The classic car market has been a real roller coaster in 2014 – pessimists have continually talked of the bubble bursting. They even prompted the London Daily Telegraph to publish an article on talk of a crash – but some the optimists and all of the realists have kept the balls in the air and the market has defied the doom mongers.
The usual end of year flurry of auctions started in France with Artcurial offering two Astons for sale – a DB Mark III turned in a good result with €184,760 while an original left hand drive DB5 maintained the Monterey bonanza for that model with €931,200.
Attention then switched to Silverstone Auctions at the NEC with 3 Aston Martins and a Lagonda Rapide that is circulating auctions like the dinner party guest that everyone ignores – she missed the boat at Brightwells at their last sale and she went home from the NEC similarly unloved. The Astons did better, a lovely manual DB9, selling for the second time in 12 months delivered a good £39,375 and a DB2/4 got above bottom estimate at £145,125. The Feltham Aston Martins frustrate at auction – Bonhams at Goodwood missed on a number, they are clearly a model that suits a less frenetic sales process. Last of the Astons was a V8 Series III “Barn Find” that disappointed at £25,875.
Brightwells are getting an improved inventory and they came to market with three Aston Martins. A Vanquish 2 + 2, looking very different in its white livery, undershot its £50-55,000 estimate even with Buyers Premium at £49,280 and a DB7 6 cylinder performed indifferently as well with its sale price of £15,904 also coming under estimate. Last through was another V8 Series III that outperformed its NEC cousin at £38,080.
Finally the circus returned to the London area and first out of the blocks was Historics who had brought a huge inventory matched by an enthusiastic audience. Sadly juggling three auctioneers didn’t help the pace of the sale and the useful catalogue guide of which lot they would have reached by 2.30pm was over an hour adrift. Maybe that prompts a lack of patience from the buyers but whilst Historics drive the middle market superbly, they seem to miss on the top end cars. Their Aston inventory was right in that middle area and they delivered – a V8 Coupe beating estimate with £40,320 followed by a brace of DB7’s. A Vantage Volante at £27,440 and a 6 cylinder car at £17,360. It was a sale that told a tale of continuing vibrancy in the enthusiast classic car market.
What a contrast at Bonhams Bond Street Sale on Sunday which is now a social event as much as a sale. Their inventory is deliberately low in numbers and either superlative in quality or rare in substance and their audience, an eclectic mix of the appallingly dressed British upper classes, immaculately turned out continentals and furtive dealer types, who all had one common commodity – money!
So it is a good place to judge the upper reaches of the classic car market but the opening two lots caused the man standing next to me to whisper alarmingly “What’s happened to the market?”
Those first two lots were a very presentable E type which did not sell and an equally presentable DB2/4 Fixed Head Coupe that sold at a low £145,000 (£163,900 with premium) – a number that was a lot less than Byron International achieved on a similar car 18 months ago. But the mood and the bids lifted from there on. From a selfish, Aston Martin perspective, there were three more lots to be interested in – first was an exceptional DB4 Series V that had been rebuilt into a DB4GT Replica. RS Williams had done the mechanicals and the finish of the car was, in a word, faultless. Positioned in the centre of the display, she was a star and, with an estimate of £400-500,000, the hammer came down at an exceptional £600,000 (£673,500 with premium).
This was followed by a later Newport Pagnell classic, a Vantage Le Mans. Byron International had brokered the car for its first owner who had covered very few miles and the current owner had put it straight back to Works Service for an engine rebuild, a repaint and re-upholstering. So again it was a car that was faultless in its presentation and it beat its top estimate selling for £310,000 (£348,700 with premium). The final Aston, another Feltham car – a fully restored DB2/4 Mark II Saloon sold at £140,000 (£158,300 with premium).
But the Astons told the tale of the balance of the auction – auction estimates can seem vague guidelines rather than focussed compass points but the exceptional cars make over top estimate whilst the rest appear to undershoot irrespective of the apparent desirability of the model – it doesn’t matter if the badge is Ferrari or Bentley, Jaguar or Porsche, Rolls Royce or Aston Martin.
And that pattern was repeated again at Coys – wine and mince pies replaced the Bonhams champagne and canapés but there was a shared audience and a similar result albeit with a more bloated inventory. For Aston Martin, there was a lovely V8 Zagato Volante Automatic that came in at £131,800 and a superbly presented pre-war International 1.5 litre that just pipped it at £134,040.
But it was interesting that at these last two London sales, the auctioneers maintained a breathtaking pace on bidding and, even when the bids were only a few percentage points below estimate, were passing on to the next lot with any number of variations of “that’s not quite enough”. And when you have the quality of inventory that both had, it meant that some star cars went home unsold. At the same time, there were others that were bid far beyond expectations – why those passes were made with such alacrity does pose the question as to whether they knew that reserves were too high.
A further characteristic of recent sales has been the number of collections that have come to market – from Salon Prive to Monterey from Goodwood to the Royal Horticultural Halls, we have seen a variety of collectors seeing the opportunity of a vibrant market to refresh collections or cash investments. It has brought tingles of uncertainty to the pessimists but in reality it has brought fresh faces to an excited market and, at the same time tempered prices with a sense of realism that has been perhaps missing among some sellers.
We will be keeping an eye on Bonhams Oxford on 7th December, one complete car and two projects summarise their Aston inventory and we will feed back on those results. Seasons greetings to all and roll on 2015.
© BYRON INTERNATIONAL