This time last year I attended the Historics of Brooklands November auction, which yielded a fairly mixed set of results, so I thought it might be interesting to go again one year later, and see what, if anything, has changed. In broad terms, the UK economy has shown little growth, but hasn’t declined (depending who you believe), and we are of course still entangled in the “will we, won’t we leave the EU” mess and this time we have the delights of the forthcoming General Election on December 12th to muddy the waters still further. Will this uncertainty – something we in the UK have been living with for over three years now – impact this classic car auction, taking place as it did so close to the election? How could we tell? Are there too many variables – not least in the types of cars being sold – for us to be able to draw any conclusions at all? Well, let’s take a look at how things went…
This was Historics’ fifth and final auction of the year, taking place at Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge, and had attracted a pretty wide variety of cars across 151 lots (compared to 139 at the same auction last year, and only slightly lower than the number of cars offered in earlier auctions this year), though this included a fair few of what could generously be called Youngtimers, and in some cases, simply used cars, albeit at the upper end of the market. It also attracted a good crowd, almost to the point of there being too many people and the auctioneers occasionally struggled to make themselves heard over the virtually constant background hubbub. I do think they would do everyone a favour – not least the vendors – if they didn’t allow very small children in; I’m not sure I would leave the side of my car with so many kids running around – though to be fair there was a good number of Historics’ staff around to keep an eye on things.
Despite the clamour, the auctioneers generally managed to keep things moving, not hanging on for too long when it became clear that a car was never going to reach reserve (I can’t help thinking that a lot of time would be saved if people knew in advance what the reserves were) and managed to move things along at a pretty brisk rate of just under 25 lots per hour.
A couple of more general remarks before I get into some of the lots themselves…Historics charge £30 for their catalogue, which admits two people. I have to say that it’s beautifully produced, with excellent photographs and good information about the cars on offer, and when you walk in, you’re also given a bag with about £20’s worth of classic car magazines. And with 151 lots to look over as well as access to the excellent facilities at Mercedes-Benz World, and the Brooklands Museum just a short walk away, it makes for a fine day out for the classic car enthusiast.
I arrived at Mercedes-Benz World in good time on a pretty gloomy day (exactly like last year!) and took the opportunity to take a closer look at some of the lots. Star lot, or at least, most expensive, was an 1966 Aston Martin DB5 restoration project with an estimate of £355,000 to £395,000, on the face of it a great deal of money for a bodyshell, and engine, some knackered seats and assorted other parts, and although bidding reached £370k, the project failed to sell…
Other particularly interesting lots to me were the enormous 1971 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman – all 20.5 feet of it, and one of no fewer than 30 examples of the marque for sale at this auction, though only half could be deemed to be classics – which carried an estimate of £230-£270k, a “garage find” blue matching numbers 1972 BMW 3.0CSi at No Reserve that we featured as our Prime Find last week, and a yellow 1976 Porsche 911 2.7 that I was initially interested in bidding for myself until it’s originally quoted mileage of 24,270 turned out to be missing a “1” at the front. While my interest in the Pullman was purely academic, I was really intrigued to see how the E9 and 911 did.
In the end, the Pullman – a quite astonishing machine, when you think about it – went for £240,000 (all sold prices quoted include Historics’ commissions of 10%), or a little under £12,000 per foot, and the Porsche – which was in very good order in terms of its bodyshell – for £33,000, right in the middle of its estimate range. The E9 had created quite a stir – all nine phone lines for telephone bidders had been booked in advance, and bidding sailed through the £30k barrier within about fifteen seconds. Final sold price was a remarkable £48,160; remarkable not just because of the low estimate of £13k to £17k (later increased to £18k to £23k), but because while this was a reasonable enough car, it was certainly going to need more work before reaching the standard of a good £50k CSi. I fear there was an element of bidding frenzy about this one.
As a fan of almost all things classic Porsche, I was surprised to see that only three of the six on offer found buyers. A beautiful metallic blue 1971 911 2.2T failed to sell, reaching just £62k against a lower estimate of £72k, and a stunning 1958 356A in purple with grey centre stripes and extensive competition history only got to £59k against a lower estimate of £72k. The sale of a 2001 996 Turbo for £41,440 was perhaps an indication of increasing acceptance of the most unpopular 996 (among 911 purists, at least), though it was still a little under its lower estimate – it looked very smart in guards red.
Historics auctions generally cover a fairly wide price range, and there were some intriguing sub-£20k cars on offer, including a 1958 Ponton 180 Mercedes, which admittedly had more than a little patina but nevertheless for just £6,792 looked like it would provide some bargain-priced fun, as did a 1968 Mercedes Benz 280S, sold for just £7,924. Both of these were going to need money spending on them over time but would certainly provide some classic fun while gradually improving them.
One car that looked like it wouldn’t need any work for quite some time was a lovely 1935 Singer Nine Le Mans, resplendent in royal blue. I really liked this exceptionally pretty little pre-WW2 sports car, which had had only three owners over its lifetime, and I think someone bagged a bargain at £19,040
While the E-Type bubble has perhaps deflated a little, there was a strong showing from a pair of Series 1 4.2-litre roadsters, both selling for healthy six-figure sums, the more expensive one maxing out at £155,000 having initially stalled at £30,000 less. XK120 to 150’s however seem to have become harder to shift – there were four fabulous examples for sale, but only one found a home, a lovely bright red 1950 XK120 just scrambling above it’s lower estimate by selling for £81,760.
What else? Well, a very striking 1974 Jensen Interceptor FF in a vivid shade of orange – or mango, to be more precise – fetched £72,000, while an excellent 1982 Mercedes Benz 500SL in Lapis Blue went for well above estimate at £41,440. A gorgeous 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III Sports Saloon by Barker in red and black sold for above estimate at £74,480 also caught the eye, and an immaculate silver with black leather interior 1983 Jaguar XJ6 Series III 4.2-litre looked an absolute bargain, selling for just £11,760, especially as it had a warranted mileage of only 31,180 – a lot of grace, space and pace for the money, and one of the steals of the day, I thought.
Among the lots that I was surprised didn’t find buyers were a very cool pistachio 1956 Ford Thunderbird Convertible, an immaculate 1965 Chevy Chevelle Malibu SS convertible in gleaming white – both carried estimates below £30k – and a wonderful 1974 Alfa Romeo Montreal that staggered to just £44k; it really looked worth every penny of it’s estimate of £50 – 60,000.
It was among the Youngtimers though that the two of the greatest bargains were to be found. The first – and indeed first lot of the day – was a white 1993 Audi 80 Cabriolet with 106,000 miles on the clock and in perfectly useable condition; it sold for a mere £1,132! (Photo: Historics). This will be a bona fide classic in just a few years, and at this price, surely a great entry-level classic? For just a little more, a 1991 Mercedes Benz 190E 2.6 litre in very good shape sold for £3,080. Personally I find both a little uninspiring, but at these prices?
What, if anything, can we glean about the classic car market from this auction? Let’s start with some facts and figures.
To begin with, a fair number of Youngtimers and Youngtimers-to-be were consigned to pad out the sale – as many as 37, or 24%, were 21st century cars. Not enough classics available to go round the now frequent classic car auctions – or not enough of the “right kind” for Historics target market?
On the negative side, of the 151 cars offered, 52 – just over a third –remained unsold. Of those sold, 40 went for sums within their estimate ranges, 14 below, and 23 above, though if you took the auctioneer’s commission into account, several more would fall in the below estimate category. Finally, 22 cars with no reserve were sold, meaning that the number of lots that were actively sold by the auctioneers was 77, or 51%, with 99 lots in total, or 66%, sold.
These figures are not so different from the same auction last year, although the auctioneers’ efforts to get cars above reserve were more successful by a decent margin – 51% against 42%
If any broader conclusion can be made, it’s perhaps that in the segment of the auction market where Historics operate, things are pretty much the same as twelve months ago which – in these uncertain times – is probably as good as could be hoped for.
One final observation – if further evidence was needed about the pitfalls of buying a new car, a 2017 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport (I know!) provided plenty. £92,000 when new – and with just 1,288 miles under its fat wheels, it crawled to £52,000 and remained unsold; a £40k hit in just two years on a practically unused car. You know it doesn’t make sense.