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.