The January classic car auctions in Arizona bring big money bids.
Anyone in the market for a classic car needed to get themselves to Arizona in mid-January as almost all of the major American auction houses were holding the sales in and around Scottsdale and Phoenix. The main event was the Barrett Jackson sale with over 1,400 cars coming under the auctioneer's hammer between Tuesday 13th and Sunday 20th January. RM, Gooding and Bonhams held smaller sales aimed at the top of the market during the same period.
A few years ago these sales would have been pretty much a US-only affair but thanks to the internet and live web streams, they could be watched from all over the world. With the winter weather here in the UK leaving little else to do, I watched the feeds from RM and Gooding.
From both feeds it was clear that the warm dry Arizona air was having a positive effect on buyers as there was a remarkably high rate of sales, with the auctioneers proudly announcing record after record had fallen for particular models. The headlines have been about the Gooding's Ferrari 250 LWB California and RM's Ferrari 250 SWB with both cars selling for over $8m. In addition, the Sixties Batmobile sold for $4.6m at Barrett Jackson, but for me the market between $100,000 and $1m was the most interesting with some very unexpected results.
Amongst the many Ferraris, the one that raised the most eyebrows was Gooding's sale of a Dino 246GTS for $506,000 including commission. The car in question is one of the most desirable so-called 'Chairs and Flairs' variants with the optional flared wheel arches, Campagnolo alloys and Daytona seats. While this example was a concours-winning car, this was huge money for the entry-level Ferrari. RM also offered a recently restored Chairs and Flairs GTS which went under the hammer about an hour after the Gooding car) though this couldn't match the Gooding example, selling for $400,000 post-sale with a high bid of $360,000 on the night. The buyer of the RM car must be smiling to themselves as I would doubt it would cost $100,000 to bring the car up to the standard of the Gooding example.
If the Gooding car hadn't sold for such a surprising sum, the price of the RM car would have caused quite a stir itself. The Chairs and Flairs specification is quite rare with only around 300 cars made, but it's hardly a massive change to the car and the engine is the same as the standard car. However, collectors seem to be going mad for them at the moment. There seems to be a big disparity in values between the open GTS and closed GT Dino, too. Bonhams sold a silver 246GT for $181,000 while on Saturday Gooding sold a red GT for $291,000. In the eyes of many, the closed GT is the better-looking car and with the stiffer body, it's a better steer too.
It would now seem that the best Dinos are now, and probably for the first time ever, selling for more than Daytonas. Bonhams sold a US-specification Daytona Berlinetta for $385,500, and a converted Spyder for $423,000. RM hammered another US-spec car for $412,000. It was actually Barrett Jackson who achieved the best result, with a low-mileage Daytona selling for $495,000, just shy of the Gooding Dino. The Barrett Jackson Daytona will be familiar to long-time Drive Cult readers, as it was part of the collection of Italian sportscar barn finds we featured last year. The car has been heavily refreshed since it crossed the block at Mecum's Monterey 2011 auction, where it failed to sell with high bid of $300,000.
It isn't just Dinos that have overtaken Daytonas in the price stakes, either; three GTC series cars achieved impressive prices in Arizona led by the Pirelli Speciale we discussed recently, which sold for $880,000 at Bonhams. RM hammered a 365GTC for $726,000 while Gooding achieved $737,000 for a 330GTC. The GTCs are some of my favourite Ferraris but until now they have never been very high on collectors' wish lists. Now, however, people are waking up to the fact that the GTC shares the same chassis as a 275GTB and (whisper this) might actually be nicer to drive. Do they offer a driving experience that's $200,000 better than a Daytona, though? And they will ever be able to compete with the more powerful Berlinetta for visual presence?
Moving away from Ferraris, DB series Astons also sold strongly, with Gooding selling a DB5 for $792,000 and a Series IV DB4 for $412,500. DB4, 5 and 6s always benefit when there is a James Bond movie featuring a DB5 in the cinemas, and the significant role of the DB5 in Skyfall can only push prices up in the short term. These prices do show what a relative bargain the Jaguar E Type is, though, with a number of reasonable examples selling for under $100,000. Yes, the Jaguar was mass-produced compared to the Astons, but it's almost certainly a nicer car to drive and you will get just as many admiring glances as you cruise down the street.
I'm not really qualified to comment on the US muscle car scene so I will leave it to others to explain the significance of the L88 C3 Corvette and why the one at Gooding sold for $825,000, when you can pick up a C3 that looks the same for $30,000...
Also a very American phenomenon was the prices for Toyota FJ40 Land Cruisers. I can't imagine they would get to anything like the $77,000 at RM and $61,600 seen at Gooding's in a European auction.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the price an unrestored Lancia Aurelia B24S Spider America sold at Gooding for - a grand total of $803,000. This one-owner example of the gorgeous and desirable low windscreen open Aurelia had been unused for the best part of 50 years and is in need of complete restoration. The lure of a barn find was enough to attract intense bidding and the final price nearly doubled the pre-sale estimate. The result was even more surprising as RM had sold a restored example for not much more ($825,000) the day before. The barn find myth makes for an interesting story to chat about the car at a Sunday meet, but I fail to understand why anyone would pay such a sum for a car in need of total restoration when only a little more cash would secure a fully-restored example.
All of this leads to the big question which has filled up lots of space on numerous internet forums and magazine column inches - is this surge in classic car prices a bubble like that seen in the late Eighties, or is it a long-term trend? The truth is it is actually impossible to tell, unsurprisingly, since you can only really identify a bubble when it bursts. As a best guess, I don't see a massive crash in classic car values as happened in the late Eighties, at least not in the short term. Having said that, I do feel that there are bubbles forming within certain models, notably the Ferrari Dino. If the high prices seen in Arizona tempt other owners to try the market with their own Dinos, this will undoubtedly lead to an oversupply of cars and a corresponding correction downwards in their prices.
Conversely there are are other cars, notably the Ferrari Daytona and Jaguar E Type, that are probably undervalued at the moment. If your interest is in driving enjoyment and the ownership experience. they're probably the better place to put your money for now.
Dino and Lancia Aurelia pictures by Gooding and Company
Daytona picture by Barrett Jackson