10 February 2014

Five Things that Rocked Our World

Amazing Sales Prices and Unrestored Cars taking Best of Show, 2013 was a year for the record books.

It’s not courting controversy to say that 2013 may have been the most significant year in recent memory. Five things in particular stood out as near-seismic occurrences in the collector car world:

1. Media circus auctions. Auction companies continued to raise their game in terms of media savviness and marketing efforts. Two sales in particular garnered massive publicity. RM Auctions of Blenheim, Ontario, has always excelled at marketing individual collections, and perhaps the most memorable such sale happened in February in Madison, Georgia, at the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum. When there was nothing left in the microcar world worth chasing, Weiner decided it was time to sell. Nearly 100 tiny cars — some reasonably well known like Messerschmitts and Isettas, but mainly weird stuff like Eshelmans and Fuldamobils — changed hands for astonishing prices. Oh, and the catalog for the sale was tiny, too: a 5-by-5-inch hardbound book that is likely the most wonderfully creative catalog ever seen in the classic car world.

Meanwhile, in Pierce, Nebraska, VanDerBrink Auctions dispatched the cars amassed by eccentric Chevrolet dealer Ray Lambrecht. The total sales figure from the auction — mostly comprised of parts cars, with a few low-mileage originals thrown in — was an astonishing $3 million, and it underscores the importance that untouched cars have attained in today’s marketplace. Dave Kinney has the full story in "Marketwatch," page 58.

2. Big anniversaries. Two of the biggest automotive icons — the Corvette Sting Ray and the Porsche 911 — celebrated 50th anniversaries, while Corvette as a whole also celebrated its 60th. Chevy and Porsche managed to time the release of all-new models with the anniversaries, and many concours and shows joined in the festivities.

3. Unrestored cars climb. For quite some time now, the classic car hobby has been falling in line with more mature collecting pursuits with respect to valuing originality. In 2013, we saw more tangible proof; for the first time, an unrestored car won a major concours when a beautifully preserved 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C2900B claimed Best of Show at The Elegance at Hershey last June. Also of note, British auction house Bonhams held its second annual sale of exclusively unrestored cars at the Simeone Museum in October — a $2.6 million result from 52 cars — and the collecting world took notice.

4. Scary money. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention what happened at the top of the market in 2013. Total auction sales broke $1 billion for the first time, and the Hagerty Blue Chip Index — a stock market-style index that averages the values of 25 of the most sought-after post-war cars — continued to trade at record highs (up about 20 percent over the year). The Monterey sales that are the bellwether of the blue chip market exceeded $300 million in total sales, compared with $265 million in 2012. The week was also notable for the record $27.5 million paid at RM for a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spider. This came hot on the heels of Bonhams’ July sale of the ex-Juan Manuel Fangio Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix for $29.6 million. Both were stunning results, but it was surprising that the less historically significant street car sold for so near the one-of-a-kind racer. This underscores that usability trumps history in many instances, and the NART Spider will always be far more usable than the W196.

5. Event passages. It’s sad to note that after 18 years, the Glenmoor Gathering of Significant Automobiles in Canton, Ohio, didn’t return in 2013, a sign of the escalating costs and the fierce competition for sponsorship. In its place, we added the Pinehurst Concours in North Carolina and the Cobble Beach Concours in Ontario, Canada.

As you read this, 2014 has gotten off to a good start, with another round of successful auctions in Scottsdale and a new concours at the Arizona Biltmore. But 2014 is going to have to pull off something special to be mentioned in the same breath as the one that preceded it.

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