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As I had a free Saturday last weekend, I made a late decision to attend the classic auction held by Historics at Brooklands at the facilities of their close neighbours, Mercedes-Benz World.

M-B World is of course Mercedes’ flagship facility in the UK – an impressive building literally next door to Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey. Entrance to M-B World is free, though everything else costs money… in some cases, a very great deal of money…

Besides offering both new and used modern Mercedes-Benz, they always have a few of their own classics on display, offer laps around their high-speed test-track (a gut-wrenching experience in an AMG C63!), skid-pan and off-road track, and even offer under-17’s a chance to drive an A-class or even an M-class off-road; my son tried both when he was 11 years old. Of course, there’s also a shop and a café. You can literally spend half a day there, and if you combine it with a walk over to Brooklands Museum, it’s a pretty good day out.

Although I’ve been to a number of pre-auction viewings, I’ve never previously attended an actual auction, for no good reason. This time, though, the combination of having a free day and being interested in seeing how a few cars in particular from the auction catalogue performed, prompted me to make the 45-minute drive down to Weybridge.

Setting off on a grey and damp morning, I got to the venue just after 09:00, and there was already a healthy number of people wandering about between the lots – just under 140 cars and a couple of hundred items of automobilia, though there were a handful of short-notice withdrawals.

Most of the cars were arraigned inside the building, though about thirty had to be parked outside in the drizzle – in general, they were among the, shall we say, less expensive lots. Nevertheless, there were a few interesting cars outside, not least a grey and slightly shabby 1998 Renault Alpine GTA V6 Turbo with no reserve, which sold for £6,428 including commissions (for consistency, I shall only quote the sold price as used by the auction house itself, not the hammer price). The car had already had some work done but was going to need quite a bit more. Nevertheless, as a running project of a rare car, it didn’t seem expensive.

As well as the Alpine, there were a good number of youngtimers in the auction – especially Porsches, Jaguars, Mercedes-Benz and Rolls/Bentleys. Most of these are of limited interest to us, I think, but one thing I would say – many of them represent genuine bargains in terms of “car for the money”. For example, a 1997 Jaguar XJR saloon sold for just £5,824, and a 1990 Bentley Turbo R for £11,200. Obviously spares and running costs help keep these prices down, but if luxury motoring for low initial outlay is your thing, there are bargains to be had.

The car auction kicked off at 10:00, so having acquired my catalogue, I had a little time to wander among the lots both inside and outside. It was interesting to have a closer look at some of the cars that particularly interested me.

The first of these was the off-white 1963 Lancia Flaminia Coupé 3B, designed by Pininfarina, of course. I’m a fan of most of the 1960’s and ‘70’s Lancia coupés, and this one had an estimate of £23 – 26,000, which seemed pretty reasonable for such a rare car. When I got to it, there was a pair of denim-clad legs sticking out from underneath the car – someone was giving it a very thorough examination! On emerging from underneath the Lancia, it seems it’s prospective buyer deemed the underside satisfactory. Indeed, this stylish coupé seemed very sound although upon close inspection, the paintwork – a respray – had what looked like thousands of surface scratches, as if the paint had been applied to a not properly-prepared shell. More worrying still, lifting up the carpets I found water in the rear footwells…and this in a car that was stored indoors. Nevertheless, the Lancia sold, and for better than estimate, at £26,320. It’s a car that will give a lot of pleasure as is, but will undoubtedly need remedial work in the not too distant future. Incidentally, while in this section of the auction, Lewis Hamilton’s father was spotted checking out a few cars – wonder if he bought anything?

Another car I wanted to look at was a maroon 1965 Mercedes-Benz 190 Heckflosse, or Fintail. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the venue, there were a good number of Mercedes-Benz up for auction. I’m a big fan of the W108 and W114-style of Mercedes-Benz saloon and especially coupé (more of which later), not least for the subtly elegant tail design shared with the Pagoda. However, the Fintails, while being more basic, still look good, were very well engineered, and are a rare sight in the UK. This example was immaculate both inside and out, very well restored, and with an estimate of only £8 – 12,000 it was my pick of the day. It sold for £11,886, which I thought was superb value – had I got spare garage space, I would have happily filled it with this lovely car. A second car, at the other end of the Fintail spectrum, in the shape of a white 1965 300SE, sold with no reserve for £26,880.

By now I’d taken a seat in the auction area which was pretty busy with people drifting to and from to check out cars they were interested in, leaving a constant hum of conversation in the background. The auctioneers were splitting the lots in blocks of twenty, with a schedule of 20 per hour. However, they failed almost from the beginning in this, not least because for sections of the day, bidding was sluggish. In a number of cases increments were as low as £100 a time on some of the lower value cars, as the auctioneers tried to squeeze a few more pounds out of a room of sometimes quite reluctant buyers.

Bidding was via phone, internet and of course in the room itself. However, after a promising start, more and more cars went either unsold or provisionally sold, and in some cases, were nowhere near their lower estimates. Some examples:

A tidy 1973 Porsche 911T Targa in silver with black vinyl roof panel reached £59,000 against a low estimate of £75,000 – and it looked pretty good, to me at least.

Another 911T, but this time a coupé in a lovely shade of medium blue (not its original colour), and with a substantial amount of work done in the last few years, only reached £43,000 against it’s low estimate of £49,000. To me, this was potentially a great buy – a 911S of similar vintage would probably have had a “1” in front of the “4”…

Other significant unsold cars included a spectacular 1928 Sunbeam 20HP Rally Saloon, an ex-James Hunt 1979 M-B 450 SEL, and an absolutely superb Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider from 1964, which reached just £91,000 against its low estimate of £115,000.

Finally, and one of the most glaring examples of a car falling short, a 1969 Series II E-Type 4.2-litre roadster in a beautiful light blue with dark blue interior stalled at a mere £44,000 against its £68,000 estimate.

In general, it seemed to me that the auction ran out of steam quite early on and never really recovered. Overall, 75 of 137 lots were sold equating to 55%, but 17 of these had no reserve, so would have been sold no matter what. That means that only 42% of the cars that had to actively be sold, were, and a dozen of those failed to reach even their low estimate.

It’s obviously not possible to draw conclusions about the wider classic car market from merely attending one auction, but in terms of this particular auction, it’s clear – to me at least – that a good number of the estimates and reserves (though the latter were naturally not shared) were over-ambitious. Either that or maybe this was simply a bad time of the year to hold such an auction, what with Christmas around the corner and all the uncertainty surrounding the fast-approaching Brexit?

Anyway, back to the cars… and another good-value rarity that caught my eye was a 1964 Peugeot 404 convertible in Glacier White with a black hood, by Pininfarina, of course.  This very pretty car had only covered 3,500km since 2000, having lived in Sweden until 2015. It sold for what I thought was a very reasonable £31,080 – not much more than the Flaminia, and while the Lancia has the more thoroughbred pedigree, I think I would have spent my c£30k on the equally rare and elegant 404.

However, possibly the bargain of the day was a Giallo Fly 1980 Ferrari 308GTSi, the last Ferrari (along with the 328) which I really like. ViaRETRO readers might recall a recent discussion here about “affordable” Ferrari’s – if that’s not an oxymoron – and how few there are. Well, this 308 sold for just £33,040, and a 400i from the same year went for £22,640 – so it isstill possible to buy into ownership of the Prancing Horse for not crazy money.

There were a whole bunch of other cars that were appealing to me, and while beyond my budget, didn’t seem ridiculous considering what they were. One was a fabulous – and rare – Intermeccanica Indra 2+2 in bright red, which remained unsold after reaching £69,000. Another, an absolutely stunning black Mercedes-Benz 190SL which sold for £91,692, as well as two other beautiful Stuttgart products – a navy blue 1964 RHD 230SL with a 250 engine which went for £53,204, and a fabulous 1968 280SE Coupé in metallic pale blue for £75,040. When you see what these can cost from a dealer, they all seemed pretty good value at these prices.

There was much more eye candy to enjoy… so I’ll just pick three to finish with.

The first was an outrageous 1974 Lamborghini Espada with just 26,000 miles, in Black Cherry paint with burgundy leather and purple velvet interior – there are members of the ViaRETRO team who would have salivated over the velvet seat inserts, though I wouldn’t be one of them. The hammer fell on this extravagant four-seater at £89,600.

Finally, a couple of cars that I really liked but which didn’t sell, and both (unusually for me) American. The first was a brilliant orange 1967 Camaro SS with a 5.7-litre V8, which can be seen in Fast and Furious 6, though thankfully not in action, and it looked fantastic. In estate agent speak, this superb car benefits from having had much work done over the last few years, and comes in very rare RHD spec, as it was originally sold in Australia, where they still drive on the correct side of the road. I was surprised this didn’t sell – the low estimate was £44,000, but bidding stalled at £41,000.

The other US car which caught my eye was the gleaming white 1956 second-generation Ford Thunderbird with 5.1-litre V8. Like the Camaro, this looked superb, with just a little wear showing on the driver’s seat, but even with what seemed a reasonable estimate (to me) of £29,000, bidding petered out at £25,500.

There was much to potentially spend my money on as you will see from the photos, but after almost six hours at the auction, I took my leave. What did I learn? Well, aside from the obvious of thoroughly inspecting (or arranging inspection of) any car you might seriously wish to buy, including any and all available documentation, there are genuinely good deals to be had if you know what you are doing – and as always, caveat emptor applies. If and when the time comes to replace die Zitrone, I might just look for its successor at auction.


12 Responses

  1. Himself

    Nice report.
    For quite a while prices have been going only one way, up. And have reached a level where the average enthusiast (like me) can or will, no longer join the party. This auction shows there is hope that the market might have turned. My experience, over the 40 years where I have been buying or selling my various classic cars, regardless of the market going up or down, is that it always starts with the Ferraris. And always with the models that have high production numbers or are the lesser attractive. Leave alone the investment cars, they live a life of their own, but for enthusiast cars I think the downward trend has begun. No, not begun. Maybe it has already lasted a little while…….

  2. Anders Bilidt

    Great report, and some really interesting cars there too…

    Though it’s hardly a strong auction result is it!?! Still, as you rightly point out Tony, we can hardly judge the whole of the classic car market merely by one auction. Yet, I agree with @himself, that the market does seem to have cooled somewhat over the last year. Nowhere near a full-on bubble burst, but certainly a notable drop in prices – for some models more than others.

    Tony, you’re right about that Espada – that’s right up my alley! I mean, I love all Espadas, but the interior colours and fabrics on that one lift it above the rest. At least in my skewed opinion. Quite like the blue TVR as well, and is that little late forties saloon not a Vauxhall of some sort? Not my area of expertise, but I quite like it. And Tony, any chance you might remember whether the Indy sold, and if so for how much? That would have probably been my personal first choice… :-)

  3. Tony Wawryk

    @anders-bilidt good spot re the Vauxhall, for it is indeed one, a 1949 Wyvern that has had a huge sum spent on it – allegedly £75,000 in restoration bills, including handmade aluminium wings – for very little return; it sold for just £21,000. If ever there was an example of over-enthusiastic restoration, this car might be it.

    The Indy didn’t sell, with bidding stalling at £73k against a lower estimate of £80k.

  4. Himself

    Except for cars that are sold with no reserve (IMHO the true state of the market) Auction houses are always providing little or no transparency. In addition, I find their fees close to daylight robbery. Ranging from 15 to 30 % from BOTH seller and buyer plus of course the various fees if the car does not sell.

    So, let’s call it 20% on average, meaning that a hammer price of an 100k car will leave 80k to the “willing seller” whereas the “willing buyer”would have paid 120k plus some VAT. What’s the REAL price of the car then?

    Nobody knows. The only Real WINNER is the auction house. The so called specialists at the auction houses will in 90 % of the cases accept a minimum estimate set by the seller (as they would otherwise not get the car for auction) which is why so many cars does not sell and the market still appear to be high.

    Having said all that, this is not a vendetta towards auction houses, nobody is forced to use them and they provide great entertainment. I just hope people use them with open eyes and learn that if that 80k car had been priced realistically from the start it was considered put up for sale, I am sure it could have found that buyer willing to spend 120k all by itself.

    Just my 5 cents….

  5. Tony Wawryk

    @himself I have to agree that the auction houses seem to be the main winners, but they would argue (or at least, I would if I were them) that they are providing the platform to enable sales.
    In the case of Historics at Brooklands, their commission rate is 10% to buyer and seller, with VAT at 20% on the seller’s commission. There’s also an entry fee of £230.
    On the face of it, this should make it an easy calculation from the hammer price.
    In the article, I have quoted the sold price as per their website. The Giallo Fly 308 had a hammer price of £29,500 – seller’s commission of 10% (£2,950) plus VAT on that commission (£540) gives the sold price per the website of £33,040. This seems straightforward enough, though applying the percentages in this way didn’t always give me the sold price eg the 190 Fintail – I cannot get to the £11,866 from it’s hammer price of £10,500.
    So the commission rate in their case seems relatively reasonable, but it was clear that many of the estimates were well out, and it would save a lot of time if the reserve were known, but I guess that might prevent any bidding at all in some cases.
    Still, when you think what it costs to place an ad in the classified section of one of the magazines in comparison, you do wonder…

  6. YrHmblHst

    Lots of cool stuff there. And, while I like Espadas as much as the next guy, that interior… Hafta figure in the cost of a complete re-do for me!
    The Alpine GTA does/did look a bargain, but….and its a big ‘but’…the cost of fixing things on these can get pricey as well as frustration in sourcing pieces; some are simply unobtanium and others require some creativity and scrounging. IF youve got the time and inclination, the hunt can be sorta fun – I actually found some Jeep parts that were the same as what Renault used on mine, but otherwise, if the fella in Germany doesnt have it, hold on… and forget trim parts and rubbers; unless the situation has improved markedly in the last couple of years, things like windshield seals simply are not available, so just expect a repaint to not look 100%.
    Can I go on a minor rant here? You sure? Ok….
    That Camaro. I can live with the colour , even tho its not original. Fine, no problem. Cowl induction hood on a 67? Certainly – shoulda been on all of em. But one thing that REALLY irks me is that shifter knob. Seriously. That is a modern shifter knob. The CORRECT ones – w/o ‘Hurst’ written on the side – are readily available and cost about a whole whacking 25 bux. From Hurst. Ruins the whole interior imnsho; just shows lack of attention to detail and lack of familiarity with the vehicle and the time period. I won’t even get off on the shifter boot…

    I sincerely hope the market is cooling down also; maybe I can afford to play again some day!

  7. Claus Ebberfeld

    Ooooh! I am salivating right now over that Espada interior. Pure extravaganza.

    I’ve attended quite a few auctions over time and always find it very interesting
    – mostly I go simply as an observer, but one single time I went as a registered bidder looking to bag that very special car at a very good price. It did not go quite according to my plan as I wrote about here:

    Otherwise than that I absolutely agree on the possibility of buying good cars for good prices at auctions. Also that you must really do your homework and know what you are doing.

  8. Himself

    @tony-wawryk , yes HaB is by far one of the most, if not THE most, reasonably priced auction house. Their10% is in stark contrast to for instance Artcurial in France with 30% x 2.
    Forgot to mention that the auctioneer will almost always have someone in the room (plus the ever so mysterious internet buyer) that will bid the car even if no one else will. Think back to any of the auctions you have been to, and you will see that for all of the unsold cars the bidding always stop at 10-20% below the lower estimate giving us the impression that we were almost there…..and that their estimate was not that far off and there is real value here. All this helps to keep the market up. Only in the cases where there is a REAL buyer involved will the auctioneer then say: “not quite enough, please come see us afterwards, maybe we can work something out”. And a negotiation also involving their fees will then begin. Been there, done that.

  9. Tony Wawryk

    @himself I have to say that at 30%, I really would just take my chances with a sign in the window at an event, or a classified ad in the appropriate magazines(s). I’m amazed anyone uses Artcurial at all.

    @yrhmblhst as always, your knowledge of US cars is enlightening; you’d be my first port of call were I ever to consider a US classic. The only things I know about that Camaro is that I like it, and the colour, a lot :-). The gear knob though is hilarious – if a correct one is so easily available, you have to wonder a little about the owner.

  10. GTeglman

    @tony-wawryk another treat from your side, keep’m coming.
    Not that it would ever be option for me, but should I choose between the Maserati Ghibli and the Espada, the Ghibli would be the one for me.

    Do you recall how much the red 1989 Porsche Speedster went for ?

  11. Tony Wawryk

    @gteglman thanks, will do my best :)
    The red Speedster didn’t sell – bidding stopped at £180k against a lower estimate of £195k; it was announced as a provisional sale but the buyer and vendor clearly didn’t manage to reach agreement.


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