Market commentary: Edward Bridger-Stille, Historics

This week, Historics of Brooklands' Edward Bridger-Stille explains why condition, provenance and pure enjoyment affect values

Looking back over the last 12 months in the life of the classic car market whilst at the helm of Historics at Brooklands, the view from my Chesterfield swivel chair (with built-in cigar lighter) is pretty rosy.

I would say that the market prediction remains strong.There are lots of commentators of course, some authoritative and some rather less so. But the great thing about steering an auction ship like Historics, with hugely varied consignments, is that we are able to view the market as a whole and the analysis of sale prices really is a great barometer of what's going on.

Taking in our and the experiences of other UK auction houses, the prognosis seems pretty positive and the sales results certainly appear to look that way too, although as fellow auctioneers Silverstone commented recently, values of ‘best of breed’ cars with solid histories and great provenance are holding strong, but prices of average condition cars, pushed up in recent years by speculators, have fallen away.

That’s hardly surprising when you consider the huge volumes of classic cars that are regularly traded. Rightly, buyers are getting more picky and, as they say, 'the cream always rises to the top'. But importantly, the cream is not just the province of super expensive collector cars; it resonates throughout all categories.

Indeed, the market is brimful of diversity, which is what makes it so fascinating.

Speaking of which… At our sale in September, I was flanked on the podium by two of the smallest classic motor cars you will ever come across. It felt more like a scene out of Gulliver’s Travels. One of these, a delightful Brutsch Mopetta (or ‘Bruschetta’ as it became known on the day) – one of just 14 ever produced and one year shy of pensionable age – found a new owner at an eye-popping £46,000. At just over 5ft long, this makes it almost as valuable, inch for inch, as a freshly restored Series I E-Type Jaguar, but I’ll leave it to you to work out which is quicker.

This was no flash in the pan… Microcars are a fascinating sector and frequently return great results. One year ago, we offered a collection of eight varied tiddlers, from 1957 to 1984, all of which sold for significant money. This included a 1974 Zagato Lele – yes indeed, designed and made by the famed Italian carrozzeria – a delightfully-named 1959 Family Frisky Three, a trio of the ubiquitous Isetta ‘bubble cars’, a couple of charming 1980s Bambys and a 60-year-old Tourette Supreme that got the rafters rattling as it shot way beyond its estimate to settle for over £31,000.

If you’re tempted to think small, take a close look at the 1980 Ligier LS4 microcar that coming to sale at our next auction on November 25th. It bears the name of ex F1 racing driver and constructor, the late Guy Ligier, and comes to sale at an enticing no reserve.

Jaguar sale prices continue to be very resilient and at times astonishing, with the E-type Roadster raising eyebrows time after time. At our first auction in June 2010, a super-elegant 1962 example that had travelled just 1800 miles since an exhaustive £52,000 restoration changed hands for £66,000. Compare that with a very original unrestored example from the same year at this year’s March sale, which went to a new buyer for £145,600.

Similarly, a fully-restored 1958 Jaguar XK150 settled at £70,000 at that first sale and a comparable 1959 example soared in the auction hall to £121,000 in the summer of 2016. And in September this year, another example, in absolutely stunning condition, wafted to an effortless £138,000.

Much the same astral journey in value has been enjoyed by the wonderfully-evocative Mercedes-Benz (W121) 190 SL Roadster. In the eight years since production started in 1955, some 26,000 soft-tops were produced and frankly, they have lost none of their supreme elegance in the passage of time. Thumbing through our history files, I spotted that in 2010 we sold a thoroughly-restored 1960 example for £67,000, whilst a comparative 1962 model changed hands in May this year for some £116,500.

Inevitably, the quality of a consignment is one of the keys to a successful sale, and it’s an enormous pleasure and privilege to offer at times a car that silences even the most cynical. You could have heard a pin drop as an exquisite 1966 Maserati Sebring Series II, its Vignale coachwork reeking of such style and poise, come to sale at our most recent auction. Estimated at £190,000 to £220,000 it soared to sale at £270,000. It’s delightful to watch a car such as this demonstrate the fervour within the marketplace for a motorcar that is simply breathtaking.

Of course it’s easy to cherry-pick individual examples that ‘make the money’ way beyond their estimate and its true to say that sale prices will vary a great deal, but the fact remains that beautifully-presented cars with a rock-solid history – the ‘cream’ I referred to earlier – will always be sought-after. But like anything, if too many come to sale at the same time as owners are tempted to cash in, the laws of supply and demand take over and they may not achieve the seller’s expectations.

And then there’s this mysterious thing called ‘provenance', that extra ingredient that makes a car super-stand-out special – frequently because of its ownership history. I’m sure a psychologist could talk the hind legs off a donkey on the reason why we are attracted to buying things previously owned by famous people but no matter, rationality goes out through the window when a ‘celebrity’ car comes to sale… We love them.

Ultimately, owning a classic car boils down to about enjoyment, whether it's a Brutch Mopetta, a Jaguar E-type or as proved the case some sales back, a Lea Francis. In 2012 we offered a 1938 12hp sports roadster made by this venerable British marque. In original, unrestored condition, it beckoned for TLC and caught the eye of the person in the USA who became its next owner. The reason? Because he wanted to restore it to give to his two daughters. They were called Lea and Francis.

Drive carefully
Edward Bridger-Stille

Edward Bridger-Stille is auction director of Historics at Brooklands. Details of their next auction of 140 classic cars and automobilia, on Saturday 25 November at Mercedes-Benz World, Brooklands, can be viewed here.

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