As the tents come down and car haulers turn their tail lights on Monterey County, the results are starting to filter in. And—as always—there are winners and losers.
The big winner when it comes to financial transactions was the 1994 McLaren F1 LM-spec that brought $19.8 million at the RM Sotheby’s auction in downtown Monterey. Otherwise, it wasn’t a very pleasant weekend for the global auction house, thanks to a highly publicized miscue that had them confusing a $17 million dollar bid for Ferdinand Porsche’s 1938 “Nazi car.” RM Sotheby’s posted the bid as $70 million before catching the error.
A statement from the auction house blamed crowd noise and the auctioneer’s accent. Starting with the initial $13 million bid, the person responsible for posting amounts supposedly heard $30 million. And the mistake escalated from there, leading to a wave of anger and resentment from the crowd.
Dana Mecum’s 1959 one-off Ferrari 250 Monza could have topped the McLaren. But at Mecum’s Friday auction at the Hyatt Regency in Monterey, bidding stalled at $20 million with Mecum demanding $2 million more.
And that’s the way it went at the auctions. Although the results are still not final, Hagerty Insider reports that total sales reached $245.5 million, 34 percent less than last year when the auctions pulled in $370 million. Average sale price was down, as was median sale price, average high bid and sell-through rate (the percent of all offered cars that sold).
Experts speculate that the threat of a recession blunted collector enthusiasm. That entry-level collector cars actually beat expectations during Car Week auctions suggests as much.
“It appears the macroeconomic concerns and headlines in the financial markets earlier in the week were correlated with the observed softening of the collector car market in Monterey this weekend,” said RM Sotheby’s President Kenneth Ahn in a fine example of corporate speak.
So auction houses and consigners were on the losing end—if $245.5 million can be considered a negative.
Of course, the auctions are only a part of Car Week. The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance raised over $2 million that will be distributed to some 80 local charities. The 6,000 guests at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, contribute to Rancho Cielo Youth Campus, the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and local charitable foundations. Jay Leno pulled in over $100,000 reserved for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County.
Some highlights of the week:
- Mecum Auctions unveiled the 1968 Ford Mustang GT driving by Steve McQueen in the car-chase film Bullitt. It had been used as a family car, a mother’s daily driver.
- One of the 1965 Aston Martin DB5 James Bond cars was the subject of a bidding war that went on for almost 5 minutes before a bid of $6.385 million brought the gavel down. And yes, RM Sotheby’s reports that all the MI6 Q division gadgetry needed for Goldfinger works.
- Elvis Presley's family limo, gifted to him by Col. Tom Parker, was covered in dust, missing some pieces, and had a shabby interior. But it drew a lot of social media attention. And it gaveled for $150,000.
- At Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach auction, a 1931 Studebaker Special set up for the Indianapolis 500 set a sale price record for Studebakers. The bidding was intense. The Studebaker National Museum considered the car so important they had been collecting donations in hopes of securing the car. Oh—the winning bid? $1.1 million.
- Worldwide Auctioneers put one of the world's first electric cars, the 1898 Riker, up for grabs. It sold for over $600,000. And it does still run, although recharging may be tricky.
- At the Concours d'Elegance, parked among all the gleaming brass, sat the Thomas Flyer that went the distance in 1908's grueling New York to Paris race (yes, it involved a few boat trips). It was restored to the battered condition that citizens of Paris saw.
- Also at the Concours d’Elegance, Sir Michael Kadoorie (he’s from Hong Kong) took best of show honors—or rather, his 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Gurney Nutting Sports Tourer received the coveted golden ribbon. Kadoorie also had the honor of a Q&A with former racing champion Mark Webber at The Quail. The things you can do when knighted.
The 1938 Talbot-Lago T150C-SS Figoni & Falaschi Teardrop Cabriolet—who named these things?—also vied for top honors, but this was the year for Bentley, celebrating its 100th anniversary.
- A 1929 Bentley 4 ½ Litre Birkin Blower Number 4 Vanden Plas Le Mans Tourer (sounds more impressive than just adding a GT or SS to the name, I guess) owned by Ralph Lauren won a trophy.
But another 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Vanden Plas Open Tourer, this one owned by British car broker Tom Hartley Jr., has a better story. Early Bentley’s came with a fabric body called Rexine. When world-renowned collector Peter Livanos found it, the car was in sorry shape. To make matters worse, no one knew the recipe for Rexine—it had been lost for decades after fabric bodies fell out of favor—so restorers turned to other fabrics as replacements.
But, says Graham Moss, a Bentley restorer, “Rexine is unlike any other fabric, in particular it’s gloss level and colour fastness.”
The restoration of this particular Bentley benefitted from sleuthing and timing. Moss spent years tracking down the right mix to produce Rexine. And just as he honed in, his friend and Bentley historian learned of an existing, long unused Rexine machine in an abandoned English factory in the process of being demolished.
Long story short, Hartley’s Bentley was the first to receive a brand new, period correct body.
“I actually have more fun using the car than I do in most of my post-war cars, plus I get great enjoyment out of knowing I own an example that was one of the most original in existence and then arguably the most correctly restored,” Hartley says.
There were many more highlights, of course. But the highway-themed culinary pavilions at The Quail deserve mention. And since there were six of them, perhaps the $900-plus price tag was worth it.