What does the sale of the Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut coupé for 135 million euros, conducted by the Mercedes-Benz Museum at the beginning of May, just before the two Monaco auctions of RM and Bonhams, mean for the collector’s market as a whole?
To use an automotive comparison, it’s comparable to attaching a turbocharger to an already positive and lively market. Let us be clear however: that astronomical figure is by no means a multiplier index of market prices. However, it is a reassuring symbol of what the value of an object truly means. This particular car has four wheels, a steering wheel and an engine like all the others. But it brings together uniqueness, the certification of the manufacturer itself through its museum, the return in the 50s of Germany wounded by defeat in war to the very highest levels of technology, and the subsequent stream of successes by Mercedes-Benz in the world sports car and Formula 1 championships of those years, a milestone in a sporting history that stretches from the beginning of the last century to the present day. Finally, and of extreme importance at this moment in time, it illustrates how the car as we know it, with its complex and sonorous engine, will forever be an irreplaceable reality.
135 million Euros, twice as much as the already astronomical estimates of legendary models such as the Ferrari 250 GTO, also means something else: investing in collector’s cars, original and carefully selected ones, is not a bad decision, even if their price is a fraction of this astounding figure.
To try to understand what happened, I can say that why is true that it’s the market that determines the prices, there are times when “the kick-in of a turbocharger” shoots the values skywards. I recall at the beginning of the 2000s how RM, already operating under that name, during the auction organized at Ferrari in Maranello – and this too is important – sold a 250 California for twice its estimate: over eight million euros compared to the four it had been valued at before the event. From that day on, this new price became a reference and the entire market found itself coming to terms with the fact that certain objects can be worth much more than normal trends indicate. I will stop here and return to the auctions in Monaco, to take a look at the road cars they sold, after examining the racing cars last week.
The car I followed the most during the RM auction had a “twin” at Bonhams: there was an Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante X-Pack for sale at both events. At Bonhams, a 1989 example, black with tobacco soft top and matching interior, 9,000 km on the clock, estimated for €150,000-€200,000. At RM, a 1988 model with just 1,772 km to its credit, red with cream interior, but estimated at €600,000-€800,000.
The difference in mileage did not justify the price difference and while Bonhams seemed to have played it safe, RM aimed very high indeed. The result confirmed both hypotheses: the one from Bonhams went for more than twice its minimum estimate (€310,500 or $331,455), while the one at RM, sold for €680,000 ($725,895), still managed to exceed the threshold of its estimate, which was a not inconsiderable €600,000.
Another distance duel took place between two Ferraris. Bonhams put on sale Gerhard Berger’s personal 1988 Testarossa. Estimated at €140,000-€150,000, which changed hands for €143,750 ($153,450). Great value for the model.
RM offered one of the most beautiful examples of a 512 TR I have ever seen. A 1992 model, Ferrari Classiche certification and estimated €125,000-€175,000, it went for €230,000 ($245,520). A very healthy market!
Another model that could not go unnoticed, the 1973 Dino 246 GTS “chairs and flares”. One of the 50 Rosso Cordoba examples that was once owned by the French actress and model, Laetitia Casta. The estimate of €350,000-€400,000 seemed rather high to me. And instead there was a veritable storm of bids and counter bids. Sold for €539,375 ($575,775), a new record for the model.
And my favourite car? That would be the 1976 Porsche 911 Turbo offered by RM in Apple Green, truly breath-taking. At €225,000-€275,000 it was completely out of my reach but at €300,313 ($320,580) it was even more so. The difference in price compared to one in an ordinary colour was about €100,000, was it worth it? Absolutely, without a shadow of doubt.
To conclude, a handful of cars that didn’t fare too well: at RM the Jaguar E-Type S2 Roadster from 1970, given to Steve McQueen. Hence the estimate of €250,000-€350,000, hardly an insignificant amount given that a normal one goes for around €60,000-€80,000). They trumpeted the connection with Steve McQueen very loudly in the catalogue but in reality, it was much more evanescent. And the offers soon stopped: sold for €109,250 ($116,625) as it was without reserve…
Another Greek tragedy was the road-going 1984 Audi Sport Quattro. The estimate was staggering: €750,000-€1,000,000, the maximum estimate twice the model’s previous record. But it was fully justified: just 1,500km on the clock, practically new, when would you have found another in this condition? And instead a drama unfolded: the RM experts discovered, after publishing the catalogue, several things that did not match up, including perhaps the mileage. The result? The estimate was reduced to €500,000-€600.000 and the offers stopped at €480,000 ($512,395).