Bonhams proves less is more, sometimes much more

Bonhams proves less is more, sometimes much more

No doubt, you’ve heard about how “less is more.”

Photos by Larry Edsall

Photos by Larry Edsall

Bonhams Arizona 2014 at a glance

Total sales $23.5 million
Catalog 100 automobiles
Sell-through rate 85 percent
High sale $3.19 million
1951 Ferrari 212 Export Coupe
Next 9 price range $467,500 to $3.08 million
Next auction February 6 in Paris, France

No doubt, you’ve heard about how “less is more.” Well, Bonhams’ third annual Arizona classic car auction provides evidence of the truth in that statement.

Bonhams may be the world’s oldest auction house (it was established in England 1793), but it is the youngest in terms of its participation in Arizona Auction Week, which is didn’t join until 2012, and when it sold 40 cars for $5.7 million. It did much better in 2013, when it sold 91 classic cars for $13.4 million, but that still left it deep in the shadows when compared with the results posted by rival high-end classic car auction houses — RM, Gooding & Company and Barrett-Jackson’s Salon Collection.

Such results didn’t sit well with a company known for the quality of its catalogs, whether they showcase fine art or fine automobiles. Note that the all-time at-auction record for a classic car occurred last July at Bonhams’ Goodwood auction where an ex-Fangio 1954 Mercedes-Benz W19R sold for $29.6 million.

But Bonhams’ classic car auctions in the United States hadn’t been nearly as successful, so the team regrouped and replenished its roster and decided to try the less is more format, but with less applied only to the number of cars in the catalog. The quality of those cars, however, would be significantly improved.

The first effort for the new plan was the company’s annual sale at The Quail (lodge and golf course) on the Monterey Peninsula. The result? Instead of $12 million in sales in 2012, the 2013 auction did more than $30 million, and with fewer cars.

Fast forward to Scottsdale in January, 2014, where 101 cars were offered and where 86 sold — for $23.3 million! Not only did overall sales nearly double when compared with 2013, but the average price per car went from $147,000 to nearly $273,000.

“The prices car by car probably were more important than the overall sales,” said Jackob Griesen, who was hired last year not only as a car specialist but as head of business development for Bonhams’ American motor car department. “The prices car by car were some very outstanding numbers. We set a lot of world records. Cars brought as much or more as they would anywhere else, I think.

“We all worked really hard,” he added. “We had a clear focus and mission. We’ve built a lot of momentum globally. We handled some important cars in 2013 that put us in the headlines. That means more great cars for us and more success. To some extent it feeds on itself.”A 1951 Ferrari 212 Export coupe known as “the Tailor’s car” sold at Bonhams’ Scottsdale event for $3.19 million and a 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport Spider brought $3.08 million, significantly more than its pre-auction estimate of $2.4-$2.7 million.bonahams2

Not only did the Alfa bring double what another one sold for a year ago, but, Griese noted, a 1968 Ferrari 300 GTC went for more than $800,000, “a very strong number.”

He also saw strong, even “huge” numbers being bid on 1970s and ‘80s European sports cars, whether a Ferrari 308 or Testarossa or a Porsche 911S.

Such cars, he said, have strong appeal to younger buyers, people in their mid-30s to mid-40s who may be new to classic car auctions and who bring fond memories of cars they saw when they were kids. Now they are able to buy them, provided, Griesen said, those cars have relatively low mileage and have been properly cared for. Both the cars and the money, he said, are “young tigers.”

“I would say there is a new generation coming in, and you also can see it in the (prices on) 1930s cars being a little soft unless it’s something truly spectacular that has stood the test of time, like the Alfa or a good Duesenberg or a Marmon 16.

“We saw a lot of new buyers, a lot of new clients, and they were buying cars at several different levels.” 

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