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HomeCar CultureCommentaryMaking sense of auction prices that don’t make sense

Making sense of auction prices that don’t make sense

Andy tries to analyze some of the winning bids at Arizona Auction Week

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(Editor’s note: Since the conclusion of Arizona Auction Week, we’ve done the math as the auction companies report their results and share the news that the $266.7 million in total sales originally reported needs to be revised to $275.5 million. We’ve also asked our East Coast editor and marketplace analyst Andy Reid to look back on sales during the week that leave him perplexed.)

Its been more than a week since the end of Arizona Auction Week 2022 and after thinking about what I saw during the week, there are a number of cars that sold for prices that just do not make sense to me.

The most notable of these were the Aston Martins sold at Bonhams. These were all a part of a big collection that Bonhams is selling off, and I have to say that the consigner picked the right auction house as the prices realized on these cars were well in excess of what I expected after closely examining each. 

The main reason for my evaluation is that these cars have been in static storage since they were bought in 2007, and while some of them were in excellent cosmetic shape, others were at best driver-level examples cosmetically. After sitting stationary since 2007, which is 15 years ago, all had various mechanical needs to be considered before they were road ready. 

All needed new tires due to age and many of these cars did not even run, and many of those that did run could not be said to be running well. 

This is in no way a slam against Bonhams, but actually a compliment for the auction company because of the impressive prices for which it was able to sell these vehicles.

Perhaps the primary example was the 1959 Aston Martin DB2/3 Mk. 3. This car had been poorly painted in a color that looked much like Kermit the Frog green. I actually entertained the idea of buying this car myself despite its color as I figured if I could buy it cheap enough, I would go over it mechanically and have a nice driving Aston for a good price. 

When I examined the non-running Mk. 3, I noticed that the brake fluid reservoir was completely empty.  I spoke with a noted Aston Martin shop owner who figured it could cost as much as $45,000 to make this car truly road ready, and that did not cover any bodywork or paint. 

When I saw the pre-sale estimate of $100,000 to $140,000, I thought the people at Bonhams were crazy, but then the car sold for $147,500. 

Bonhams also sold 10 more Astons from the same collection, all with needs and rang the bell again and again with the only low-priced sale being a 1984 Aston Martin Lagonda that went for $55,000, just short of its sold $60,000 pre-sale high estimate.

Barrett-Jackson was able to make some serious magic with cars with the name Shelby attached to them. The first example was the “1965” Shelby CSX4404 427 Super Snake that sold on Saturday. This was in fact a car built in 2012 by Shelby American as denoted by its CSX400 number. The car was finished perfectly and a wonderful clone of the Super Snake, and it sold for a staggering $850,000. 

I say this is a staggering number because Barrett-Jackson had two original Cobras that sold on the same day, a 1962 260 Cobra that was owned by the legendary Lance Reventlow that sold for $825,000 and an original 427 Cobra that sold for $1.1 million. 

To me, either of those cars make the 4000 series continuation car seem expensive, or looking at it the other way around, the price of the 4000 makes the original cars seem to be relative bargains.

Duesenberg engine
Yes, Model J Duesenberg are million-dollar cars, but this engine and gearbox sold for nearly that much without a vehicle around them

The Worldwide Auctioneers sale also achieved some exceptional prices, the most notable being the Duesenberg Model J engine and gearbox, which sold for $775,000. 

If that seems reasonable to you, consider that the auction house sold a stunning 1929 Model J Berline by Bohman and Schwartz a multiple concours best-of-show winner just last year, for $2,260,000. 

Doing the math, that means that the engine of a Model J is worth a third of the price of an entire award-winning car.

Moving on to RM Sothebys, we saw the magic continue with some extremely strong prices for cars that were in good but not great shape. The first was a 1981 DeLorean at $110,000. Sure, it only had a total of 174 miles from new, but $110k for a DeLorean? 

Next was the 1962 alloy block/disc brake-equipped Mercedes 300SL roadster. While a nice car, it was far from what I would call concours ready, yet it still sold for $2.1 million. What was surprising about this is that RM Sotheby’s also sold an exquisite 1955 alloy-body Gullwing coupe for $6.2 million. In comparison, the former 300 SL sale makes the $6.2 million result look like a great deal!

And another 1955 Gullwing sold at the same auction for $1.55 million, a steal compared with the price paid for the roadster.

So how do we make sense of all of this? Well, there is a lot of ready cash flowing into the collector car market. People are, quite literally, spending it on what they want no matter what others think about values. 

You might want to throw out your latest price guides as we are in a new era, and the old numbers do not seem relevant anymore.

Andy Reid
Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I appreciate this article, but I really want to know Why there is so much “ready cash flowing into the collector car market”? I read a different article stating people are refinancing homes, so perhaps that’s part of it. But a large wave of people also recently retired, and I don’t know too many retired people with disposable income that makes any of these cars (collector car market at large) more affordable.
    Thoughts?

  2. Meg.. I completely agree with you. The market has gone a bit crazy just like the housing market. You have high dollar investors paying too much and pricing cars out of the market for the average Joe. We are being warned not to overpay because prices fluctuate depending on supply and demand. At some point, the bubble will burst.

  3. I often wonder where the buyers laying out large $$$ get the money, what do they do to make that kind of money. But all you have to do is look at a boat harbor in calif or fla to see those floating $$$.

    If you have made serious money during your lifetime, you have toys to buy and enjoy.

  4. The stock market is overdue for a fairly major correction, interest rates/inflation are already on the rise, and gold is already over $1800/ounce. There are less than 250,000 homes available for sale in the entire country. If you’re one of the relatively rich trying to figure out a place to park money, why not put some into ‘collectibles’ or ‘toys’ that are more fun in the interim?

  5. I am seeing 2011 Gullwings going for as low as $188K and as high as $260K. Are these a good investment for resale 2 or 3 years from now? Or is the bubble going to burst and I will be left with a really nice super car, that has lost it value?

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