Prewar cars were a bright spot in an otherwise low year.
(Bloomberg) — The cooling forces in the collector car market finally reached the auctions in Monterey as buyers complained about too many cars, plus time-consuming venue logistics that taxed focus throughout the week leading up to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on Aug. 20 in Carmel, California.
By the end of the weekend, total sales reached a little more than $400 million across five auction houses, including after-sales, down from $473 million last year. An average sell-through rate of just 68% for 1,225 vehicles fell short of the 78% rate from last year, when there were 1,023 on the block. A sell-through rate of 80% or more is considered healthy for a car auction.
Average sale prices faltered, too, dropping to $477,981 from $591,768. Several Ferraris struggled, even though they’re largely considered market-proof. At Bonhams a 1967 Ferrari 412 P took $30.2 million after a lackluster show of bidding, far less than the expected $40 million. A 1964 Ferrari 250 LM at RM Sotheby’s reached a high bid of $17 million—but missed its reserve and didn’t sell at all.
“It’s chaotic,” says Stephen Serio, a high-end automotive broker who’s attended the auctions around the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for 32 years. “There’s a whole generation of things, even some great cars that have done well here before, which have just turned a corner, and I don’t know if they’re going to come back.”
The top sale of the week was that 1967 Ferrari 412 P Berlinetta. It was followed by a 1957 Jaguar XKSS Roadster that sold for $13.2 million at RM Sotheby’s and a 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta, which went for almost $9.5 million at Gooding & Co.
A 1959 Ferrari 410 Superamerica SIII Coupe did well at $6.6 million for RM Sotheby’s, as did a 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Tourer that sold for almost $5.4 million. All told, Ferraris accounted for half of the top 10 sales, typical for Monterey.
Gooding & Co. (76% sell-through rate) and RM Sotheby’s (85%) each had four cars in the top 10 sales of the week, while Bonhams (73%) and Broad Arrow (80%) each had one. The top sale at Mecum Auctions (56%) was a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/2 Longnose Alloy Coupe that sold for $3.4 million.
There’s plenty of money out there, but buyers are less likely these days to settle for subpar examples of what they want.
“With the economy, interest rates up, you do see a slowing in some areas,” says Craig Jackson, the chief executive officer of auction company Barrett-Jackson. “Those are the cars that are not perfect. If it’s a choice between perfect and a car that’s a little cheaper with [imperfections], well, we’ve always said buy the best car you can, right?”
Prewar vehicles—those made before and during World War II—proved a bright spot of the weekend, and not just because a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster formerly owned by the Shah of Afghanistan won the top prize at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. They’re trickling into popularity, with Bentley making millions of dollars off its prewar continuation series and increasing numbers of young people buying and driving them in rallies.
“All these great cars are the great cars, and they’re going to continue to be the great cars,” Jackson says. “They resonate on an emotional level. It’s workmanship, it’s quality, it’s design. These are rolling works of art.”
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Three of Gooding’s top five sales belonged to this category: a 1914 Mercer Type 35-J Raceabout that sold for $4.7 million, a 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Cabriolet ($4.5 million) and a 1912 Simplex 50 HP Toy-Tonneau ($4 million).
At RM Sotheby’s a 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Tourer by Corsica took almost $5.4 million, and a 1933 Packard Twelve Individual Custom Convertible Victoria by Dietrich went for $3.3 million.
RM Sotheby’s popular barn finds—a group of 20 derelict Ferraris displayed in a re-creation of a hurricane-damaged barn—also punched way above their weight. Some of them even took more money than comparable restored versions. A rusty 1956 Ferrari 250 GT Coupe Speciale by Pinin Farina sold for $1.6 million; a cracked 1964 Ferrari 250 GT/L Berlinetta Lusso by Scaglietti went for $907,000.
Most notably the empty, twisted carcass of a 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider Series I by Pinin Farina sold for almost $1.9 million—near the $2 million a similar one in far better condition took in 2022. The bill to restore the shell to its former glory will require an additional few million dollars.
Perhaps nowhere was the market more turbulent than among the top-tier Porsches. Bonhams recorded the $1.85 million top sale of a 1966 Porsche 906 Carrera 6. Broad Arrow also recorded a $1.8 million sale of a 918 Spyder—even as the auction house failed to sell such Porsches as a 1973 911 Carrera RS 2.7 Lightweight (bid to $2.2 million and unsold), a 2022 911 GT2 RS Clubsport ($660,000, unsold) and a 2007 RS Spyder EVO ($4.7 million, unsold).
RM Sotheby’s sold a 2019 Porsche 935 for $1.45 million and a 1988 Porsche 959 for $1.5 million, but it failed to find bidders for things like the 1957 Porsche 356 A, which was bid to $1.1 million.
Gooding, meanwhile, withdrew several of the Porsches initially listed for sale and saw others remain unsold during the public portion of the auction, including a 1996 911 GT2 bid to $1.4 million and a 1975 911 Carrera 3.0 RSR bid to $1.5 million—all while Bonhams sold a 1966 Porsche 906 Coupe for almost $1.9 million.
“Few models hit the heights, and it’s hard to spot a trend,” Steve Wakefield wrote in an auction report for K500, a car collecting guide. “Genuinely special Porsche 911s, not the modern product of the marketing department in Stuttgart, did well.”
Elsewhere, Broad Arrow earned a record price of $632,000 for a Honda NSX-R, but demand for Japanese domestic market vehicles continues to vary. None cracked the top 10 sales for any of the auction houses at Monterey. Two significant Subaru Impreza 22Bs, including the first prototype of the model, failed to sell altogether.
The 73rd Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance will happen Sunday, Aug. 18, 2024, with accompanying auctions held in the days prior. Packard and Maserati will be the event’s featured marques. Auction data for this story was compiled from Hagerty, Hammer Price, K500 and each auction house’s own results.
(Corrects information about the top-selling Porsche in the 16th paragraph.)
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