A report from RM Sothebys at Olympia West on 24th October 2019
Those who have attended Bonhams recent December offerings from Olympia may have been slightly disoriented by the location of RM Sotheby’s at Olympia West. A more modern and less cavernous space but they could really do with some street lighting and a greater sense of arrival!
People always talk of first impressions and to me, it felt a lot less friendly than it ever did at Battersea – RM Sotheby’s were making the most of the venue with Whisky Sale running before the cars but there felt no sense of welcome.
And the presentation of the cars around the hall was equally under whelming. The contrast between the two cars – the Ferrari F1 car and the Lancia Rally Car either side of the podium - and the rest of the display was not the attraction of the cars themselves but the spotlighting. Car showroom designers have made a science of lighting’s impact on presentation – it is a defined area of improvement for all the auction houses, last night’s venue only served to exaggerate the shortcomings for RM.
That said, how professional were the support teams – the hammer had just come down on the last lot of the preceding sale, a £120,000 bottle of whisky, when the teams were out with trolleys stacked with chairs and a new auditorium was ready in minutes and the car sale started promptly at 17.30 as promised.
First there were details of the terms of the sale – the 15% Buyers Premium on the first £200,000 (how do they get away with it!) – and the double act of auctioneer and “straight man” set to work. An interesting contrast and not a bad way to present as when bidding stalled, the auctioneer would prompt his colleague to remind buyers what they were bidding for. A tip from the shop floor is that those reminders need to be snappier and talk about benefits of the product, not its features.
Of course, with the front end of the inventory heavily loaded with “Offered without reserve” lots, we saw a good start and the presence of luminaries from motorsport as well as the motor trade helped validate the importance of the sale. And those early lots were an eclectic bunch from Porsches to a Beach Buggy – Mini Cooper to Land Rover and they all sold at reasonable prices.
In fact, the first “miss” came at Lot 23 when a Jaguar Mark 2 3.8 failed to find a new home although with the hammer price of £38,000 nearly 25% off bottom estimate, it surprised no-one.
Bidding was relatively consistent although, worryingly the rate did not seem to drop in proportion to the audience! Some were quite slow, like the bidding for the Daimler Double Six that was boosted to £70,000 (£80,500 with premium), the top estimate, once people realised it was originally a gift to Queen Elizabeth II with a bench seat to accommodate her pet Corgis.
For all its good looks, the Formula 1 Ferrari did not find a new home and neither did the first Aston, lot 136, a very presentable DB6 Mark 2 that was started very low and joined the list of “still for sale” at the end of the evening as a result.
I hesitate to quote the high bid as “high” is a misnomer but it reflected on all the Aston Martins in the sale A rather lovely left hand drive Aston Martin Vantage Le Mans V600 came through but was perhaps started low and saw the hammer direct it to a new home at just £180,000 (£207,000 with premium)
Equally mystifying was a V8 Vantage “X Pack” resplendent in Suffolk Red with Magnolia, the bid of £195,000 fell short of expectation and it remained for sale.
One has to observe that if the industry is not careful, this trend of auction houses to broaden their offering from auction through to almost showroom sellers will be viewed with cynicism from certain quarters. Every auction attendee has experience of bids being “run” – so when the auction house makes a virtue of the “high bid” on an item that is “still for sale”, it is perhaps gilding the lily in terms of the car’s true value. If the auction houses lose the validity of their bidding process, it puts important markets like probate sales at risk.
Whereas the joy of cars “offered without reserve” is that the Buyers know that they have an opportunity to own the product – the mystique that is attaching itself to other sectors of auction inventories along with late results just takes that Buyer confidence in another direction.
And clearly the topsy-turvy Aston market means that people are missing opportunities - we saw that last night with a very nice DB6 Volante that started a little low at £375,000 and topped out at £520,000. Possibly the high Buyers Premium holds people back but she was a lovely car – and the same could be said of the 2003 Aston Martin DB AR1. Coachwork by Zagato, a stunning car – okay not really an October in London type of transport – but £120,000 top bid? Ludicrous.
There were no “Star Cars” in the inventory, just a sprinkling of million-pound expectations, few of which made their targets – a Ferrari Enzo, Formula 1 Ferrari, Maserati MC12 GTi and Jaguar XJR 11 all missed but a barn find Lamborghini came up bidding trumps.
Looking like a real barn find, the 1969 Lamborghini Miura P400 S needs a full restoration but with cracking provenance and single-family ownership, she made £1,105,000 (£1,248,125 with premium) after some very competitive and close bidding.
Sadly, that clearly sucked the bidding oxygen from the room and 2 lots later a 2017 Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Coupe stalled at £380,000 as did a later restored Feltham car. It was a 1958 DB 2/4 Mark III Drophead LHD – presented in great order, although there were adjustments yet to complete on the doors and perhaps panel fit. They revised the estimates in the hall to a realistic £310,000 - £350,000 but the bidders stopped at £280,000.
Then as if to emphasise that auctions always seem to fail to maximise on Feltham cars, another LHD DB2/4 Mark III, but this time a saloon, was sold at a hammer of just £105,000 (£120,750 with premium). Possibly not helped by a remark about the interior from the podium and certainly not helped by its paint finish, it should have topped £150,00. Like the DB6 Mark 2 that did find a post-sale home, it was worth a lot more than this particular audience were prepared to pay.
The sale was a 4-hour marathon and the podium should be congratulated for their stamina – as we keep saying, the market is not dead, it is vibrant and a lot of cars found new homes at the right price. Right for whom is always a debate but if the Seller can “go again” and the Buyer feels they have value, by the time the next change comes, they will be happily ensconced on the upslope of prices and this cold, wet October will be just a memory.
And RM, put the smiles back on our faces – a less glittery venue doesn’t have to be less welcoming and please, please get your results out quicker!
Full results here - * signifies “offered without reserve”:
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