The 2020 Monterey Online auctions: What we learned

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With Monterey Car Week’s anchor event, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, postponed until 2021 due to COVID-19, the peninsula’s many auctions were either similarly delayed to next year or reformatted to be online-oriented. Gooding & Company and RM Sotheby’s pivoted to entirely digital affairs, with Gooding running its event a week early. Bonhams used a combined format of live closed-room bidding from the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles along with phone and online bidding. It is worth noting that none of the 2020 Monterey auctions actually took place in Monterey. While these online sales were not a perfect substitute for the traditional mid-August auctions, they did demonstrate that collectors still have an appetite for Monterey-caliber cars, regardless of logistical limitations.

Given the drastic differences in virtually everything between 2019 and 2020, comparing overall sales results between the two years would yield misleading results, so we’re limiting the comparisons to the three auctions described above. Overall, the number of vehicles offered was down by more than half (262 versus 543). With the diminished selection this year, total sales from the three auctions reached $57.3 million, and the average price was $325,305; figures that are down substantially from 2019 as well. With many participants adjusting to the new and unfamiliar formats for the first time, the sell-through rate came through at 67 percent.

1965-Ferrari-275-GTB-by-Scaglietti
RM Sotheby's

While most major metrics fell from a year ago, the sale prices of the cars were actually slightly stronger. Comparing final sale prices to Hagerty Price Guide values reveals a median price-to-condition-appropriate-value that was 5.3 percent above expectations, versus 4.4 percent in 2019. The main differences in the overall totals this year can be boiled down to fewer cars for sale overall, and a resistance to selling ultra-expensive cars online—the types of cars that have historically made August numbers so gaudy. We have yet to see a $19 million McLaren F1 or a $48 million Ferrari 250 GTO appear at an online auction.

That doesn’t mean expensive cars are unsellable online. Indeed, the three companies sold 14 million-dollar cars, and RM Sotheby’s set an online auction record when it sold a Ferrari 550 Maranello modified by Prodrive when new for GT1 racing for $4.29 million. Ferraris as a segment did quite well, in fact, with seven of the top ten sales across the three auctions hailing from Maranello. In addition to the 550 Prodrive, Gooding sold a Ferrari F40, F50, Enzo, and long nose 1966 275 GTB, while RM sold a 1965 275 GTB and a 250 GT Lusso. That Ferraris are so popular in the new format isn’t unexpected, as they’re often well-documented and have broad appreciation.

2001 Ferrari 550 GT1 Prodrive rear three-quarter
2001 Ferrari 550 GT1 Prodrive RM Sotheby's/Remi Dargegen

Another segment that stood out was high-end customs. RM Sotheby’s sold the 1961 Porsche 356 Coupe converted by Rod Emory into the Porsche MOMO 356 RSR Outlaw for $858,000. While Porsche 911s reimagined by Singer have sold for similar amounts, the previous record for an “outlaw” Porsche 356 (also by Emory) was $505,000.

Cars from the 1980s did well with Gooding & Company selling a 1988 Ferrari 328 GTB for $148,500, which is above the Hagerty Price Guide condition #1 value of $129,000. An earlier Ferrari 308 GTSi also sold well at RM Sotheby’s auction, with the $70,400 also exceeding the condition #1 value of $52,000. Bonhams had the appropriate Porsche 911 available too by offering a Euro-spec 1986 Porsche 911 Carrera turbo-look Cabriolet in white that sold for $58,800, which was just above that car’s condition #2 value.

 

Classics from the 1930s didn’t do as well, with several misses on top Alfa Romeos and Bugattis, however, a couple of American cars of the era went to new homes. Gooding & Company sold a 1934 Duesenberg Model J Town Car for $1,012,000, which was the auction house’s fifth-highest sale (behind the aforementioned Ferraris). RM Sotheby’s sold a 1934 Packard Deluxe Eight/Individual Custom-Series 904 Dietrich Convertible Victoria for $1,056,000, which was sixth on its top 10 list. Both cars landed just above their low estimates.

This year’s not-Monterey auctions show that previously strong segments continue to do well, and slower-moving segments still move at a slower pace. More than anything, though, they show that we’re all getting better at buying and selling our favorite cars in new ways, and that there is enduring interest and demand among collectors right now.

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