In America, car auctions are high-octane events
It may surprise you to hear that RM Auctions has only ever held three sales in Europe during its 17-year history, and yet claims to have sold over £68 million worth of machinery in those three sales. That’s several million pounds in commission alone.
So why aren’t more American auction houses frantically paddling across the Atlantic to get a slice of the action? Well, Motor Sport travelled to Monterey for the Pebble Beach concours and auction weekend to ask David Gooding, president and CEO of Gooding and Company, about the US auction scene and RM’s success across the pond.
“I wouldn’t rule out [coming to Europe],” he says, “but we are very intent on wanting to offer the market something different. If we feel there is a niche to fill and the market will respond to us, then we’ll fill it.
“Perhaps in the future it’s something we will consider. We’ll do a car auction when we feel the time is right.”
What is certain is that, with the publicised success of RM, other houses will be speeding up the rate at which they consider such a move.
One thing the American houses do particularly well is the show surrounding the event. Indeed, RM got a name for itself in Europe for making an auction exactly that – an event. It’s no different here in Monterey, with music, videos and lights accompanying the lots up for sale.
“I think it’s important and we can add value to the cars,” says David. “It’s not just about adding explosions and fireworks – if we present a car in a really exciting manner, we translate it in a way that gets it across to a client, that adds value.
“You know you can take that Ferrari over there,” he turns, pointing to a 1950 166 MM Berlinetta Le Mans, “and just roll it onto a stage and present it as a ‘beautiful Ferrari’. Or you can have lights, music and a video of it roaring down a track and screaming through the turns. Then all of a sudden you feel like you’re in the car. You can feel the g-forces and the revs, and that gets your blood pumping. That can make the difference between a million dollar bid and a two million dollar bid.”
However much RM and Gooding and Company’s competitors dislike such an approach, it certainly seems to work when it’s applied in the right way at the right auction. You only need to look at past results to see how well some cars are selling. The four auction houses that hosted sales over the Monterey weekend (Bonhams and Butterfields, Russo and Steele, RM Auctions and Gooding and Company) all produced extremely successful sales and attracted some fascinating cars.
Without doubt one of the highlights was the 1960 Jaguar E2A that Bonhams sold at Quail Lodge on August 15. The hammer finally dropped at an impressive £2,672,700, but this came as no surprise to the many who were familiar with its history. The car, widely considered to be one of the most significant surviving prototypes ever to come to auction, was driven by none other than Sir Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney and Walt Hansgen during its racing years, which included the 1960 Le Mans 24 Hours.
It was built by Jaguar as the ‘link’ between the D and the E-types, and housed a fuel-injected 3-litre motor which sadly failed six hours into the race at La Sarthe (the head seal had gone and a piston burned). The Jag had spent the 40 years prior to the auction in one family’s ownership – let’s hope the new owner continues to let us see it at events such as the Festival of Speed.
Down the road, and only a couple of days later, Gooding and Company showed us that its approach does seem to work. As David suggested, giving the cars some ‘life’ as they went under the hammer worked well, with the company managing to sell over £16m worth of cars in two days. However, some interesting cars failed to reach their estimates (the 1932 Bugatti Type 46 Sport Saloon sold for a mere £200,000), while others from Dr Peter and Susan Williamson’s collection of Bugattis sold for record-breaking prices.
The star of the show was without doubt the 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante Coupé which sold for £4,239,000. This rare machine is from the Williamson Bugatti Collection and has a very comprehensive history, starting with Robert Eonnet in 1936 (the date he ordered it from the factory), who happened to be a sportsman, a bobsledder and a member of the French ski team, and ending with the Williamsons who have owned it since 1974.