5 compelling deals from the May 2021 live auctions at Indy and Amelia

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RM Sotheby's/Drew Shipley

Three major live auctions took place in the last two weeks, two in Amelia Island and one in Indianapolis. With over 2000 cars crossing various blocks, there was plenty on offer for everyone. Unless you were a bargain hunter, however. We’ve seen the collector car market gain ground during the pandemic, and the May 2021 auctions were no exception. The Amelia Island auctions held by RM Sotheby’s and Bonhams offered 22 percent fewer cars than last year, but nonetheless still managed 7 percent higher total sales. Mecum Indy pulled in 54 percent higher total sales on only 14 percent more cars than July 2020’s Indy sale.

That’s all to say that the pickings for bargains from May’s big sales were slim. There were a few good deals, though, and one strange one if you read to the end.

1935 Auburn 851 Supercharged Boattail Speedster ($456,000)

Auburn 851 front three-quarter
Bonhams

Bonhams Amelia Island, Lot 145

Pre-sale estimate: $600,000 – $800,000

#3-condition (Good) value: $825,000

Any $456,000 sale is a bold selection on this kind of list, but context is key and everything is relative. And this Boattail Speedster was a steal. The Auburn wears an older restoration but has remained in excellent condition. In spite of this, Bonhams still set its pre-sale estimate right around the #4 (Fair) condition value for this car—likely because this example is right-hand-drive. It’s a rare option, but in this case an undesirable one. The sale proceeded to undercut Bonham’s low estimate of $600,000 by 24 percent, and the #4-condition value of $700,000 by 35 percent. A low sale for such an iconic car is surprising considering pre-war cars on average preformed exceptionally well at Amelia Island this year. If you can handle having your passenger order for you at the drive-thru, this was a primetime car for the money.

1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Long Wheelbase ($47,040)

Rolls Royce Silver Wraith front three-quarter
Bonhams

Bonhams Amelia Island, Lot 182

Pre-sale estimate: $80,000 -$100,000

#3-condition (Good) Value: $133,000

Is there a more elegant way to spend $47K? This 1956 Silver Wraith is from an era in Rolls-Royce history that predates the 6 3/4 liter L-Series V-8 which powered most Rolls and Bentleys for many decades from 1959 on. Instead, a 4.9-liter straight-six with an “adequate” 125 horsepower propelled this 11-foot-wheelbase behemoth. The Wraith at Bonhams Amelia Island sold for 41 percent below low estimate and 57 percent below our #4-condition value. With its Tuxedo color combo, this Silver Wraith would make for a classic, stylish wedding rental.

1970 Oldsmobile 442 Convertible ($61,600)

Olds 442 Convertible front three-quarter
RM Sotheby's/Drew Shipley

RM Sotheby’s Amelia Island, Lot 112

Pre-sale estimate: $90,000 -$100,000

#3-condition (Good) value: $88,080 (after +20% premium for four-speed)

Muscle cars are making a comeback, which means the new owner of this 442 made out like a bandit. We gave this Olds an #2-condition (Excellent) rating when we saw it at auction last year, after it benefited from a recent professional restoration. With that rating comes an average value of $124,800 once factoring in the 20-percent premium for its four-speed manual transmission. Put that all together and what this sale at Amelia represents is a 442 that changed hands for roughly half what we expected it to and 32 percent below the low estimate set by the auction house. Not bad for an open-top monster with 500 ft-lb of torque. While it’s a great get for the new owner, it’s simultaneously a tough break for the seller who appears to have suffered a bad flip. The very same 442 recently sold at RM’s Auburn 2020 sale last September for $82,500.

Tony Stewart’s 2007 COT NASCAR ($24,200)

Home Depot Toyota Camry Racecar front three-quarter
Mecum

Mecum Indy, Lot S19

If all you’re looking for is power per dollar, your chariot just passed you by. Though not road-legal, this NASCAR competitor was recently dyno-tested at 885 horsepower. Like many race cars, it has some interesting history. Tony Stewart won the 2007 Watkins Glen race in this “Camry” when it wore Chevrolet branding, making it the first “Car of Tomorrow” winner for Joe Gibbs Racing. This car, chassis 175 that was previously acquired from crew chief Greg Zipadelli’s collection, now wears a 2013 Camry body, according to Mecum.

Sometimes, the right car at the wrong place at the wrong time can add up to an opportunity for a savvy bidder. Though Mecum Indy seems like it would be a great place to sell a NASCAR veteran, something didn’t click here. A similar phenomenon happened at the Bonham’s Amelia Island 2019 auction, where Dale Earnhardt’s 1977 Chevrolet Nova Grand National sold for $53,000, then one month later sold again for $209,000 at Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach 2019. Someone quadrupled their money in a month. I wouldn’t be too surprised if this car shows up at another auction later this year. That is, after the new owner has presumably ripped it around the oval a few times.

1978 BMW 530i ($165)

BMW 530i front three-quarter
Mecum

Mecum Indy, Lot L78.1

#3-condition (Good) value: $6600

Not a typo. Likely worth less as the sum of its individual parts, this very tired 1978 BMW 5 Series sold for only $165. There are BMW books that cost more.

But hear us out! This Bimmer was the ugly duckling of the Charlie Thomas Collection, which sold 145 pristine cars for a total of $6.5 million. The spare-change price and lack of pictures suggests that this car does not, uh, make a flattering impression in person. Consider, however, that an Indy local with a trailer could have walked away with a great potential project for absolutely minimal investment. If the new owner manages to get it running, I suggest keeping the patina. If it ends up being a bust, it’s probably worth more parted out than the $165 it brought on the block.

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