The big sell

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Times are hard and yet some auction houses are still achieving good sales. So what’s their secret?

The annual RM Auctions sale at Battersea has become something of a stalwart in the motor sport calendar. In only two years of hosting the event, the American auction house has made a name for itself by selling some of the most interesting cars, achieving record prices, hosting lavish parties the night before and for offering the British auction scene that little something extra. Whether that something extra is what everyone wants will depend on whom you ask, of course.

The fact that we no longer live in a world where a Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France Berlinetta can be sold in a cold and damp warehouse is indisputable. But what RM does is to create an event rather than just an auction. So much so that many have expressed concern that it is catering for an audience that simply doesn’t exist in Britain. Terry Lobzun, director of PR for RM, is keen to stress that it is the relationships the house has built up with its clients that have helped its growth outside the US. “What gives us a competitive advantage is our comfort level with clients,” he tells Motor Sport after the sale in Battersea.

“Our business started in the restoration shop so we have a collective knowledge, and customers know that we know the cars from the ground up. Also we respect the different territories and the way things are done. I know there have been some comparisons with American-style auctions, for example when we first went to Italy for the Ferrari sale. There were suggestions that it looked more like the auctions you see on television, which wasn’t true really. But we’re far removed from the old days of popping up a tent; the P T Barnum way of doing things.”

Everything evolves, and that’s certainly true of auctions, which historically were first held around 500BC when sales of women for marriage were staged in Babylon! Today, the common concern is that auctions should cater for the country that they are based in.

“I think you’ll see a difference between what we do in London and, say, Monterey,” says Lobzun. “It’s really two different markets, two different audiences. We always do things with finesse and with style and respect. Also we’ve always had international clientele. It wasn’t as if we came over blind – we had a base of clientele and it allows us to service them more efficiently. We came over with the confidence that we were going to provide great cars, that we’d put a little bit of glamour and showbiz into it. People reward us with buying these great cars.”

It’s an attitude that has worked, if the results of the Battersea sale are anything to go by. Click through auction results from anywhere in the world right now and what stands out is the number of cars which have a ‘no sale’ tag attached to them. It’s obvious that the small matter of the largest economic crisis in living memory is affecting sales. But RM still managed to achieve a record £2,530,000 for a McLaren F1 at Battersea and sell 70 of the nigh-on 100 cars that were put under the hammer. A quite remarkable achievement when you think that the market some of these cars are aimed at includes people who have lost millions of pounds in the past few months.

Lobzun adds: “The enthusiasm is still there and the attendance is there. The positive attitude about the industry is still there and certainly the opportunities are too. But we were actually more than surprised [about Battersea], given the economic conditions.

“There are people who think that life is too short and I think that’s why the industry is so active. People always seem to be looking for alternative investments and creative investments, something they can enjoy and have fun with. So I think we’re going to see a lot more incredible prices next year.”

The fact that RM has crossed the Atlantic to host sales in Europe can only be a good thing, especially when it achieves what it did at Battersea. It’s just a shame that RM is compared to British auction houses on such a regular basis, as there is no way of saying who is better. The bottom line is that RM just has a different way of doing business, and variety is no bad thing when it comes to choosing where to sell your car.

Around the dealers
Competition cars currently for sale here and abroad

1959 Ferrari Dino 196/246S
Luigi Chinetti bought chassis 0776 for his star Mexican drivers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez in 1959, who campaigned the car at Nassau, Sebring, the Nürburgring and in the Targa Florio. After a period in the US with Buck Fulp and Tom O’Brien, it was sold to F1 privateer Rob Walker. This unique Fantuzzi-bodied Dino is lighter and potentially faster than a Testa Rossa, and comes with disc brakes and both 2.4 and 2.2-litre V6 engines.
POA, www.duncanhamilton.com, Tel: 01256 765000

1953 Frazer Nash Targa Florio MKII
This original car has an extensive and well-documented history. It is presented in its original Bristol Green livery and accompanied by its FIVA Passport and VSCC buff Logbook. This is a rare opportunity to acquire an example of the only British car to win the Targa Florio.
POA, www.martinchisholm.com, Tel: 01242 821600

1935 MG PA/B Special
This rare PA/B supercharged racer has an extensive history including VSCC, sprint and Brooklands races. The car is propelled by a 950cc supercharged engine linked to an ENV 75 pre-selector gearbox. Finished in Monza red, it runs on methanol and is in perfect restored running order.
£69,950, www.classiccarshop.co.uk, Tel: 01663 733209

1973 Chevron B24 F5000
This B24 is believed to be the ex-Peter Gethin Race of Champions winner. In 1973 Doug Shierson ordered a B24 for Gethin, in which he also won the first round of the European season at Brands Hatch. The car then raced in the US F5000 Championship. It is race-ready and has recently been rebuilt.
£65,000, www.autotuneuk.com, Tel: 01254 886819

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