Monterey 2012 Close-Up

With the exception of the final dollar figure (which most of us guessed woefully low on), there were few questions remaining to be answered at Monterey 2012. That’s in marked contrast to each year since 2008. In 2009, the big question was, would anyone bid on anything or at the very least, would the very top of the market hold up? The answer was a resounding yes. In 2010, the middle of the market showed real strength. And by 2011, when the total came close to $200 million, it was clear that the prosperity in the market had trickled down to the entry level (such as it is in Monterey).

This year’s totals made last year’s record totals look positively anemic. Total sales amounted to nearly $265 million with more than 50 cars selling for $1 million or more. In fact, at Gooding the average lot price was just over $1 million.  Why the huge gain over last year’s admittedly impressive total? There are probably several reasons, most of which resonate only with those with a net worth north of $100 million (the one tenth of one percenters).

First, some high-level collectors that we spoke with commented that in the event that there is not a change of administrations in January, the feeling was that they would be paying higher taxes in 2013, better to realize the gain under the current tax structure.

Second, there is certainly a feeling that with recession and slow growth fears very real, in addition to the low-speed train wreck that is the still-looming European debt crisis, the financial markets would continue to be erratic and that overall, growth in them would be relatively low. Collector cars are seen as a tangible asset. People who have been in the collectible automobile market and originally bought for the love of object are now looking at it as a diversification tool and a strategic part of a well-organized investment portfolio.

The good news is the fact that it remains an end user-driven market. The rampant speculation and “briefcase brokers” who never took title to anything before moving it along at a profit still haven’t materialized in any fashion resembling 1989-90.

At this point, the high-profile lots have been written about and analyzed in fair detail. There was, however, a great deal that was of interest lower down the food chain. A few samples from the various auction houses:

The 1908 Simplex 50 Speedcar that broke $2 million at Mecum was notable not just for its imposing presence but for the fact that it’s unusual to see a post-London-to-Brighton-era brass car do so well. But then this was no ordinary brass car, with a 600-cubic-inch, four-cylinder engine and double-chain drive.

Mecum also sold a 1969 MGC GT that has been a bit of an auction frequent flyer of late, having sold for just over $19,000 at RM’s Amelia Island sale in 2010 and then again at RM’s St. John’s sale last year for about $30,000. At Monterey, it went for a stunning $46,640. The car was expensively restored (albeit in black, a color never offered by the factory).  It sold on the cost of the restoration, which was likely near the price paid. Paying up for somewhat ordinary cars with extraordinary restorations was a recurring theme in Monterey this year. These costs keep rising and the smart money will buy a done car.  It made the similarly well-done 1970 Triumph GT6 at Russo look like a bit of a bargain at $17,500.

With the 60th anniversary of the Corvette coming up next year, one would have thought that any ’53 would be a hot ticket in Monterey. Not so, apparently, where a decent example at Mecum failed to sell at what appeared to be a within-the-ballpark bid of $160,000.

Porsches continue to be strong, with Mecum selling a nice-but-not-perfect 356C coupe for nearly 80 grand and Gooding setting a world record of $214,000 for a 1973 911S coupe. This was Carrera 2.7RS  money just three years ago.

Anyone who doubts the growing strength of Japanese cars in the marketplace wasn’t paying attention in Monterey. And we’re not just talking about the $625,000 Toyota 2000GT at Gooding. Russo and Steele sold a 1995 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo for a whopping $25,300 and a 1999 Alex Zanardi edition Acura NSX for nearly $65,000.

Muscle cars were all over the board in Monterey (but only Russo and Mecum had a real supply of them). As we’ve stated before, we believe that this market will fully recover, but it’s going to take a resurgence in the real estate market before it happens. Russo had a 1970 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda no-sale at a very credible bid of $225,000. Unless the seller bought in 2006-07, it should have been more than enough to get the job done. On the other hand, a 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 428 CJ, one of the more underrated muscle cars, sold for an over-the-top-of-the-price-guide amount of $68,500.

Finally, to be filed under this year’s “sign of the apocalypse, sure-fire sign that the Mayans were right” – a Fiat Jolly sold at Russo for $77,000. The undeniably cute surrey-topped, wicker-seated beach car brought Series I E-type coupe money.

Read next Up next: Mecum Auctions 2012 Monterey Results

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