari sold for £2,142,500 (€2,497,298)

That the second most expensive lot of the sale went beyond its estimates was no surprise, because the Porsche 959 is attracting a lot of interest right now. No more than a few years ago, you could buy one with 5,800 miles on the clock (and the famous Canepa upgrades) for less than a million dollars, while at RM, the example on offer with 16,700 miles on the clock changed hands for more than a million pounds, or more precisely £1,158,125 or €1,349,910 (compared to an estimate of £800,000-£1,000,000). The reason for this 40% increase? Obviously, that it is a decidedly cool model, which a couple of months ago helped RM set a new record in St. Moritz RM after selling one with 983 km on the clock for over €1.8 million, not to mention the marketing behind the sale of the London specimen. The video of the white 959 with 80s music is hypnotic…

1987 Porsche 959 Komfort sold for £1,158,125 (€1,349,910)

The car that most interested me from this sale, however, was a blue Jaguar XJ220 from 1993. Just one registered keeper from new, right-hand drive and £89,000 of recommissioning work carried out by Don Law Racing (a top expert on the model) roughly 4 years ago. But most importantly it had just 295 miles on the clock. In September, Bonhams set the world record for this model at £460,000 (€536,176) with another 380-mile example which, at the time, had been called “the lowest mileage model on the market”. Then this one appeared. RM swelled its chest and said, “THIS is the lowest mileage XJ220 recently offered for public sale”, never mentioning its rival, but turning it into a duel between two auction houses. Then it took advantage of this strategy and estimated it at £375,000-£425,000 which I thought they would have pulverized, instead it struggled and, in the end, including commissions, it changed hands for £432,500 (€504,122). This country is apparently too small for two XJ220s with very low mileage…

1993 Jaguar XJ220 sold for £432,500 (€504,122)
1993 Ascari FGT ‘Prototype’ sold for £19,550 (€22,850)
2003 Ferrari F2003-GA Show Car sold for £252,000 (€294,565)