Adolfo Orsi and Raffaele Gazzi rose to a difficult challenge with the 2016–2017 edition of their Classic Car Auction Yearbook. The challenge was to make something that is very good even better.
In addition to the core of the Yearbook—some 300 pages describing (in detail) 5,659 individual vehicles from 113 auctions in the U.S., Great Britain, Europe, and Australia— the two analyze some important trends.
In this edition, the analysis has been expanded to look further inside the numbers to examine the distribution of the market by region, vehicle age, marque, and auction timing. The latter clearly shows the effect of the U.S. market, where giants like RM Sotheby’s, Gooding & Company, Bonhams, Mecum, and Barrett-Jackson dominate the seasonal distribution around January (Kissimmee and Scottsdale), March (Amelia Island), and August (Monterey). Monterey is the skyscraper on the Yearbook’s bar graph with a turnover roughly twice that of the next closest month, January.
The introductions (“Market analysis of the 2106–2017 season”) are really the high point, with observations, comments, and analysis by the authors and representatives of Artcurial, Bonhams, Gooding, and RM Sotheby’s. The lead-off analysis by Artcurial’s Matthieu Lamoure is particularly insightful:
“It is good to report that, after years of strong price increases, the market has regulated itself and ironed out price inconsistencies for models that had shot up in value without any real explanation… Good news: with this regulation and the return to more realistic and sustainable price, the speculators have disappeared and been replaced by lifelong enthusiasts.”
It was speculators who destroyed the collector car market in the late 1980s, flipping cars at ever-increasing prices among themselves until they realized that no collector willing to drive, show, and enjoy the cars and hold them for a period of years had been in the ownership chain for years. By 1991–92, no one knew what a car was worth—the hard core collectors having long since exited the public (i.e., auction) market’s inflated values.
Matthieu Lamoure continued: “The current trend of selectivity in the market demonstrates how mature and sustainable it has become… If you want to buy the car of your dreams, do the research, compare, take your time, select, and buy.”
And if that sometimes means record prices (like RM Sotheby’s Aston Martin DBR1 at Monterey for $22.5 million, Bonhams McLaren F1 at Quail Lodge for $15.6 million, and Gooding’s Ferrari 275 GTB Competizione at Pebble Beach for $14.5 million), it is because two or three informed, well-advised, thorough collectors have decided they are worth the money.
Philip Kantor of Bonhams echoed the observation, saying, “[W]e have clearly witnessed a far more realistic approach to the market. This stabilization is truly good news not only for real enthusiasts but also the market in the long term. Opportunist speculators are in many cases panicking… No reserve lots are more frequent than ever in auctions guaranteeing a sale and leaving it up to the market to decide on the price on the day.”
The Yearbook’s authors endorsed Kantor’s “no reserve” observation with a new analysis and graph showing the growth of “no reserve” cars in high profile auctions. It was augmented by a major section (“Season Case”) on the RM Sotheby’s “Duemila Route” no reserve auction at Milan in November 2016, where enthusiasm in many cases overwhelmed rationality.
More importantly, the steady growth in cars offered without reserve is a strong indication that consignors, bidders, and auction companies are confident in a sound and predictable marketplace. The Yearbook’s identification of the trend is an example of how each edition gets better and that there is value in reading through its analysis and deciphering its dense graphics.
The Classic Car Auction Yearbook is an indispensable resource that is valuable for reference throughout the year, but also for the informed, insightful analysis that introduces the Yearbook.