Call it the perfect storm.
Last week’s auctions during Monterey Car Week produced a $469 million worth of collector car sales, 18.9% more than the prior record from 2015 of $394.5 million. Auction companies averaged a 78% sell-through rate and an average sale price of $590,713. More than 113 $1-million-plus cars were sold, as blue-chip collectibles always do well there.
However, the present bear market, spiraling inflation and recession fears have investors looking for alternate places to park their money, similar to previous precipitous plummets in stock prices. Additionally, the decline in asset prices gives them a justification to invest their money in something more tangible, like classic cars, according to industry experts.
What economic jitters has wrought
The price for a car in #2 condition, or Excellent, climbed 8.9% in 2021, according to Hagerty Insurance, a collector car insurer. Further market analysis by Hagerty reveals rising prices for 15 consecutive months through June 2022.
“In July, nearly a quarter of cars offered at online auctions that crossed the $100K threshold went on to exceed their Condition #1 prices,” wrote John Wiley, Hagerty manager of valuation analytics.
Furthermore, according to Wiley, sellers of luxury vehicles would prefer to test the market covertly through prestigious dealers and brokers than take the possibility of receiving a poor offer at auction.
They have since changed their minds in light of the past 18 month’s strong prices. This explains the unprecedented number of vehicles priced at $1 million or more that have been sold, including 12 Mercedes-Benz 500K and 540K vehicles offered for sale.
That said, the 500K and 540Ks are rarified blue-chip collectibles, and their values usually remain unaffected by the vagaries of the economy. If you’re cutting a check for seven figures to buy a car, the markets have little impact.
But even more affordable cars saw strong results. A 1968 Cadillac Eldorado with 31,795 miles on the odometer and a 7.7-liter (472 CID) V-8 sold by Mecum Auctions blew past its $38,500 #2 condition price estimate, bringing $45,100.
Certainly, the results of the auctions held during the run up to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, considered by many to be the most prestigious automotive event of the year, are the most indicative of the collector car market’s direction.
And if this year’s results are any indication, it’s very strong.
If you need any indication of sales strength, consider the following.
• RM Sothebys offered a 1955 Ferrari 410 Sport Spider by Scaglietti, one of two Factory-campaigned 410 Sports powered by a 24-spark plug 4.9-liter V-12, and one of the most noteworthy purpose-built Ferrari “large block” sports-racing prototypes from the 1950s. With eight victories and 10 podium finishes, Carroll Shelby raced it throughout his historic 1956 and 1957 seasons, winning more races with it than any other vehicle in his career, along with many others, including Phil Hill, Eugenio Castellotti and Masten Gregory. Between 1956 and 1958, the vehicle finished on the podium 19 times and won 11. It sold for $22,005,000 and was the top sale of the week.
• Gooding & Co. offered a 1962 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster, one the final 218 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadsters fitted with four-wheel disc brakes, an aluminum engine block and matching-numbers engine, which sold for $1,572,500. Additionally, Gooding sold a 1961 MG MGA Twin Cam for $168,000, breaking the previous record for the highest price paid for a road-going MGA and above the #1 price estimate by 82 percent.
• One of 26 U.S.-market Porsche 928 GTS models from 1995 with a 5-speed manual transmission and 16,650 miles on the odometer is sold by RM Sotheby’s for $406,500, more than doubling the previous record price for a 928 without being featured in a big-budget film.
How well did they do?
RM Sothebys sold $227.8 million worth of cars, with a 93% sell-through rate at an average price of $1,316,606. Its top seller was the previously mentioned 1955 Ferrari 410 Sport Spider that sold for more than $22 million. Last year saw the company sell $147 million worth of cars with a 90% sell-through rate and an average price of $1,014,093.
Gooding & Co. sold $105.7 million worth of vehicles with an 83% sell-through rate at an average sale price of $819,485. Its top seller was a 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Coupe that sold for $10,345,000. This year’s results we’re within range of 2021 results for Gooding, when it sold $106.7 million worth of cars for an 87% sell-through rate at an average sale price of $961,028.
Broad Arrow Auctions, a new presence during Monterey Car Week, sold $55.1 million worth of vehicles with an 88% sell-through rate at an average price of $697,530. Its top seller was a 1957 Ferrari 250 GT TdF Coupe that sold for $5.5 million.
Mecum Auctions sold $52.6 million worth of cars, but had a lower sell-through rate of 65% at an average sale price of $179,684. Its top seller was a 1958 Ferrari 250 GT “Tour de France’ Alloy Coupe that sold for $2,860,000. In 2021, Mecum sold $53.8 million worth of vehicles at a 77% sell-through rate at an average price of $137,236.
Finally, Bonhams sold $27.8 million worth of cars at an 88% sell-through rate at an average price of $231,565. Its top seller was a 1955 Ferrari 250 Europa Coupe that sold for $2,095,000. In 2021, it sold $35.9 million worth of vehicles at an 88% sell-through rate at an average sale price of $294,574.
“The week put an exclamation point on what has been an unprecedented year for the collector car market and allayed concerns that economic volatility might cool buyers’ enthusiasm,” Hagerty said in a statement.