As high-value cars slow down, $50K and under shows promise

Market-wide, dealers, auction houses, and private sellers of elite-level, high-end cars are having a hard time of it as collectors keep their money in their pockets in an unpredictable economic climate dominated by global political upheaval. In the UK, Brexit is very much top of mind.

Bonhams Goodwood Festival of Speed auction, hosted at a genteel stately home in the south of England during one of the world’s biggest motoring events, promised to act as a marker for the state of the collector car market. And so it proved.

A fine roster

1992 F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell's Williams-Renault 'Red Five'
1992 F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell's Williams-Renault 'Red Five' Bonhams

Bonhams consigned an impressive collection of cars for its landmark sale. The cover star was the 1992 Williams-Renault FW14B Formula 1 racing car that took Brit local hero Nigel Mansell to his World Championship win, the car itself winning five grand prix races that year. Parked next to it was a stunning 1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 “long chassis,” wearing a touring body and ready to go. The 1928 Le Mans 24 Hour-winning 1927 Bentley 4½ -Litre Jackson Special, known as “Old Mother Gun,” was a delight to see for fans of pre-war racing. And for modern enthusiasts, the 2013 McLaren P1 XP (Experimental Prototype) shown at the New York Motor Show and the Geneva Salon was offered for sale.

The rest of the field of 83 cars was similarly impressive, from a superbly-restored early 2.0-liter Porsche 911 through an ex-Chuck Parsons Lola T70 to a 2011 Land Rover Defender SVX that starred in James Bond movies Skyfall and Spectre. And a 1966 Ford GT40, built from almost entirely original parts to a phenomenal level of detail, was a thing of beauty up close and testament to the owner’s personal dedication in the project.

The stubborn ceiling

1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300
1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Bonhams

What followed proved that no matter how amazing the cars on offer are, or how packed the saleroom is, or how great the pre-sale advertising, there’s a limit to how successful auction houses can be in the current market. Without taking into consideration post-auction deals, the sell-through rate was only 46 percent when we went to press, and many of the big ticket cars failed to find new homes. 

The 8C Alfa was bid to $4.14M, way short of its $5M low estimate, and bidding on “Old Mother Gun” stopped at $1.75M, not enough to find it a new home. Bidding on the GT40 was over quickly—an early offer of $651,000 didn’t improve and was way off its $1.1M low estimate. Similarly, the McLaren P1 fell just short of its $1.63M low estimate—bid to $1.38M—but a deal was reached off the block.

The cover star fared better. The sale room was packed as auctioneer Jamie Knight started the bidding for Mansell’s Williams FW14B, and after a flurry of bids from inside and outside the room, the hammer fell at $3.38M. Compare that to the $5M that Bonhams achieved in 2018 for Ayrton Senna’s 1993 McLaren MP4, and you feel it’s a fair price given Senna’s almost legendary worldwide status.

The buying public’s appetite for Bond cars proved to be as strong as ever, with the Land Rover Defender SVX smashing its $275,000 presale high estimate and hammering at $396,000. A 1998 Jaguar XJ220, a model that hasn’t had a great run in recent years, made a strong mid-estimate $519,000, as did a 1995 Lancia Delta Integrale “Dealer Model” for $104K, proving the trend of modern classics is continuing.

Leaning into the future

1995 Lancia Delta Integrale “Dealer Model”
1995 Lancia Delta Integrale “Dealer Model” Bonhams

While high-end cars in general are slowing, certain vehicles with the right cachet will always have a buyer willing to shell out.

“The cars that did well at Goodwood are quickly recognized as distinctive by enthusiasts,” notes Hagerty valuation expert John Wiley. “Nigel Mansell’s Williams-Renault and the Defender from Skyfall have wider recognition than the prototype McLaren P1, 8C 2300 long-chassis Alfa Romeo, “Old Mother Gun” Bentley, and Ford GT40.

The sale over, the crowd filed past Bonhams’ MPH banners advertising its new online sales hub, which is focused on affordable classics. It somehow seemed appropriate. With the lower-end enthusiast market still thriving, it’s the place to be at the moment.

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