HomeThe MarketClassic Car Auction Yearbook: Read it and weep

Classic Car Auction Yearbook: Read it and weep

Annual reports that pandemic wasn’t the only thing impacting collector car sales


If you had any doubts about just how strange the year 2020 has been for the collector car hobby and the auction industry that is such an important part of it, you don’t have to look beyond the cover of the Classic Car Auction 2019-2020 Yearbook.

There on the cover annually reserved for the car that brought the most money at auction in the previous 12 months, is the image of a 2014 Lamborghini Veneno roadster. And that’s shocking, the authors note, because it is the first time in the book’s 25-year history that a contemporary car has taken that position.

Indeed, the authors note, 10 of the top-20 sales were contemporary rather than traditional or classic vehicles, “underlining the growing influence and evolving tastes of younger collectors in the marketplace.”

By the way, that Veneno sold for only $8.337 million, the first time since 2011 that the no cars sold at auction for less than 8 figures.

Yearbook, Classic Car Auction Yearbook: Read it and weep, ClassicCars.com Journal

Such negative figures were recorded “across the board” in the yearbook’s “year,” which run from September through the following August, those dates selected to coincide with the annual global soiree on the Monterey Peninsula. Of course, that gathering was among the many canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result, auction sales for the year were only around $683 million, about half of what they were in 2017-18 ($1.2 billion) and a 27 percent drop off from just the previous year. But even had it not been for the virus, the authors note a downward trend in the market in the past few seasons and speculate that had 2020 been virus free, total auction sales would have been in the $800 million to $830 million range. 

One result of the pandemic seems to have been some panic selling, the authors noting that cars offered at major auctions at no reserve set a record this past year, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all collector cars sold at such venues. 

Speaking of venues, the authors note the success in 2020 of online sales with people forced to restrict their usual travel. 

However, Orsi notes, “A classic car… cannot always be properly evaluated through photos or a video. You need to look at it while standing at a distance to see the straightness of the lines, to understand the quality of the paint and chroming. You need to touch it, open/close the doors to check if the fitting has been properly done, touch the upholstery to understand its quality, smell the leather and hear the sound of the engine with your own ears. 

“To understand and appreciate a classic car, you need more sensory information than just a photo or video may provide, regardless of how detailed.”

The Yearbook spans hundreds of pages as it details every car sold at every major auction. But this being the book’s 25th anniversary, there’s also a special section that recaps the collector car auction market in each of the past 25 years. 

Dive into that section and discover that for the first time in a decade, Gooding & Company didn’t have a sale that qualified for the top-10 prices paid at all the major auctions around the world, but that Mecum had two of them, and both were Ford Mustangs! 

As usual, the book’s content is factual and fascinating, which serious students of the hobby will reference throughout the coming months. 

And despite the gloom of the pandemic, Orsi reminds us, “Classic cars represent a great passion for many of us, filling out lives with purpose and emotion. 

“Our opinion is that, while some collector-investors (have recently) lost their enthusiasm, the vast majority of true enthusiasts are focusing more so than ever before, if their pockets allow, on buying their dream cars.”


Classic Car Auction 2019-2020 Yearbook

By Adolfo Orsi and Raffaele Gazzi

Historica Selecta, 2020

ISBN: 978 88 96232 12 5

Hardcover, 416 pages


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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