A Look Back at the Concluded 2020 Scottsdale Auctions

Last week, I chose three collector cars that I found interesting, which were scheduled to cross the auction block during what’s known as Scottsdale Auction Week. All three were European sports cars, and all were offered at no reserve.

In that blog post, I provided a brief summary of each vehicle, listed the auction companies’ pre-sale estimates, and gave my own projection of a final hammer price. With the auctions concluded, let’s revisit the cars and see how accurate I was (or wasn’t).

(Note that all three auction companies charge a 12% buyer’s premium, and that inflated number, with premium, is what’s shown on their websites. This makes the sales results appear higher than they really were. I backed out that 12% to show the actual hammer prices.)


Bonhams: 1978 Porsche 928, Lot #11, sold on Thursday

https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/25718/lot/11/?category=list&length=12&page=1

ESTIMATE: $45,000-55,000 (NO RESERVE)
RICHARD’S PREDICTION: $30,000
HAMMER PRICE: $67,000 (plus 12% premium for final price of $75,040)

Ahem…. Not only did I miss the hammer price by a country mile; this car blew right past the high end of its pre-sale estimate. Undoubtedly, its original condition and low mileage contributed to giving the seller a grand slam, funky ‘70s colors be damned. And to those who continue to maintain that 928s are not collectible, I now have this piece of evidence in my arsenal.


Gooding & Co: 1969 Alfa Romeo 1750 Spider Veloce, Lot #010, sold on Friday

https://www.goodingco.com/vehicle/1969-alfa-romeo-1750-spider-veloce/

Estimate: $80,000-100,000 (NO RESERVE)
RICHARD’S PREDICTION: $50,000
HAMMER PRICE: $64,000 (plus 12% premium for final price of $71,680)

I was a little closer with this one, but my guess was still under the hammer by $14,000. Auction fever can infect bidders in many ways, and someone caught the fever and stepped up for this cute little roadster. While this Alfa sold for 50% more than what similar cars have brought recently, note that its hammer price was still well under the auction company’s unreasonably optimistic estimate.


RM Sotheby’s: 1970 Jaguar E-Type roadster (OTS), Lot #168, sold on Thursday

https://rmsothebys.com/en/auctions/az20/arizona/lots/r0076-1970-jaguar-e-type-series-2-42-litre-roadster/838010

ESTIMATE: $110,000-140,000 (NO RESERVE)
RICHARD’S PREDICTION: $95,000
HAMMER PRICE: $75,000 (plus 12% premium for final price of $84,000)

Last week’s post stated in part: “… the Series II cars have become the affordable E-Type….”. Given that the hammer price was $20,000 under my seemingly reasonable guesstimate, and $35,000 under the auction company’s low-end estimate, it’s not going out on a limb to call this one a good buy. The new owner got a beautiful E-Type OTS (Open Two-Seater) with 80% of the charm of a Series I car at a 50% discount.


FINAL THOUGHTS

These cars represent such a small fraction of the hundreds and hundreds of collector cars sold in Scottsdale. Can we draw any conclusions from just three sales? I maintain that we can:

  • No Reserve cars are, by definition, guaranteed to sell. A theory I’ve heard about no-reserve sales, disproven here, is that they always favor the buyer. Sometimes, when the audience knows the high bidder gets the car, a bidding war erupts. Both the Porsche and the Alfa sold over their high estimate, so the consignors in both cases should be delighted with these results.
  • Another theory we can try to debunk based on this minuscule sample is that the hobby is in poor health. The Alfa and the Jaguar are blue-chip collectibles; the 928 less so, but it’s still a Porsche. Each of these cars appeared to be in very nice shape. I’d venture that all three buyers, if a modicum of care is taken with their new prizes, will not lose money in the long-term when it’s time to sell. Were these cars affordable? It’s a relative term. For a large segment of the Scottsdale audience, vehicles under six figures are affordable, and return on investment was not a primary purchase factor. The hobby is far from dead.
  • Are auctions a good place to buy cars? There is no simple answer to that. It would be misleading to look at these results and think it’s not. Instead, I would postulate that these examples highlight the need for bidders to educate themselves before raising the paddle. You cannot make good judgments from pretty online photos while sitting 2,500 miles away. Learn all you can about the model you’re interested in, make direct contact with the auction company, seek out the seller if available, and bid with your head, not your heart.

A Peek Ahead at the Upcoming 2020 Scottsdale Auctions

In the collector car world, there are two major auction “happenings” in the U.S., both named after their locales: the Monterey (CA) auctions every August, and the Scottsdale (AZ) ones in January. All the major auction companies attend, and spend most of the week in an attempt to outdo each other with number of lots, featured consignments, and dollar totals.

Both are watched carefully by hobbyists, media, and pundits, and each has been known to act as a bellwether for the health of the classic car hobby. (We myopic Americans also quickly forget that similar events in the rest of the world perform a similar function, but because they’re “over there” their significance is easily ignored.)

With the more upscale auction houses due to begin dropping the hammer in a few days, I thought it might be educational and entertaining to select one car from each of the “Big 3”, and predict its end result. As it turns out, I have chosen one British, one German, and one Italian car. They are all personal favorites of mine, and I’ve made a habit of following their recent sales trends.

All three are listed as “no reserve” sales, meaning they will sell to the highest bidder. Pre-sale estimates are provided, and auction houses tend to be notoriously optimistic with them, presuming it will encourage bidding. From my observations, many no-reserve cars sell below estimate.

In alphabetical order by auction company:

Bonhams: 1978 Porsche 928, Lot #11, selling Thursday

https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/25718/lot/11/?category=list&length=12&page=1

ESTIMATE: $45,000-55,000 (NO RESERVE)

The car has 21,000 original miles, it’s a stick shift, in beautiful condition, but would you look at those colors! Porsche 928s have long been derided among marque enthusiasts who disdain anything that isn’t air-cooled. Part of the contempt for the model may stem from Porsche’s initial claim that the 928 would “replace” the 911, which the company intended to drop. It didn’t work out that way.

After years of sales languishing in the $5,000-8,000 range for a driver-condition one, enthusiasts have rediscovered the car. That doesn’t make it valuable, though. This one is a first-year edition with the (in)famous Pasha interior, and if you’re not familiar, check out the photos! The only 928s selling for numbers close to this estimate are the final versions from the early 1990s. Still, this car will have its fans.

RICHARD’S PREDICTION: $30,000


Gooding & Co: 1969 Alfa Romeo 1750 Spider Veloce, Lot #010, selling Friday

https://www.goodingco.com/vehicle/1969-alfa-romeo-1750-spider-veloce/

Estimate: $80,000-100,000 (NO RESERVE)

This body style had its debut in 1966 as the Duetto. Its styling was initially considered controversial, coming after the achingly beautiful Giulietta spiders. But The Graduate movie helped put the car into the minds of mainstream America, at least as much as was possible for a semi-affordable Italian two-seater.

Because of its struggles in meeting U.S. emission standards, Alfa Romeo offered no 1968 models for sale here (ditto for 1970). This 1969 spider dropped the Duetto name in favor of “1750 Spider Veloce”. Displacement was up, fuel injection was added to keep the EPA bureaucrats happy, but the basic body shape would live on for a short while longer until the ram bumpers were bolted on.

Really fine Duettos have soared recently to $40,000. Most Alfisti prefer the carbureted Duettos over the Spica-injected later models. This car is gorgeous but the pre-sale estimate is out of whack, and is more appropriate to a perfect late ‘50s-early ‘60s Giulietta.

RICHARD’S PREDICTION: $50,000


RM Sotheby’s: 1970 Jaguar E-Type roadster (OTS), Lot #168, selling Thursday

https://rmsothebys.com/en/auctions/az20/arizona/lots/r0076-1970-jaguar-e-type-series-2-42-litre-roadster/838010

ESTIMATE: $110,000-140,000 (NO RESERVE)

The Jaguar E-Type (also known as the XKE in the USA) is often singled out as one of a small handful of collector cars considered a blue-chip investment. Stunningly beautiful and universally admired when new, E-Types were not just a pretty face, with power and speed to back up its feline curves.

The so-called Series I cars were sold from 1961-1968; the year 1969 brought the first significant styling changes to what became known as the Series II cars, mainly to the bumpers and exterior lights. The Series III cars, made from 1971 through 1974, were all built on an extended wheelbase; many had auto trannies. Under the hood was Jaguar’s V12 which added lots of torque and lots of complexity.

Time has firmly decided in favor of the Series I cars as the most pure and most valuable; the Series III cars have their fans for those who like power; and the Series II cars have become “the affordable E-Type”, with affordable a relative word in this context.

This RM car is a beautiful restoration, and an award winner, but it’s a Series II car. Those who want an XKE and have no price ceiling will seek a Series I. I personally am a fan of the pale primrose color here, but I’ve read that many are not. The pre-sale estimate is slightly optimistic.

RICHARD’S PREDICTION: $95,000


What do you think? Are the estimates accurate? How off-base am I? Send in a comment with your own sale price predictions.

 

“Bullitt” Mustang Hammers Sold for $3.4 Million!!

AT 2:26 pm EST on Friday January 10, 2020, the famed 1968 Ford “Bullitt” Mustang, the so-called hero car driven by actor Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt, was driven (not pushed) onto the auction block at the Mecum Kissimmee (FL) auction. After the briefest of speeches by the owner, who opined that the bidding should open at $3,500 (the 1970’s transaction price), the auctioneer quickly had a floor bid of $500,000.

In a matter of moments, bidding jumped in ONE-HALF MILLION DOLLAR increments to $2.5 million. The next bid was “only” a hundred grand richer, and bidding seemed to stall there at $2.6 million. But with a car like this, Mecum was in no rush to conclude the proceedings. (Most cars at a Mecum auction spend between 1 and 2 minutes on the block.) The crowd was poked and prodded, and poked and prodded some more. Moving in $100,000 increments now, the bidding climbed through $2.8M, past $3M, and again slowed at $3.3 million.

It seemed as though it might be done, but like a sprinter getting his second wind, the auctioneer accepted a bid of $3.35 million, and then $3.4 million. He lingered at $3.4M, asking, begging, pleading for a bid of $3.5 million. It was not to be. AT 2:38 pm, TWELVE MINUTES after the car came to a stop in front of the podium, it was over. The Bullitt Mustang hammered sold for $3,400,000. Wow.

The poll which was run on this blog the other day resulted in a tie, with 42% of you predicting a bid of $1 million tops, and the same percentage predicting $3 million (ironically, Dana Mecum’s prediction). The sale price greatly exceeded my own personal guess of $2.5 million. I guess Mr. McQueen still has significant drawing power, even 40 years after his demise. Let’s hope that contrary to the way this Mustang was hidden for the last 45 years, the new owner sees fit to show and use the car so that we may all partake in its enjoyment.

Congratulations to the new owner.

The 1968 “Bullitt” Mustang will be sold by Mecum Auctions this Friday!

Richard’s Car Blog is expanding! Starting with this week’s post about the Bullitt Mustang, we will semi-regularly feature a midweek story related to an automotive current event. Let me know what you think!

 

Lots of movies feature chase scenes: The French Connection, The Blues Brothers, Ronin, and The Italian Job, not to mention the entire Fast & Furious franchise. Ask people of a certain age, though, to name their favorite celluloid car chase, and one movie consistently comes to the top of the list: Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, released in 1968.

The car-crazed kid I was, I asked my dad to take me to see it, and what an impression it made. At 14, I was still 3 years away from possessing a driver’s license, and I left that theater wanting a Mustang fastback just like the one Lieutenant Frank Bullitt drove (and I’ll admit that the black Charger wasn’t an unworthy lust object either).

McQueen, the King of Cool, did some (but not all) of his own stunt driving in the movie. Since his passing in 1980, any object with his name attached to it has garnered collector interest. Of course, the Bullitt Mustang would rise to the top of that desirability list, except, for decades, no one seemed to know where it was.

The details are available all over the internet: the so-called hero car (there was a 2nd, and some even say a 3rd, Mustang used for shooting) which is in all the exterior chase shots has been located. The car has been owned by the same family since 1974, and that family has decided to sell it, choosing Mecum Auctions as its selling venue. It will cross the block at Mecum’s Kissimmee auction this Friday, January 10th, sometime midday, and it’s being sold at no reserve. Highest bidder gets it, no matter.

Here’s the question: what will the car sell for? According to an article in the New York Times, Dana Mecum, founder of his namesake business, is estimating “at least $3 million”. McKeel Hagerty, head of his insurance company which also tracks classic car values, is predicting “closer to $4 million”.

What’s your guess? Before I provide mine, it may be worth noting that Mr. McQueen has been gone for 40 years. I earlier said that it’s “people of a certain age” who will remember the movie, and some of that generation have passed on also. I recently spoke with a reporter about the collector car auction scene, and he, an admitted Millennial, said to me “I really don’t know who Steve McQueen was”. On the other hand, unlike a car with simple celebrity ownership, this hero Mustang is immortalized in film which can be rented, streamed, purchased, or just watched on YouTube.

My guess? I do believe the car will break into the 7-figure range, but will not reach as high as Dana is predicting. A Baby Boomer with deep pockets will step up and pay $2.5 million for it. By Friday afternoon, we’ll all know.

Let’s have some fun with this: take the poll and vote for the choice you think will come closest.