“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
With apologies to Charles Dickens, RM London at Marlborough House showed us the very best of auctions but also the industry’s current difficulties in trying to adapt to the current markets with a confusion of what used to be and the pressures of today.
Let’s start with “the best” – RM’s sponsorship and support for the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run is to their enormous credit and the display along Marlborough Road outside the auction venue was a delight as was the presentation of the cars inside.
The huge marquee housed the majority of cars but even those lined up outside shone almost in anticipation of the sale. And there was no shortage of people attending – and when the first part of the event began with the Graham Hill Collection of Automobilia, there was standing room only.
And that in turn reflected a benefit for the Hill family as there were a couple of examples of when auctions really work – probably the most spectacular was the competition between bidders for a Bell Full Face Helmet worn by Graham Hill and in the colours of the London Rowing Club. Estimate at £20,000 - £30,000 the hammer came down at an astonishing £115,000 (£138,000 with premium).
One also has to give full marks to Sholto Gilbertson on the rostrum – he handled this first part of the sale that lasted 2 hours, had a fifteen-minute break and then returned for the car section and another three and a half hours. Mind you, his old mentor from Bonhams was in the audience as was a RM predecessor Max Girardo (or MG as he was referred to from the rostrum) so he had to be on his toes.
But those statistics of the auctioneer’s stamina reflect the other difficulty that auctions have at present – the duration of the event. Massive inventories may tick the box of the Finance Directors of the auction houses but they impact the results.
Why, asked a colleague in the immediate aftermath of the event did the Aston Martin DB5 “Project Car” sell for £300,000 (£342,500 with premium) and the Concours winning DB5 only get bid to £270,00 and fail to sell. The answer was that the project car was Lot 222 and the non-seller at Lot 263 – the room was emptying and the buyers were elsewhere – it may be over simplistic to say but Sholto Gilbertson cannot compete with “Strictly Come Dancing” and the reality is buyer fatigue eventually sets in.
Everyone associated with Aston Martin has seen the impact of a major collector selling a significant part of his collection and putting cars through auction houses with No Reserve – the problem with large volumes put to market in that way is that it attracts bargain hunters on an almost “Everything Must Go – No Reasonable Offer Refused” basis and for the Ferrari owners and dealers out there, one hopes that the disposals from the Singapore collection at RM’s London sale does not have the same impact as the Aston Martin market has experienced.
A company with the pedigree of RM would not put unrealistic estimates on the cars so when you see a 1992 Ferrari Mondial t Coupe have the hammer come down at £30,000 (£34,500 with premium) against a £100 – 150,000 estimate, it is worrying and it wasn’t the only example – a 1992 Ferrari 348TS selling at £42,000 (£48,300 with premium) against a £130-160,000 estimate made the man in the next seat gasp.
But what about the other Astons?
Well next to the auctioneer in the car section was a young man giving the detail of the lots many times along with what sounded like a repeated mantra, that “the lot had entered the UK on a temporary import bond which must be cancelled either by exporting the lot outside the UK on an approved bill of lading with supporting customs documentation or by paying the applicable VAT and import duties to have the lot remain in the UK,”
That included the already mentioned DB5 Project car and the Concours car in outstanding Fiesta Red with Black Leather. Of course we had the inevitable DB6 Mark 2 Vantage sold for £200,000 on the hammer (£210,000 with premium) but the domestic product fared no better – there was a DB4 Convertible – beautifully restored and the only DB4 Vantage GT Convertible. What probably held back a price that the quality deserved was that it’s current DB4GT engine was not original - £880,000 was not enough to secure a sale. A similarly immaculately presented DB4 Series II Saloon in Powder Blue with Blue Leather was bid to £270,000.
The reality of these lovely Astons and other makes like the Mercedes Gullwing, or a pair of Bentleys that did not make the sold column, is that the online buyers are still dominating a market that has been commoditised. Absentee buyers with people there and on the phones were great and informed bidders. Cars are things with spirit, soul and presence and need people to see them, touch them and understand the added value of the presentation that companies like RM, good motor dealers and even brokers add to the product.
As the volume used car industry has discovered, the job is done better face to face than online and the major auction houses need to adapt their online activities and get back to the job that we all do best – selling!
© BYRON INTERNATIONAL
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