It’s March and they’re off…..no, not the steeplechasers at Cheltenham, the auction houses round the country, Bonhams, Historics and Coys, have all been in action in the past 10 days. Bonhams are clearly hoovering up Aston entries for Works Service in May, so Aston Martins were thin on the ground, so it is a good time to look at the general classic market both in terms of the auction houses and the buyers.
Commitments kept us away from Bonhams at Oxford and their inventory and results appear to have been very routine – the other two contenders then offered sales at two very different ends of the spectrum.
Historics were clearly taking the Tesco “pile ‘em high” role with an enormous inventory of 116 cars, although like Tesco of late, some of the content was questionable – does an ‘80’s VW Scirocco or an ’06 Vauxhall fit in a Classic Sale? But they had done a very good job prior to the sale - as well as a large inventory, they had a huge crowd meaning plenty of buyers for the low cost cars. But they had clearly not kept their eye on the ball on reserves and a lot of cars finished up as provisional sales. But they are clearly grafters at Historics and many of those provisionals finished up as sales in their results, less than the sellers expected but a sale nonetheless. On the Aston front, there was a single pre-war 1 ½ litre long wheel base that sold on the day for £100,000.
Coys in contrast, were like an old fashioned gents’ outfitters – a very small but good quality inventory, a lovely environment, lots of earnest young men on hand but not enough customers. Possibly it was the weather that kept people away or it could have been the small inventory, supplemented on the night by a number of late entries, mainly two wheelers. That was all in spite of Simon Read of the Independent providing the event with some strong recommendation - http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2013/03/12/classic-cars-a-way-to-beat-the-taxman/.
Two of their inventory were Astons – quite the loveliest V8 and another long wheel base 1 ½ litre. The latter had failed to make it through customs so we were down to a single Aston and it was in the wrong place to make the price that was wanted and what it deserved – the £40,000 bid was clearly short of estimate and reserve. Irrespective of the less frenetic environment of the Royal Horticultural Society, cars like this are better marketed when the buyer has the time to consider their purchase and its true value – a good brokerage for example!
What these auctions tell us is that sellers must be realistic about true market values. Take the tale of two Testarossas – at Historics, a 1989 car with a good history estimated at £45-55,000 sold for £51,000. A 1991 example at Coys, with very low mileage and originally the property of Elton John that they had estimated at exactly double the price was bid to £85,000 and remained unsold – clearly unrealistic expectations.
What did sell at Coys were either very rare, in exceptional condition or priced at a level that reflects a market off its peak but still very busy.