The flurry of auctions at this time of year are as clear a harbinger of Winter as a seasonal flurry of snow. They can provide useful indicators of market resilience, as well as pointers to the next year’s trading. 2013 there was an added dimension provided by Bonhams – less an auction, more a market positioning statement.
But first out of the blocks were Historics. With a huge and varied inventory presented in the cracking environment of Mercedes Benz World, the auction drew a huge attendance. But even with that level of attendance, the majority of sales were conducted on the internet or on the telephone and one incident in the sale provided a salutary lesson in the perils of internet bidding.
An Alfa Romeo Spyder was called as sold on the internet then later in the sale, it was announced that the “Buyer” had been following the sale online and, when he briefly left the room to answer the call of nature, his young son had started clicking in bids!
Ultimately the market was quite strong but the prices less so – many cars were knocked down as provisional sales and confirmed later – a clear sign of bids falling short of expectation. A DB6 Automatic made £152,000 on the hammer, meeting expectation but a very nice DB7 Vantage Volante disappointed at £23,000 and failed to sell. For Historics, an auction that results in a 65% sales rate on a large inventory, must be considered a success – but would the prices be better with a smaller entry?
Sunday ushered in December and introduced Bonhams’ New Bond Street saleroom to the classic car market. Opened in October by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the building is a veritable Tardis – entry through an adequate rather than grand entrance giving way to one of several beautifully presented salesrooms filled with cars presented to a much higher standard than we have come to expect from Bonhams at other locations.
Like Historics, there was a fabulous attendance – the inventory included a collection from the Ecurie Ecosse Racing Stables and more modern Scottish motorsport was represented by John Cleland – former Touring Car ace. Bernie Ecclestone was there and with rumours of Red Bull boss Christian Horner’s potential succession to Bernie’s role, his attendance alongside the Formula 1 supremo will only fuel the fire!
The results from the sale were headline makers – even the Ecurie Ecosse Commer Transporter sold for £1.6 million (£1,793,500 with premium) and with two of the team cars making between £2.5 - £3 million with premium, Bonhams were having a profitable day!
And the millionaire’s club included two of the three Astons on sale – the first lot of the day was a DB6 Vantage. Optimistically described at best, it proved a good marker for the day when it sold for £160,000 (£180,700 with premium). After the Ecurie Ecosse cars, when there was a major exodus, there were sufficient buyers to provide an expected £1.4 million (£1,569,500 with premium) for a very nice DB4GT. This was shortly followed by a lovely 1934 Aston Martin Ulster that sold for £1.16 million (£1,300,700 with premium)
In summary, Bonhams did a great job, but while the event positioned them as pre-eminent in the UK auction scene, as a brand, they seemed to set themselves alongside the Stewards’ Lawn at Henley or the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. Cup of coffee? Sorry but the café is reserved for the Steering Wheel Club. Where can I sit? Sorry it is reserved seating only in the main saleroom but you can still bid in the downstairs saleroom. At least the toilets weren’t segregated!
The essence of auctions is that the buyer feels they can get a bargain – create a level of exclusivity that makes some attendees feel second class and you will alienate the buyers and do the sellers a disservice.
For Aston Martin, there was a timely reminder. Many models continue to represent a cracking investment but sellers need to be aware that there are certain Astons like DB7, Virage/Vantages and V8’s that auctions treat as bargain basement products where other sales channels properly present the marque’s brand values and deliver a better result of the sellers and, in investment terms, the buyers.