Last week, 190,000 visitors from 46 different nations as well as your roving reporter all agreed: Techno Classica 2019 was a thoroughly well-balanced world fair.
“World Fair” is the organizers’ own words and is, of course, an expression of how all the major European classic car exhibitions are trying to position themselves according to their counterparts. Retro Classics in Stuttgart is physically bigger, Rétromobile in Paris is more elitist and well… actually more international – but Techno Classica is indeed quite well-balanced as an exhibition, and while the “world” in this context primarily means Europe, that’s probably alright too seeing they’re positioned in Europe, most of their visitors are European, and so am I. The big German trade fair even made it clear that this year, they had a Kuwaiti Mercedes-Benz club exhibiting, and that does say a great deal about the reach of Techno Classica. Or do the three world premieres on new cars actually say more?
No less than twenty (current) car manufacturers exhibited at Techno Classica, three of those premiering brand new cars. I accidentally participated in an interview asking what I thought about the new ones and could only answer “Nothing, really”. I couldn’t think of any other reasonable answer, as I came to see the classic cars just as I am assuming that the 190,000 other guests did too. But that the manufacturers are there anyway still says something about how they see a connection between the new and the old. And that’s probably a good thing, I think.
In any case, I was more than happy with Mercedes-Benz going the full mile to display a wide array of their different models through time, accompanied by nothing less than all variants of their C111 prototypes taking centre stage. Their special exhibit in Paris was – although smaller – much broader in terms of time and type, but the C111 has always been something special to me. This model series, if you can call it that at all, encompasses almost the whole package of what interests me in cars: Design, technique, speed records – although not motorsports as such, which then just emphasises that you just can’t have everything, can you?
If you can, it will usually be hugely expensive. Now Techno Classica is of course a trade fair, so we will have to talk about prices, and the organisers also did so in their press release. Their conclusion was that the market had stabilised after some rather turbulent years and that buyers had become more critical.
However, the right cars at the right prices could still be sold. For instance, the dealer Gallery Aaldering, stated that by Saturday they had already sold 9 of their 30 exhibited cars. Even if you take that statement with a grain of salt and look at the auctions instead, it invariably seems like it could be correct.
I was present at RM Sotheby’s auctions both days, and while there were periods of time when the bids fell sluggishly and below the lowest estimates on the Thursday, that all changed on the Friday which saw repeated applause as new record prices for several cars were achieved. As in Paris, one of the most expensive was also one of the oldest, a Mercedes-Benz 540 K at 2.25 million Euros. One of the most surprising cars was (again) a youngtimer – but which one: Lancia Delta S4 is the Group B icon to rule them all and RM Sotheby’s 2,200 mile example went for 1.04 million Euros. If any ViaRETRO readers followed my advice back in 2016 and actually went ahead and acquired one such S4, then I would really like to try it. Please.
As ever, if that all seems terribly out of reach, then one should not despair. Our hobby still has room for everyone. Whether you already have a 037 or a S4 in your garage, you would obviously also need a suitable service vehicle for it. Or maybe you just happen to fancy other and simpler Italian cars of the rare sort you don’t see too often anymore. Or maybe you absolutely and positively want a classic estate – something we at the ViaRETRO editorial office are still entirely convinced will become a much bigger trend – perhaps, almost a movement – within the classic car scene.
In which case, the second auction of the exhibition from Coys had precisely what you desire; namely a pale grey FIAT 124 Familiare from 1970 with a rich red interior. Just like we quite fancy classic estates, we equally value those brave day-to-day heroes of yesteryear which are all but extinct now. This FIAT was even claimed to have been barely broken in, as it was apparently parked up with a mere 6,000 miles on the clock. Which nicely matched the auction house’s estimate of where the hammer would fall. What the end result was, I can’t say, as Coys’ auction was on the Saturday and I left already Friday evening – and Coys are notoriously slow with publishing their auction results. But rest assured this was an absolutely magnificent classic estate car.
Of course, it was not auctions all of it, but the ordinary trades are always a little harder to get a decent overview of. When I left the exhibition on the Friday, there were a number of “Verkauft” signs on various classic cars, but at what price they sold was of course much more difficult to ascertain. As usual, there was also the other end of the spectrum present at Techno Classica: Cars with prices that seemed grossly optimistic – or maybe I just didn’t understand them?
I have heard many enthusiasts over the years complain that this is typical of Techno Classica, but I honestly don’t feel it is the norm: I encountered a lovely Manta, Kadett, Jeep, Golf GTi and several Mercedes-Benz at reasonable prices. How about Porsche 911 then? Yes, I think they too can (again) be found at reasonable money. Well, in this case “reasonable” still equals “a lot” – but surely everyone understands that one of the world’s best, most loved, coveted and sought after sports cars must cost money.
As such, with the broad variety of classics on offer, that’s where it occurred to me that Techno Classica was indeed quite well-balanced: Retro Classics in Stuttgart sometimes manages to give the visitor a distinct overdose of both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz at the same time, but this was not the case in Essen. Have they introduced the quotas which I once suggested German exhibitions should have? In any case, there was a fine range in not just marques but also prices. And even though the youngtimer cars did not occupy as much space and literally bandwidth as they have done in Stuttgart in recent years, they were certainly present at Essen as well. The gamble with the huge Youngtimer Collection sale by Sotheby’s seems to have paid off nicely.
So all in all, I think this Techno Classica was stronger and better than last year’s event. From that, I think it’s fair to take away that our hobby is continuing to flourish and the market seems to have stabilised again after having a bit of a wobble over the past few years. Enjoy this selection of impressions from Essen – and please share your thoughts too, whether you were there or not…