Crisis? What crisis?

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Every year over 100,000 classic car enthusiasts pour into the Porte de Versailles in Paris for the Rétromobile show. February 6-8 marked the 34th edition of the event and the theme, ‘New energies are more than 100 years old’, highlighted all the major turning points in the history of the car.

The action in the Parisian area was overshadowed by one particular lot that went up for sale in the Bonhams auction, however – the 1937 Bugatti Type 57S that Motor Sport featured last month carried an estimate of £2.6-3 million and sold for £2.97m, leaving the ‘doom mongers’ in stunned silence.

This wasn’t a one-off either: other cars sold extremely well including ‘Black Bess’, the ex-Roland Garros Bugatti Type 13 that went for £2.2m, and a Citroën DS23 EFi Cabriolet that sold for a crunch-defying £302,520.

With many of the cars failing to sell at its Gstaad auction, Rétromobile must have provided a welcome upturn in sales for Bonhams, and it showed the world that people are still willing to spend money on the right cars. Having shifted over £8.8m of machinery, Bonhams must be feeling as buoyant as the atmosphere at the French show.

Of course there was another important auction at Rétromobile, with French market leader Artcurial holding one of its two annual sales. But even though the auction house sold the unique Matra MS650 for a satisfying £1.18m, it struggled to shift the remaining 60 lots. Although there were some stunning cars in the sale the estimates appeared to be too high and the crowd just wasn’t bidding.

If one company can stage one of its most successful sales of the past year, and another finds the going sticky, it raises the question: how can this happen? Both houses had an interesting line-up of cars, both staged their sales at one of the most important classic car events in Europe, separated only by a matter of hours, and both are very well-established companies. Could it really have been the estimates that pushed potential buyers away? Or is there perhaps more behind the figures, in the shape of a greater emphasis on PR and marketing?

Whichever applies, the car market is a fickle one, and an auction can live or die on something as straightforward as the atmosphere in the room or the mood of a potential buyer. What is certain is that if Bonhams hadn’t held its auction at Rétromobile, various people would have been asking whether the French car show was still the place for a sale. And if Bonhams hadn’t held its auction at all, there would have been a large camp of people blaming Artcurial’s fortunes on the recession.

Scottsdale. It’s a familiar name in the motor sport and classic car worlds, because every year in January four auction houses host sales in the Arizona town. What some of you may not be aware of, however, is the magnitude of these auctions and just how many cars are sold in the space of six days.

Russo and Steele sold £11.9m worth of cars in January, RM Auctions £12.7m, Gooding and Company £22.2m, and Barrett-Jackson £46m, giving a grand total of £92.8m in a week. That is a quite extraordinary amount of money exchanging hands in a town with a population of just 240,000 people.

Yes, there were a lot of cars up for auction – Barrett-Jackson alone managed to sell 1000 vehicles – but many of these went for serious money. Gooding and Company sold a 1937 Talbot-Lago T150C SS tear-drop coupé for £2.5m, a 1932 Daimler 40/50 Double Six Sport Saloon for £2.1m and a 1960 Ferrari 250GT California Spider for £3.5m, meaning that in just three drops of the gavel they had shifted £8.1m of machinery, and no doubt accrued a fairly sizeable amount of commission.

So how come this particular set of January sales has been such a success? Well, you can see the appeal. If you want to buy or sell a car at auction, ‘Scottsdale week’ is your best chance, as everything from dubious specials to some award-winning Ferraris go under the hammer, and the people who want one are usually to be found manning the front line. With RM Auctions selling 83 per cent of the cars that it offered, it looks like the event will continue to be a success next year and further into the future. For a small town, Scottsdale is firmly on the map as one of the places to sell your car or buy your next one. Not bad for a town which television’s South Park referred to as “the most horrible place on Earth”.

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