Back on the gas

After a post-Monterey pause, sales of classic road and racing cars are hotting up again

Following the jamboree of Pebble Beach and the various gatherings around Monterey in August there was, as always, something of a vacuum in high-level sales. So many prime cars are saved for that week that in September the market takes a breather.

By October the machinery was in gear again and tying in with the massive annual Hershey autojumble, RM Sotheby’s sold several collections of mainly US vehicles, from the Orient Buckboard, a solid-tyred 1907 attempt to offer basic motoring for the masses which went for a lightweight $7700, to a unique Belgian-bodied Duesenberg Model J cabriolet (right), a 1935 attempt to soar as far from the masses as possible. It went for $1.45 million, while one of three extant 1933 Pierce Arrow Silver Arrows (above), with bizarre streamlined bodywork, achieved $2.3m. Among examples of top-end US luxury, a Cadillac V16 convertible brought $715,000 and a rare 1957 Dual-Ghia convertible reached $341,000.

Bonhams chose the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia for its October 2 ‘Preserving the Automobile’ sale (originality being a proud boast of the museum), where a London-Edinburgh Rolls-Royce Ghost scraped past the $1m mark by $1000 to top the list. Fiercest bidding was over a remarkably original 1910 Regal Underslung, advanced for its time and soaked in patina, with a characterful monocle windscreen. The victor paid $165,000 to claim it.

A keen veteran enthusiast could purchase a London-Brighton vehicle on Friday November 3 and head for Madeira Drive on the Sunday, if the car came with an entry slot. Bonhams’s pre-Run veteran sale includes reputedly the oldest British car, the 1894 Santler (estimate £200-250,000), plus the awe-inspiring 1896 Salvesen Steam Cart, which has decorated previous Runs. Estimate: £150-200,000.

A few days on, the firm sells the extensive Lindley Bothwell collection in which the stars are the 1913 Peugeot L45 Indianapolis entry, a seminal machine, and a pair of 1908 racers, a Benz Prinz Heinrich and a 60HP Mercedes Simplex. The Peugeot is the Lotus 49 of its time, recasting racing car design permanently with its high-revving twin-cam engine. It ran at Indy twice, in 1916 and 1919.

You could barely have better provenance in a racing car than the name Michael Schumacher, and in New York on November 16 RM Sotheby’s will auction one of the most significant of all the seven-time champion’s mounts. Chassis F2001 no211 (top) brought the German ace his final Monaco Grand Prix victory in a season where he clinched his fourth world title, the car bagging him an astonishing nine victories in 2001. He scored the decisive win, at Hungary, in this chassis.

Powered by a screaming 900bhp 3-litre V10, the F2001 sprang from that magical synergy of Schumacher, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne that won Maranello five championships in a row.

So good was the 2001 that it opened the 2002 season with victory in Melbourne before giving way to the equally successful F2002. Whether or not a new owner will stretch it to all 18,500rpm, it’s an opportunity to possess one of the pinnacles of Formula 1 engineering. Unusually, the car is being sold at the partnership’s Fine Art sale rather than a dedicated automobile event, but no doubt the same potential buyers will attend. Bidding is expected to reach the $4m region.

Also blurring the line between autos and art, RM Sotheby’s holds its third Icons sale, featuring prime examples of motoring design, at its Manhattan HQ as part of a week of Sotheby’s Luxury Division events starting on November 30. It’s said to offer “an unparalleled experience across multiple platforms” – a further sign that buyers are coming from a wider reach. Observers see a gentle slackening of the classic market, but the top end seemingly remains ever-buoyant.


Auction manager and car specialist, RM Sotheby’s

While the overall market volume has dropped a little, we see a strong split along quality lines. If this E-type has dropped, that E-type has risen. We had two ‘Plexi’ Daytona Ferraris in the Maranello sale; one went at £530,000, the other at £1.6m, because it was a barn-find alloy car. The market gets excited by unusual things. Investment buyers came out of the market in 2016 because the market was no longer dynamic enough, so we’re seeing more buyers from the committed end, who are prepared to pay over estimate, and over last year’s market peaks, for prime history and originality. Also there are a lot of new players – a new client at our Milan sale last year has now spent £40m with us.