Monterey 2015 will go into the books as an undoubtedly important event in the current market cycle. For the first time since 2009, there was no year-over-year gain in the total, and the full significance of that (both real and psychological) likely won’t be completely understood until well into 2016. For the moment, this much is apparent: The long-awaited stabilization in the market appears to be under way, albeit not unambiguously.
If Monterey were represented by just two auction houses, RM and Gooding, we wouldn’t be discussing the concept of stabilization quite as loudly, as both RM and Gooding were up massively, about $45 million between the two of them with only about 15 more cars brought to market between the two auctions. Sell-through rates were pretty close to the same as in 2014, as were averages realized and the value of unsold lots (well over $100 million). Most tellingly, the amount of value in unsold lots was nearly double what it was in 2013. This lends some credence to the notion that the actual peak of the market in terms of momentum was Monterey 2013 and that the results of 2014 and 2015 can possibly be assigned to dialed-in owners timing sales before the realization that the upward momentum of the market was petering out became common knowledge.
Rationality continues to be the watchword at the high end with bidding that was described by several onlookers as “disciplined.” At Gooding, the top cars were split roughly 50/50 between selling at the low end and the high end of the estimates. RM was a bit more consistent at delivering nearer to the top estimates for its big cars, but it did have some notable no-sales over the block, among them a 250 GT California Spider (which sold post-auction for $8.5 million including premium) and the CERV I Corvette experimental car.
Individual trends remain consistent from Scottsdale and Amelia Island, and even late 2014 — relatively modern cars are the ones seeing the greatest gains at the moment, whereas 1950s-1960s cars are no longer appreciating significantly, and 356s and long-hood Porsche 911s (1964-73) are stable or even down a bit (a pair of 1965 911s sold for particularly disappointing amounts at both Bonhams and RM). Porsches from the next decade and beyond, particularly air-cooled Turbos, continue the trend from Amelia of being white-hot, as do safety-bumper (post-1973) MFI 2.7-liter Euro non-turbo Carreras.
Enzo-era Ferraris (with the exception of outliers like the Gooding $797,500 250 GTE) seem stable at the moment. The 365 GTB/4 Daytona is a decent canary in the Ferrari coal mine. These cars were selling for less than $200K 10 years ago, but they’ve steadily increased over the last five years, blowing past $500K and then $700K in what looked like an inexorable march toward the million-dollar club. But they’ve seemingly stalled out between $700K and $800K for the moment.
At the other end of the spectrum, 246 Dinos, which seemed like a car with no ceiling in sight, have pulled back from the $500K mark. Even the Toyota 2000GT, a car that seemed to enter the million-dollar club a bit too fast, has pulled back, with two sales under $1 million in Monterey.
More recent cars, however, continue to climb. Post-Enzo cars like the F40, 288 GTO — and even more common cars like the 550/575, 308/328 and Testarossa — continue to be in significant demand, with the latter two models nearly doubling in price year over year.
The more than $13 million realized by RM for the McLaren F1 was a stunning but not unexpected result. The notion that the fourth most valuable car sold all weekend isn’t even old enough to vote, let alone legally drink, is something to wrap one’s head around. Or try this one on for size: The Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, the gold standard of collectible post-war European sports cars, is being eclipsed in value by the Porsche 959, a technical tour de force that is not yet 30 years old. The strength of newer cars isn't limited to the highest priced models, either, as Bonhams sold a 1989 BMW M3 for $96,250. If the current stabilization morphs into a downturn in 2016, these modern classics will be interesting cars to watch. Time may ultimately be on their side, but it will be interesting to see if that time truly is now or if it’s 10 or 15 years into the future.