“And the public gets what the public wants…”


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“And the public gets what the public wants…”

So sang the Jam in 1982 and very apt to today’s classic car market and last weekend’s auction scene.

Coys had two sales operating simultaneously – in their own word, the first team were in Paris with a strong inventory while the reserve team were in the more traditional surroundings of Ascot Racecourse for the annual Spirit of Motoring Sale. Their’s was a more eclectic inventory decimated by 5 withdrawals that are now destined for their Classic & Sportscar Show Sale at Alexandra Palace on 29th October.

Bonhams chose to conduct their Zoute Sale in Belgium on the Friday and the day of the week wasn’t the only difference.  We have remarked before on Bonhams embrace of the North American “No Reserve” culture – just a few days earlier on 3rd October at the Simeone Collection Sale, the majority of entries were without reserve and they were rewarded with an 88% sales rate.  Friday’s Zoute Sale improved on that with a 94% sales rate and the quality of cars offered without reserve was astonishing.  They included a 1974 Aston Martin V8 Series III – left hand drive with a manual gearbox and estimated €80,000 – 120,000 and with no reserve, she returned €126,500 inclusive of premium.

Contrast that with Coys - their “No Reserve” offerings which, apart from a lovely Mercedes 500SEC, were all below par cars under £10,000.  In fact the whole sale felt flat – there were times when it seemed that they may as well have stayed at home and conducted the sale from an office.  The inventory display had been boosted by Coys Showroom cars that were not part of the sale. There were a lot of empty seats and most sales went on the telephone, internet or to commission bids.

Lot after lot was passed with the comment “No Interest” but most telling was an early lot -  a beautiful 1954 Sunbeam Alpine, great provenance and superbly presented.  The bidding on the telephone got to £45,000 and the auctioneer was practically begging for one more bid to secure the sale – even £500.  None was forthcoming and you sensed the power of the Buyer playing hard ball over £500 guessing that even if the Seller was similarly tough, Coys would perhaps sacrifice a portion of their commission to secure a sale.

You may question the wisdom of the auctioneer playing his cards so publicly and so early in the sale, you may question whether Coys have stretched themselves and available inventory with three sales in three venues in three weeks.

So have Bonhams found the universal panacea for Sellers – the short answer is definitely maybe but possibly not.  High sales rates are good news because they are a sign of a vibrant market – but never forget that the published prices have a BIG chunk of Buyer’s Premium.  That varies from one auction house to another – with Bonhams, it is 15% of the sale price up to £50,000 and 12% thereafter, for Coys it is 15% up to £30,000 and 10% thereafter and of course the VAT man takes 20% on that Premium.

So the hammer price on that V8 Series III was actually €110,000 and then the Seller will be paying their sales commission on the sale of up to 10% of the hammer price.

The reality is that a Seller on a “No Reserve” sale takes a gamble – an guaranteed sale but with no control over the price – the bids can go high, they can go low but like any gamble, there is always one guaranteed winner – the bank, in this case the bank was Bonhams.

We would counsel caution before climbing on board the US manufactured carousel of “No Reserve” auctions – it looks colourful, full of energy and excitement but may leave you more than a little dizzy.

An unmistakable message from the weekend is that at todays’ auctions, with apologies to the Jam -  “the Buyer gets what the Buyer wants….”

At Byron International, we think a great deal is when the Buyer and the Seller both get what they want – it takes a bit longer but the outcome is a lot better.

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