Auction Analysis: A tale of two Skylines

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David Zenlea

Nissan Skyline GT-Rs have nothing to prove. They’re selling in the United States as fast as (and sometimes faster than) people can bring them over from Japan, and they’re fetching ever higher sums online. Yet the cars are still somewhat new to in-person auctions in the States, particularly a tradition-bound, highbrow venue like Monterey. We saw two of them cross the block this year, both with surprising results.

1995 Skyline GT-R at RM Sotheby’s had jaws on the floor for its final price—$235,200. A 1994 Skyline GT-R V-Spec II offered by Bonhams stunned us because it didn’t sell, stalling at $130,000.

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Usually such differences in results come down to details in the vehicles and/or their condition. Not this time. The 1995 at RM was a standard R33 Skyline GT-R. Its color is desirable but, by GT-R standards, not particularly rare: 2510 R33 GT-Rs came in Midnight Purple, according to GTR-Registry, making it the second most common color behind white. We inspected the car in person and found it to be above average condition, having received a full paint correction prior to the sale. Yet with 46,114 kilometers (a bit under 29,000 miles) on the odometer, it was by no means without flaws.

The Bonhams car, on the other hand, was quite likely the best example of an original Skyline GT-R on the market. Its odometer showed just 4074 kilometers (2531 miles) and was, upon inspection, essentially new inside and out. It even had that new car smell inside. On top of all that, this R32-generation car was one of just 1306 V-Spec IIs, a model offered only in 1994, according to GTR-Registry. (V-Spec and V-Spec II packages added a set of BBS forged wheels, Brembo brakes front and back, retuned ATTESA E-TS all-wheel drive, and all-important stickers on the trunk lid.) It also carried unique options such as a factory turbo timer and CD changer.

Put simply, had the Bonhams car brought $235,200, and the RM car $130,000, we would have thought, “Yep, sounds about right.”

What we have, instead, is a prime example of the power of promotion as well as the dumb luck that can play into a live auction. RM did a brilliant job of it, parking the car near the fence outside their preview area so that spectators were sure to notice it. During parts of the day, it had groups of spectators of all ages gawking over it. For many, it was probably their first time seeing a Skyline GT-R in the metal. It was the final lot to cross the block for the entire week, which can be a hindrance, only this year the room was surprisingly full.

In contrast, the Bonhams car had several things working against it. The location of this auction tends to get less foot traffic than RM’s to start with, and the cars are parked in tight rows. That means fewer eyeballs. Then there was timing—Bonhams offered all 139 lots on Friday, the busiest day of the auctions. By the time the GT-R (Lot 129) hit the block, many potential bidders had scurried off to Gooding & Co and RM Sotheby’s. Had the R32 run earlier in the sale, when Bonhams’ tent was buzzing, the result could have been very different.

We’re not terribly worried about the R32 or its seller, who was well justified in holding out for a higher offer. With the rapid growth we’ve witnessed with the Skyline market this past year, that offer will no doubt come soon enough. For now, it and the RM car remind us of the gamesmanship that comes into play at an in-person auction. It all comes down to who is in the room and when the car crosses the block.

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