For much of 2019, fear and uncertainty has clouded the British classic car market. Buyers have been sitting on the fence waiting for a clearer economic picture and, in particular, some finality on Brexit.
We predicted in the latest full issue of Hagerty Insider that October would be a crucible for sellers in the United Kingdom, with several important auctions during the month and the deadline for Brexit looming on October 31. That deadline came and went, with the UK’s relationship with the European Union still up in the air. The state of the classic car market remains similarly murky in the UK, as mixed results from two key sales indicate.
A buzz at Duxford
Members of the Hagerty team who attended H&H’s autumn sale at Duxford on October 16 reported a change in atmosphere from other recent UK auctions: The room was buzzing in a way they hadn’t experienced for a while. The good vibes translated into strong sales.
H&H, which offered its usual mix of popular traditional classics with a few interesting newer models, managed to achieve a sell-through rate of just under 70 percent, with more than one-third of lots reaching close to or above high estimate. Given the recent state of the market, these are very good figures.
A few lots performed extremely well. A 2004 Bentley Arnage T Mulliner sold for £38,250 ($49,165), well over its £30,000 ($38,560) high estimate. Even accounting for the Bentley’s condition—which was exceptional—it brought an unexpectedly high value. Similarly, a 1951 Jaguar XK120 Roadster sold for £75,375 ($96,885), well over its £65,000 ($85,550) top estimate, although the Hagerty Price Guide suggests this was a conservative prediction for a car in excellent condition.
A 1991 Audi Quattro smashed through it’s pre-sale estimate, bringing £84,375 ($108,455) against a predicted £65,000–£75,000 ($83,550–$96,405). This was more understandable, because it is one of the most desirable 20v Quattros and is a single-owner car with 32,000 documented miles and a full service history. Without a sticker out of place and metallic white paint with silver-grey leather seats, economic fears be damned.
No-sales included a trio of very low-mileage 1980s Ferraris: a 1983 308 GTS QV, a 1987 Mondial cabriolet, and a 1989 328 GTS with an astonishing 455 km (283 miles) from new. These models all rocketed in value over the 2016–18 boom, and the sheer quantity on the market means they’re now a hard sell, even when they press all the right buttons.
Big misses in London
The RM Sotheby’s London sale, held at its new Olympia venue, was a different kettle of fish. While H&H focuses on the mid-range British market, RM’s clientele tend to be more international in nature, and the cars more valuable. Both factors made it more sensitive to economic uncertainty.
Of the 84 car lots offered in the catalogue, 27 were shown “still for sale” as this story went live, representing a 67.4 percent sell-through rate. Some notable lots did very well: A remarkably original 1969 Lamborghini P400S boasting single family ownership since 1974 exceeded its pre-sale estimate of £800,000–£1,000,000 ($1.03 million–$1.29 million), selling for £1.25 million ($1.6 million), despite having lived in a shed the past five years.
Cars from the Youngtimer Collection also mostly performed well, with six of the eight AMG Mercedes-Benz models on offer finding buyers, including a 2009 SL65 AMG Black Series that achieved an above-estimate £224,250 ($288,250). All four Youngtimer Bentleys sold, including a 1998 Turbo RT Mulliner LWB that exceeded its top estimate, returning £88,550 ($113,820). These reflect recent pricing trends for modern AMGs and Bentleys in the UK (in the States, AMG values are trending up, but Bentleys have been flat).
However, a number of big-ticket cars failed to sell. Both a 2003 Ferrari Enzo with “fastidious” service history and a 1968 Aston Martin DB6 Volante with less than 15,000 km (9325 miles) failed to reach meet reserves. Seven of the 10 Aston Martins offered were still seeking new homes at press time.
Competition cars also fared poorly. RM commissioned vehicles from the collection of Swiss racing driver Fredy Lienhard; many of them were exceptional. But a number of them, including the headlining ex-Alesi/Berger 1994 Ferrari 412 T1, as well as a Maserati MC12 GT1, Jaguar XJR 11, and Porsche 962C, failed to their reach reserves. These high-value misses—each worth around the £1M mark—will hurt RM.
All in all, it could have been worse. The date and location, just a week before the scheduled Brexit date, could not have presented more of a challenge, and the auction wasn’t a gloomy firesale as some feared. Yet in the aftermath, it seems sellers of seven-figure cars, particularly race cars, might want to take their wares across the Atlantic to the U.S..