Market: $45.5m spent at RM Sotheby's Icons sale

Strong prices but did lack of atmosphere account for some of the non-sales? Our man in New York has his say...

RM Sotheby’s held its third New York sale, entitled 'Icons', on Wednesday 6 December and saw a total sales result of $45.5m. The top 10 sales of the auction were:

  • 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider Competizione (chassis no. 1451 GT): $17,990,000
  • 1952 Jaguar C-Type (chassis no. XKC 007): $5,285,000
  • 2018 Bugatti Chiron (chassis no. VF9SP3V3XJM795069): $3,772,500
  • 1965 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible (chassis no. DB5C/1923/L): $2,700,000
  • 2014 Pagani Huayra (chassis no. ZA9H11UA3ESF76078): $1,850,000
  • 2015 Porsche 918 'Weissach' Spyder (chassis no. WP0CA2A16FS800652): $1,732,000
  • 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster (chassis no. 198.042.7500649): $1,407,500
  • 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing (chassis no. 198.040.5500593): $1,352,500
  • 1990 Ferrari F40 (chassis no. ZFFMN34AXL0087144): $1,242,500
  • 2016 Ferrari F12tdf (chassis no. ZFF81BFA0G0219337): $1,105,000

The final sale result of $45.5 million was pretty strong but the auction room itself was quiet compared to other RM Sotheby’s auctions. Also, while many cars sold, they tended in most cases to sell at or below the low estimates.

Cars that did not sell, such as the 1966 Porsche 911, the 1969 Ferrari Daytona, and the 1974 Dino, were cars that by their estimates seemed to have very unrealistic reserves that the owners would not back off from. It could also be that with the room as quiet as it seemed to be, there simply were not enough real buyers at the auction to chase some of the more aggressively priced lots.

I mention the lack of real buyers for a reason that is more of a gut feeling than something I can scientifically quantify. In the 18 years I have been attending collector car auctions I have become friends with many other buyers, and even if I do not know everyone in the room personally, I recognize them from seeing them over the years.

At most sales the percentage of people I know or recognise is somewhere around 80% compared to those who are new and I can’t remember seeing. At this year's New York sale the percentage of people who are some of those usual suspect collectors was around 30% compared to the number of attendees who were unknown to me, which made up the remaining 70%.

Again, I know that is not very scientific, but it seemed that the full-to-capacity sales room had quite a few new spectators than at any other sale I have attended, which probably accounts for the lack of energy and excitement about some of the cars offered.

The other issue noticed by many bidders and attendees was the lack of excitement generated by the auctioneer. The presentation by the auctioneer was much like a Sotheby’s art auction, meaning all business.

The most successful collector car auctioneers I have seen – think RM veterans Peter Bainbridge, Max Girardo, and Gooding and Company's Charlie Ross – both ask for bids and entertain the bidders and spectators. The automotive auction space is used to being entertained and when auctioneers are able to accomplish this, the prices go up and records are often set.

On a positive note RM Sotheby’s colour-commentator Alain Squindo did a great job on describing the cars and explaining why they were special but that message needs to be reinforced and expanded on by the auctioneer, and invite the colour-commentator in a bit of a dialogue about the car if bidding is stalled.

The highlight of the evening was definitely the bidding war for the 1959 California Spider. Once the car reached the $15 million mark, two bidders fought it out for another ten minutes until one lucky buyer was finally able to get the car for a record-setting $17,990,000.

Another standout sale at the other end of the price spectrum was the 1960 VW 23-window Bus. This is possibly the finest restoration of a Type 2 bus I have ever seen, a simply flawless and accurate restoration and the happy little bus sold for a well deserved $207,200.

The best buy of the sale for me was the 1956 Austin-Healey 100-6 'Goldie', which was the Earls Court show car for Healey. The car was bought for only $179,200 and even though it is an older restoration, it seemed like a veritable bargain for a car with that kind of history.

At the end of the day RM Sotheby’s Icons sale should be considered a success with the sales result of $45.5 million in just three hours of automotive lots offered. The New York auction market is different from every other location on the collector car auction calendar. Hopefully some of the spectators this year will like the absolutely fantastic presentation that RM Sotheby’s staged in the preview area and will raise their hand at the next New York event.

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