How much is too much? As prices for collectable cars continue to rise to new heights, this question pops up ever more frequently. The only real answers to this question can only come at the next private sale or auction. With several major auctions in the span of just three days, the Monterey car week traditionally gives a pretty good idea of the status of the market. This year the auctions were more highly anticipated than ever before with over 100 lots offered, spread across the various auctions houses, that could sell for over $1 million a lot of answers were expected. For an impression of the price inflation, the highest selling car of the weekend in 2005 was a Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spyder at $3.95 million. This was the only one with a competition history, one of two with an alloy body and it starred alongside Steve McQueen in the original Thomas Crown Affair. In 2013 one of the other ten, with a one-owner history, was offered by RM Auctions with a pre-sale estimate $14 - 17 million. Some observers, including yours truly, were convinced that that really was too much but the market proved us wrong, and by quite a margin.
In between events, our reporters visited the three big auctioneers and an impression of their sales can be found in this 200-shot gallery
. All prices listed below include buyer premiums.
Bonhams Quail Lodge Sale (August 16)
In recent years Bonhams struggled to keep with its closest rivals RM Auctions and Gooding with the hugely disappointing 2012 Quail sale as the absolute low water mark. The situation was assessed and with a reinforced staff, the British auctioneer presented a very impressive catalog for 2013. While it perhaps did not include the really big hitters of the other auctions, quality was the keyword throughout the sale. We were particularly impressed by the collection of highly original sports cars often owned from new by the late Stan Hallinan. The top seller of this collection was the AC Shelby Cobra still fitted with the 260 engine, which sold for just over $2 million, which was twice the top estimate. Topping the entire sale was a very distinct Blower Bentley from the Charles R.J. Noble Collection, which found a new owner for $4.6 million. Another striking machine to demand top dollar was 1953 Paris Auto Salon Ferrari 250 Europa going for $2.8 million. In total, ten cars sold for over a million dollars. Also helped by an successful $1.6 million automobilia sale, the auction total at the end of the afternoon was almost triple that of 2012 at $32.7 million with a 90% sell through rate.
RM Auctions Monterey Sale (August 16 & 17)
With the $14 - 17 million NART Spyder as just one of the numerous headliners, the RM Auctions Monterey Sale was the most highly anticipated of all. Among the other stars was the Saoutchik Mercedes-Benz that had won Best of Show at Pebble Beach just a year earlier. This sold for $8.3 million, while a late model Mercedes-Benz 540 K Spezial Roadster found a new owner for $7.5 million. Another impressive sale was that of the 1974 Indianapolis 500 winning McLaren M16C, which changed hands for an unprecedented $3.5 million. Ferraris, however, were the main staple at the Portola Plaza Hotel, with the NART Spyder leading the way. With all proceeds going to charity, bidders were perhaps even less restrained and the sale started with an amazing opening bid of $10 million and within a few rounds the bids were well north of the high estimate. There were three bidders, who were all determined to get the car and bidding did not stop until it reached a staggering $25 million ($27.5 after the buyers premium). This made the now two-owner NART Spyder the most expensive Ferrari and road car ever sold at auction. Among the 26 cars that sold for more than one million dollar were many more Ferraris including a 375 MM ($9.1 million), a 750 Monza ($4.1 million) and an F50 ($1.7 million). At the end of the two-day sale 120 cars had crossed the block for a total of $125 million, making this the highest grossing collector car auction in history.
Gooding & Co. Pebble Beach Auction (August 17 - 18)
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Pebble Beach Auction, Gooding & Co. offered an eclectic mix of collector cars during their two-day sale. In total 127 cars were lined up of which 116 found new owners. There were no real stand out cars in this sale but that was mainly because all cars were outstanding. Among them were such rarities as the sole surviving Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Competizione ($4.8 million) and the strikingly beautiful Eagle Mk 1 Weslake F1 racer ($3.7 million). Topping the result sheet was a 14-Louvre Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France, which changed hands for a world record breaking $9.5 million. It was followed closely by a meticulously restored Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante, which was recently repainted black from the rather more striking but incorrect light blue and light yellow two-tone finish. This, no doubt, helped boost the price to $8.7 million, which is the most ever paid for a Bugatti at auction. The Gooding sale also underlined why people bring their cars to auction as a McLaren F1 changed hands for $8.5 million, while an owner suggested to us before the sale that the market price was actually closer to $6 million. As night fell over Pebble Beach on Sunday, the combined total was $112 million; an average of $965,675 per car sold.
At the end of a weekend of frantic bidding, the big question could be answered with: "no, we have not reached the ceiling yet." Perhaps there is no ceiling in the foreseeable future as collector cars are in short supply and other investment opportunities like real estate are not nearly as lucrative. However, we do hope that this rapid inflation does not prompt owners to carefully hide away their prized possessions and no longer bring them out for events like Pebble Beach or the Motorsports Reunion. What the 2013 Monterey Auctions have also underlined is that quality throughout the catalog is key to make a sale a success.