Bigger isn’t necessarily better, at least not at this point in Rick Cole’s life.
Not quite three decades ago, Cole launched the first collector-car auction on California’s Monterey Peninsula, where that sale joined the Monterey Historic auto races and the Pebble Beach concours d’elegance in what was a comfortable classic car weekend.
That weekend has become a full August week packed with multiple daily events, and you can’t get to all of them not only because of the schedule but because of the traffic because seemingly everyone also wants to be everywhere at once.
In 1997, Cole sold not just cars but his entire Monterey sale to RM Auctions. Cole then focused on other business ventures, among them doing some classic car sales for private clients. But Cole returned to Monterey last summer with not only a new auction but a new auction format: He showcased some three dozen cars in a salon-style setting in a hotel in downtown Monterey and invited people to bid on them via their smartphones.
“With 25 ‘official events’ during the week, the last thing I wanted to do was to try to fill seats,” Cole said of abandoning the traditional bidders-in-the-room, auctioneer-with-gavel-in-hand auction format.
“The format worked brilliantly. I was absolutely shocked,” Cole said, adding that the format “wasn’t anything super clever; it just hadn’t been done at Monterey.”
Cole was rewarded with nearly $60 million in reported sales. He added that while some might have doubted his smartphone bidding process, “All the cars were paid for. Everybody wired the money,” even from overseas.
“I’m happy as a clam,” Cole said as he works on consignments for his 2015 Monterey sale. “I have a lot of people saying, ‘Why don’t you go to Amelia Island?’ ‘Why don’t you go to Scottsdale?’ But one sale is fine.
“I’m not going to get caught up in the competition, the battle between RM and Gooding for example, trying to outdo themselves every year. We were fortunate last year to have some big, giant cars and to get them sold, but I’m not expected to repeat that.
“The whole goal was trying to sell $10 million worth of cars. If I sell $10 million worth of cars, after the expenses you walk away with a nice profit and I’m happy,” he explained.
“My mission is to provide a lovely boutique auction where people can come and go as they please and see friends and look at nice cars. We don’t have a lot of cars but we have quality cars, and that we plan to do again, though probably not with the high-ticket items we were fortunate enough to get (in 2014).”
Last year, Cole reported selling a 1951 Ferrari 410 Sport for $23 million, a 1965 Ferrari 257 GTB Competizione Clienti for $12 million and a short-wheelbase 1962 Ferrari 250 GT for $9.725 million, with six other cars at his sale bringing between $1.1 and $2.2 million.
This year, he said, his headline car — so far, and there are still nearly four months before the auction — figures to be a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4, the first of two such alloy-bodied cars built and the only one built around a 4-cam Le Mans-spec engine. Cole expects the car to bring $7.5 to $8 million.
He also has what he considers other outstanding consignments, including additional Ferraris, Porsches, an L88 Chevrolet Corvette and a 190SL Mercedes-Benz.
Cole said he learned things last year on his return to Monterey.
“I’m not going to have any pre-war Rolls-Royces (this year),” he said. “Ferraris are the apples of everyone’s eye. I’m going to stick with sporty-type cars.”
While doing just one sale a year, Cole not only looks for consignments for that sale but keeps his eye on the classic car marketplace. He called the recent sale of 25 percent of RM Auctions to Sotheby’s “interesting” and “smart.”
“It lends a lot of credibility to the industry that someone would invest that type of money for a small percentage of the business,” he added.
Cole also spends some of his time — usually twice a week — investing in his own golf game, an activity in which a bigger score definitely is not better.
“I’m an 8,” he said of his handicap. “I don’t hit the ball as far as I used to, which is very frustrating.”