Events in their own right
Judging from the headlines they make, the various auctions on the Monterey Peninsula have seemingly almost taken over as the week's feature events. Many new records have been set over the past few years, which only helped increase anticipation for the latest round of auctions. All this at a time when the rest of the economy has hit the worst crisis of our lifetimes. An explanation could be that investors consider collector cars a safer option than real estate or the ever fluctuating stock markets. It would seem logical that at the current price level, many would be keen to cash in on their 'investment' but we understand the auction houses had to work harder than ever to once again assemble a record breaking line-up. In today's market buyers only want the very best while some vendors have dollar-signs in their eyes, often demanding unrealistic reserves. Regardless, the main auctioneers had once again succeeded to raise the bar compared to last year. That bar was set by Gooding, and especially Canadian rival RM Auctions stepped up focusing even more on quality rather than quantity. As a result each of the lot lists would rival the entry of most smaller concours d'elegance, making the auctions very much events in their own right. Due to time restraints, we could only visit the three major sales, and have compiled a brief look at the results and this 100-shot gallery
Bonhams' Quail Lodge Sale (August 16 & 17)
Of all auction companies, Bonhams have the most experience organising a sale on the Monterey Peninsula. They have nevertheless struggled in recent years to keep tabs with rivals RM and Gooding. In order to make up some ground, the British auctioneer moved to a different location on the Quail estate. Compared to the earlier location directly across the street from the Quail Lodge, it offered far more space. This was filled with two tents separated by a small 'courtyard'. At the end of the day what really matters is what the available space is filled with. The focus was clearly on competition cars with the sale headlined by a McLaren F1 GTR Longtail, Ford GT40 and a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 NART Spyder. Of these only the GT40 found a new owner during the auction, selling for just over $2.2 million. The McLaren did eventually change hands after the sale, and although Bonhams are tight-lipped about the final price, we understand it sold for a reasonable $3.85 million. The first day of the sale was reserved exclusively for motorcycles. These helped lift the combined revenue to over $13 million, which was an improvement compared to last year but still no match for the two big hitters.
RM Auctions Monterey Sale
In 2011, RM topped the revenue chart but only by a tiny margin over rival Gooding. The Canadian company also had to sell more cars to reach that figure. For this year, the focus was clearly on quality and diversity. The lots ranged from modern day supercars / road legal racers, the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR and Porsche 911 GT1 'Strassenversion' and actual modern racers like the Audi R8 and Bentley Speed 8 to the 2004 Pebble Beach winning Horch 853 and a Teardop Talbot Lago. All these formidable machines were among the 20 lots sold for over $1 million. Heading that impressive list was the spectacular, Gulf Ford GT40. Over the last few years, many of these evocatively liveried have been assembled in the ROFGO Collection, so a genuine Gulf car is much harder to come by. Not surprisingly, this car was subject of a fierce bidding war but the final price of $11 million was a bit of a surprise; we can only speculate what this means for the value of the sister car that actually won Le Mans two years running. The car has found a good home and is expected to soon be on display in the Shelby American museum. Offering only 120 cars compared to 144 last year, RM nevertheless managed to raise the total revenue by almost $20 million to just shy of $96 million.
Gooding & Co's Pebble Beach Auction (August 18 & 19)
Before the auction, David Gooding was adamant that this year's line-up was his company's best ever. He even speculated that the fabulous Mercedes-Benz 540K Spezial Roadster, famously used by Baroness Gisela von Krieger, could break the record for the highest sale ever set the previous year at nearly $17 million. Although very mcuh topping the charts this year, the black Mercedes-Benz changed hands for a 'modest' $11.8 million. A close second was the Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder Competizione offered from the estate of well known collector Sherman Wolf. The winning bid of $11.3 million far exceeded the top estimate and set a new world record for a California sold at auction. This was one of 21 world records achieved at the Gooding auction; the Von Krieger Spezial Roadster had also entered records books as the most expensive Mercedes-Benz sold at auction. Despite some headline cars, including the ex-Clark Gable Duesenberg and a striking Blower Bentley, not finding new owners, Gooding once again raised the bar and by a bigger margin than RM Auctions. The specialist company broke the $100 million dollar barrier for the first time with a sale total of $113.7 million, selling 110 of the 123 cars in the catalog; averaging over $1 million per lot!
In addition to the aforementioned three auctioneers, Mecum Auctions have also firmly established themselves on the Monterey Peninsula. Although it was a little harder to find the gems among their 100s of lots, they did very well selling the Can-Am championship winning Porsche 917/10K for $5.5 million. And so another record-breaking week of auctions was concluded with over $250 million worth of metal changing hands. Although prices are still rising, one big question hovers over the market; how long will it last? For the answer we have to wait until the next round of big sales at Scottsdale early next year.