In the almost seven years since I sold my Isetta at an RM auction in October of 2013, I occasionally scan the automotive classifieds, both in print and online, wondering if I will come across my former car for sale. Up until a few weeks ago, that search had turned up blank.
Checking out an email I received for an upcoming RM Sotheby’s auction, I was drawn to what appeared to be an outstanding collection of Italian cars: the expected Ferraris and Alfas but also Autobianchis, Isos, and some rarely-seen Fiats. That’s when I saw it.
An all-red BMW Isetta was part of the sale. Clicking on the photos, I looked for tell-tale signs, the kinds of things that I, having owned the beast for 35 years, would recognize. (I’m fond of an expression picked up from a hobbyist friend, who says of his own car: “I know where the bodies are buried”.) Checking the chassis number was the final proof. I called my wife into the room and showed her the photos.
Wife: “How do you know it’s yours?”
Me: “It’s the chassis number. I have it memorized.” (Oh, and still on the package shelf is the ‘50s-era suitcase covered in travel decals which I picked up in an antique store for $10.)
The auction, billed by RM Sotheby’s as “The Elkhart Collection”, is scheduled to take place on October 23 & 24 of 2020. Those are the rescheduled dates; initially the auction was supposed to run in May, and it’s presumed that the coronavirus was the proximate cause of the postponement. At this writing, it’s listed as a “live” auction, however, all RM Sotheby auctions since the global shutdown have been online only. While I’m long out of the business of predicting the future, I would venture to guess without too much risk that this one will revert to the online-only format soon enough.
Here’s how the RM Sotheby’s website describes the collection:
OVER 240 CARS AND WIDE SELECTION OF COLLECTIBLES OFFERED ALMOST ENTIRELY WITHOUT RESERVE
The result of decades of judicious and targeted collecting, The Elkhart Collection – Offered Almost Entirely Without Reserve comprises the most exceptional marques and models in automotive history. The focus is at once broad but highly selective from sporting British and Italian cars to microcars, classics, supercars, modern sports cars, ‘50s convertibles and coachbuilt icons. Stay tuned for the digital catalogue coming soon. To view lot listing, click here.
It didn’t take much snooping to get the rest of the story. This is from AutoWeek:
There’s something for everyone in the RM Sotheby’s Elkhart Collection catalog—and with the sale moved to October, you’ve got plenty of time to browse it.
The gist of the AutoWeek story is that this 240+ car collection was amassed by one person, an Indiana businessman named Najeeb Khan, who has now been accused of fraud, although the author is also quick to note that he has not been charged with a crime. But his collection is being liquidated so that he can pay back his creditors.
Personally, I don’t really care about this guy’s personal problems. He has excellent taste in cars, especially of the Italian variety, although the remainder of the collection is also worth a gander. I’ve asked myself if Mr. Khan is the person who purchased my car at the 2013 Hershey auction. While it’s impossible to make that determination from the auction company’s website, I checked the mileage on my car on the date that I sold it, and the mileage shown in the current listing. The Isetta has been driven exactly one mile in the previous 6.5 years. Which is a shame, really, because the car runs well and it’s a blast to drive!
To the new owner, whoever you are: get some new tires. I bought those Michelins in the early ‘90s.
There’s more to discuss about the Elkart Collection Auction in future posts. The discovery of my old car will also spur me to resume the Isetta Saga. There’s lots more to share, and I want all those bidders to have the entire story!
Part of my frustration in putting that blog post together was the lack of any hard information about Auburn Speedster values, either based on recent sales or on numbers published in price guides. So I was pleasantly surprised when I leafed through my copy of the 2020 edition of Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market Pocket Price Guide, and found figures for Auburn Speedsters!
First, there was an 8-cylinder Speedster made from ’31-’34, which I had neglected to mention. The SCM median price for that model is $245,000. The V12 Speedster from the same vintage is shown with a value of $410,000. The 1935-1936 Speedster (they are all boattails) with the supercharged straight 8 sits at the top of the heap: SCM claims a median price of $756,000.
These numbers baffled me, because I expected the V12 to be more highly valued than the 8, even if the 8 was supercharged. Googling some further images solved that puzzle. The ’31-’34 Speedsters, while attractive cars, carried over a linearity from the 1920’s in their styling. A vertical grille, standalone headlamps, dual sidemounts, and bulky running boards stood in stark contrast to its reclining windshield and new-fangled boat tail.
When I compared this model with the updated ’35-’36, I understood why market values are higher for the newer car. All its features are swept back, making it look like it’s going 90 standing still. The fenders have started to become integrated with the body. The entire exterior appears to be more of a single piece of sculpture. While each car would draw a crowd today (and certainly did in the 1930s), there’s no mistaking the supercharged model as the prettier ride.
By the way, supercharging, like turbocharging, provides a lot more grunt with fewer cubes. The Lycoming V12, with 392 cubic inches, produced 160 horsepower. The I-8 with 280 c.i. pushed out 150 boosted ponies, impressive for 1935.
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
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.
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.
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.
Friday was Day Two of the RM Sotheby’s Auction at the Hershey Lodge (located of course in downtown Chocolate World). In contrast with Thursday’s auction, the cars were a mix of pre- and post-war (still dominated by the former), and some of the lots had reserves this time around. The performance of the pre-war iron was again impressive, with the cars selling for decent money, proving that there is still a market for ’20s and ’30s era vehicles. Friday also had a smattering of imports scattered amongst the American marques.
As we’ve seen at every auction lately, Friday’s offerings included an estate sale, with a large poster proclaiming “The Complete Collection of Jack Dunning, Offered Entirely Without Reserve”. Presumably, Jack has either passed on and his heirs don’t care, or, he needed to liquidate and he didn’t care. I didn’t stick around long enough to witness any of Jack’s wares sell, but if you’re interested, RM has the results posted here.
I did watch the first dozen and a half or so cars go in, up, off, and back. The fine ground crew decided to start and drive most of these cars, so that treat was enjoyed after missing out on it the previous night. Of the vehicles I watched, only one failed to sell: a ’55 Chrysler C-300 (first year of the legendary 300s), which was bid up to $50,000 against a $70,000 estimate. Me thinks the right number is right in between.
Overall, I do believe that RM Sotheby’s puts on an excellent auction. They work hard at it, and frankly, it shows. I’ve been fortunate to be a first-hand spectator at auctions by Bonhams, Barrett-Jackson, Carlisle, and Mecum, all of which are fine auction companies in their own right. But I’ve seen their hits and misses. RM seems to be the most consistent of the bunch.
Below is a selection of Friday’s sales, arranged in ascending hammer price order. The prices shown are exclusive of 10% buyer’s premium.
Anyone who thinks that the collector car hobby is on the decline, or who at least proposes that the pre-war segment in particular is as dead as these vehicles’ original owners, was not in attendance as I was at the October 2019 two-day auction held by RM Sotheby’s in Hershey PA. As they have for probably the last 10 years, RM contracted with the Hershey Lodge to host the event, and it was scheduled to coincide with the AACA Hershey Fall Meet.
The auction results I observed made it crystal clear that the hobby is as strong as ever; and anyone suggesting that “no one is in the market for anything built before ______” (insert the post-war model year of your choice) is not cognizant of the facts.
The facts are these: the Thursday portion of the auction was the liquidation of the Merritt Auto Museum of Nebraska. No explanation was given for its closing, but the 107 vehicles on offer were all pre-war, and all were offered at no reserve. The catalog provided the auction house’s pre-sale estimates, and much of the pre-auction excitement boiled down to this: would the supposed indifference to such aged lots result in low-dollar sales? Or would the no-reserve format drive the bidding to numbers close to or above the estimates?
I stuck around long enough to personally observe 33 lots cross the block. Of those 33, 21 sold within or above their estimates; 13 lots sold below (and of those 13, two were “replicas”, and one was a sedan rebodied as a phaeton). It was an impressive performance, and with possibly very few exceptions, no one “stole” any automobiles. This chart shows those 33 vehicles (buckboards were clearly the hot attraction of the night):
Note that the indicated “hammer” price is exclusive of 10% buyer’s premium.
Thursday’s show also differed from other RM at Hershey auctions because every lot was pushed into and out of the building. In previous years, one of the thrills for me (and a reassurance to the bidding audience) was the visual acknowledgement that the cars started and ran. Whether the pushing was done for expediency or to spare our lungs was not stated; and while all the vehicles looked cosmetically fresh (I’d rate every vehicle a 3+ or 2- in condition), I did overhear the handlers state “watch out, that one has no brakes” several times.
Below are selected photos from Thursday’s auction. The vehicles below are arranged in order of HAMMER PRICE, from lowest to highest. Due to the size of this report, I will break out Friday’s auction results as a separate blog post.
Lot 163, 1902 Olds Curved Dash Replica, sold for $3,500, 42% below its pre-sale low estimate of $6,000
Lot 186, 1914 Buick Roadster, sold for $13,000, 35% below its pre-sale low estimate of $20,000
Lot 181, 1923 Willys-Knight Roadster, sold for $13,000, 48% below its pre-sale low estimate of $25,000
Lot 179, 1930 Marquette Phaeton (rebodied sedan), sold for $14,500, 3% below pre-sale low estimate of $15,000
Lot 168, 1933 Essex Terraplane, sold for $17,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $15-25,000
Lot 184, 1913 Maxwell Roadster, sold for $18,500, within its pre-sale estimate of $15-25,000
Lot 180, 1933 Essex Terraplane, sold for $20,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $20-30,000
Lot 178, 1929 Ford Model A Phaeton, sold for $22,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $20-25,000
Lot 201, 1928 Franklin Depot Hack, sold for $22,500, 25% below its pre-sale low estimate of $30,000
Lot 185, 1912 Detroiter Speedster, sold for $25,500, within its pre-sale estimate of $25-35,000
Lot 206, 1932 Pontiac Coupe, sold for $26,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $25-35,000
Lot 195, 1932 LaSalle sedan, sold for $30,000, 14% below its pre-sale low estimate of $35,000
Lot 187, 1923 Packard Runabout, sold for $34,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $30-40,000
Lot 202, 1936 Cord 810 Westchester sedan, sold for $37,500, 25% above its pre-sale high estimate of $30,000 (it was announced on the block that engine had a cracked cylinder head)
“The Greatest Show on Earth”; “Automotive Mecca”; “The High Holy Days of Hershey”. The repetitive use of all these terms describes what is formally known as the AACA Eastern Fall Meet, a car show extravaganza that has been held in the quaint town of Hershey PA (“Chocolate Town USA”) since the early 1950s. This blog previously reported on Hershey in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
The Hershey Show has evolved and expanded through the decades into its current three-part form: a weekday flea market/car corral, now exclusively held on paved ground (the infamous Hershey mud is no more); a Saturday judged car show, currently held on a mostly-smooth grassy lawn; and a two-day auction conducted by RM Sotheby’s (“the official auction of AACA Hershey”).
Here we present Act II, The RM/Sotheby’s Auction.
The RM Sotheby’s Hershey Auction, a mainstay event for the last several years, is now “the official auction of AACA Hershey”. For the uninitiated, it is held on the grounds of the Hershey Lodge, about four miles from the flea market/car corral at Hersheypark.
Bidders pay $200 for an auction catalog, granting them entry into the arena. For everyone else, it’s not so bad: there’s plenty of free parking (provided you show up before the 5:30pm kickoff); a bidder’s badge is NOT required for you to walk among the cars under the tents; and outdoor loudspeakers broadcast the auctioneer’s chants and gavel smacks. Perhaps best of all, you can watch the dedicated RM staff get each of these beasts running and driving into the building. Unless you plan to bid, the real show is outside.
It’s a two-day affair, held on both Thursday and Friday, and I was there only on the first day. RM has long specialized in auctioning primarily American iron, both pre- and post-war, with a smattering of high end European vehicles thrown into the mix. If anything, by my casual observation, the American offerings have become even more mainstream (witness the ’68 Camaro, something I thought I’d more likely see at Mecum). But pre-war cars continue to rise to the top of the “sold” column (more about that in a bit).
Several auction trends continue. “Estate sales” again constituted a large percentage of cars here. There were three such named estate lots on offer, and the first of these to cross the block, the Richard L. Burdick collection, did so early on Thursday.
Mr. Burdick, a successful businessman and collector, passed away earlier this year, and obviously, his family decided that the auction method was the cleanest way to liquidate his automotive holdings. Trend #2 is to note the high percentage of “no reserve” sales, such as almost every car in the Burdick Collection.
In spite of what some perceive as a softening in the collector car hobby, the auction houses hold a good amount of power: they have continued to demonstrate their ability to move the metal (especially noteworthy in our digital-rich age); they can arrange for cars to be brought to the auction site; and they may even include some auction prep work (for the appropriate fee).
In exchange for the advertising, marketing, host location, and expected bidders, the auction company can state that all this is done on the condition of a no-reserve sale. It’s positioned as a win-win-win: the car is sold to an exuberant new owner, the seller/estate gets paid, the auction company earns its slice, and everyone goes home happy. And that’s not a bad thing! Bidders and observers alike find it a special treat to see a no-reserve car climb the block, knowing that the car is guaranteed to sell.
If no-reserve sales have potentially pushed down values, no one is seen complaining. The reality is that both buyer and seller may be happier with a guaranteed sale at 80% of perceived value compared to no sale at 100% of perceived (and unachieved) value. (Two days after the auction ended, RM Sotheby’s rightly bragged about their 94% sell-through rate.)
Staying on values, much has been written about the ups and downs of market values, driven in no small measure by collectors of various ages entering and leaving the hobby. For example, we know that Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1962, collect the cars of their youth. As the oldest Boomers leave the market, it’s said, then the cars they’ve been chasing (in this case, American cars of the early-to-mid ‘50s) drop in value. To some extent, that has been true. Many American cars of that time period hit their value peak a few years back, and while they are certainly not worthless, prices have dipped.
The other side of the curve has seen demand (and therefore values) rise for cars of the ‘80s and ‘90s as young entrepreneurs and executives, dripping with newfound wealth or at least some disposable income, snap up the cars whose posters adorned their bedroom walls. We’ve seen it with everything from Fox-body Mustangs to Lamborghini Countachs.
If we follow this logic, then it should stand to reason that most cars built before World War II would have little or no following, and I’ve heard that uttered by more than one pundit. Let’s do the math: a 1934 Lincoln should be attractive to someone who got their driver’s license that year. He or she could probably barely afford a used Model T, but they lusted for that Lincoln (or Packard, Cadillac, Duesenberg, etc.). Someone who turned 18 in 1934 was born in 1916. If alive today (unlikely), that person would be 102 (and if I’m wrong, Happy Birthday).
Reality at RM Hershey is this: of the top 10 highest-priced cars which sold, NINE were pre-war (the only exception a 1960 Plymouth Fury convertible). Here is a quote from the email I received from RM:
“… top honors going to the 1930 Cadillac V-16 Roadster, which exceeded its pre-sale estimate and achieved a final price of $495,000. Other strong results for American classics included a 1941 Packard Custom Super Eight One Eighty Convertible Victoria by Darrin, which reached a final price of $357,500, and a 1934 Lincoln Model KB Convertible Sedan by Dietrich, which exceeded estimate at $286,000.”
So who is buying these cars? My own theory is that the great American pre-war classics are being purchased by a variety of well-heeled collectors of no particular age group. They see these cars as transcending any pre-ordained value curve. Instead, the cars have been elevated to a status of collectability akin to fine art: they are admired for their style, grandeur, and place in history. Whether the purchaser remembers this car from an earlier time is of no consequence. Just as someone with means may decide to grab a vase, table, or piece of jewelry from a time long ago for its intrinsic beauty and value, automobiles from the earliest decades of the 20th century are now in that same rarefied position.
The cars featured below are a sample of the Thursday auction cars which I inspected and which sold. Hammer prices are shown exclusive of 10% buyer’s premium. (Of the 16 here, 11 hammered under estimate.)
Vehicles are arranged in ascending price order.
Lot 155, 1980 Mercedes-Benz 450SL, champagne/brown, pre-sale estimate $20-25,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $15,500
Just another used 107-platform SL, like seen so often at Carlisle and Mecum. Buyer didn’t take pre-sale bait.
Lot 172, 1969 Buick Riviera, brown, tan vinyl top, tan interior. Dealer emblem on back is from Quebec Canada. Pre-sale estimate $25-30,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $16,000
The RWD Rivs consistently sell in the mid-high teens, so price was appropriate.
Lot 171, 1989 Mercedes-Benz 450SL, white, white hardtop, black softop, pre-sale estimate $20-25,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $16,000
1989 was the last year for the 107 chassis, and they usually bring a higher price, so well-bought. May have been held back a bit by the refrigerator white color.
Lot 175, 1968 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, blue/blue, 350/automatic, “SS exterior trim” implying fakey-doo, pre-sale estimate $35-40,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $25,500
I’m no Camaro expert, but the price seemed fair for the condition.
Lot 199, 1951 Kaiser Dragon sedan, two-tone green, dragon skin upholstery, claimed 11k original miles, pre-sale estimate $35-50,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $26,000
From the Burdick collection. If you had to have a Dragon, this might have been the one to have.
Lot 176, 1959 Ford Sunliner convertible, blue/white inside and out, Continental Kit, pre-sale estimate $40-45,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $26,000
The Skyliner retractable gets all the attention; the soft-top Sunliner, with its ‘normal’ sized trunk, is arguably the better-looking car.
Lot 195, 1954 Ford Crestline Skyliner, white, blue painted top, blue interior. Glass roof, claimed “rare peek-a-boo” hood; pre-sale estimate $40-50,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $28,000
From the Burdick Collection. Claimed 13k original miles and cosmetic restoration.
Lot 173, 1969 VW Microbus camper, blue/white, “weekender” edition fully equipped for camping, pre-sale estimate $25-30,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $30,000
One of the few cars seen on Thursday to sell within estimate. VW buses continue to gain traction in the hobby, and you can even live in this one if you have to.
Lot 196, 1947 Lincoln Continental convertible, green/tan top/green, V12, one of just 738 made, pre-sale estimate $35-45,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $34,000
From the Burdick Collection. The post-war restyle did this car no favors, and neither did the color (and I like green cars, but not this green). Sold for a grand under low estimate. Cheap way to get 12 cylinders.
Lot 156, 1964 Lincoln Continental 4-door convertible, white, dark red leather, factory air, pre-sale estimate $30-40,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $35,000
Sold exactly at estimate mid-point. Clean, good looking, imposing car. Someone got a decent deal on a great cruiser.
Lot 153, 1971 Volvo 1800E, dark silver/red, pre-sale estimate $25-30,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $35,000
This was the first car to cross the block (after the automobilia). Someone got excited and paid above estimate. To my eye, the color and the alloys weren’t right. Well above market for an 1800 Coupe.
Lot 178, 1957 Olds 98 convertible, red & white in & out, J-2 tri-power, pre-sale estimate $50-60,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $47,500
1957 was a peak year for GM styling, before it went a bit haywire in ’58. This was a great-looking full-size American convertible. Well bought.
This is the only car in this report to have had a reserve. Usually, the low number on the pre-sale estimate IS the reserve, yet this sold for two grand under that. Most people who want a FWD Cord will hold out for a drop-top, but I find these sedans to be just as attractive.
Lot 179, 1954 Chevrolet Corvette, white/red, inline 6 and Powerglide as built, pre-sale estimate $60-70,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $59,500
Close enough to say that it just sold at low end of estimate. These first and second year 6-cylinder cars have their followers.
Lot 180, 1958 Jaguar XK150 Coupe, white/red, wires, pre-sale estimate $50-60,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $70,000
It was a nice-looking restoration, but these coupes don’t look as good to my eye as the convertibles. Someone saw more value here than RM did, and they may have been correct.
Lot 157, 1948 Playboy retractable hardtop/convertible, light blue, white painted top, tan interior, pre-sale estimate $55-75,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $120,000
I’ve never seen one in the metal. It’s a sad and pathetic looking little thing, and this is coming from a former Isetta owner. It’s so rare that there may be no prior sales history, so making an accurate estimate is not possible. Whoever got it will have the only one at every show they attend.
For those unwilling to pay the $200 to sit inside, RM thoughtfully set up loudspeakers outside. By positioning oneself immediately adjacent to the entrance door, one had a clear view of all the cars entering and leaving the building. The PA did a fine job of ensuring that you heard the bidding as it happened.
The vehicles for sale this year were a good mix of domestic and imported product. RM has recently specialized in pre-war vehicles, and despite the naysayers who insist that the audience for most anything built before World War Two is dead, these vehicles continue to garner interest among collectors. We also observed that the trend toward offering unrestored and “barn find” cars continued.
The majority of Thursday’s lots (and many of Friday’s) were listed as “offered without reserve”. (RM has long had a policy that vehicles with pre-sale estimates below a certain amount must be no-reserve sales. Several years ago, that threshold was $50,000. This year it appeared to be closer to $100,000.) Indeed, of the 15 lots covered below, 13 were no-reserve pieces. Perhaps more telling, 9 of these 15 sold under their pre-sale estimate.
Presented below is a sample of Thursday’s sale results, the only day I was in attendance. SOLD prices are hammer prices, WITHOUT the 10% buyer’s premium. The results are again bracketed in price ranges, to provide a clearer sense of what’s available within a certain budget.
One more point: It is my opinion that remaining outside to directly observe the RM crew valiantly attempt to start and drive these vehicles reveals more about their overall condition than could be gleaned by parking one’s behind inside.
Lot #111, 1960 Ford Zodiac Mk II Saloon, 4-door sedan, red & white, red interior. Six-cylinder engine with automatic transmission. Pre-sale estimate of $10-15,000.
SOLD at no reserve for $4,000
Never saw one in the metal before, although I’ve seen grainy black and white photos of John, Paul, George and Ringo standing around one. Not the most attractive thing, although the quality of the restoration was decent. Drive it to your next Beatles convention.
Lot #117, 1963 Sunbeam Rapier Series III convertible, medium blue, white stripe and top, blue interior. Four-cylinder engine, 4-speed stick on the floor. Pre-sale estimate of $20-25,000.
SOLD at no reserve for $7,500
Another oddball British car, although with arguably a bit more charm than the Zodiac. The restoration looked top-notch, except for Port-a-wall whitewalls pulling away from the sides of the tires. You could have the only one at the next all-British car show.
Lot #130, 1963 Sunbeam Alpine Series III convertible, red, red removable hardtop, black interior. Four-cylinder engine with 4-speed stick. Pre-sale estimate of $20-30,000
SOLD at no reserve for $9,000
The car looked OK, possibly a well-kept original or older restoration. Of note, the catalog kept referring to the vehicle as a Series III, while the badges on the fenders and trunk stated Series IV. The hardtop adds to its all-weather use, although the Perspex windows were cracked and glazed.
Lot #116, 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 4-door sedan, bronze metallic, brown interior. Six-cylinder carbureted engine, automatic transmission. Pre-sale estimate of $15-20,000
SOLD at no reserve for $9,000
The catalog claimed this was an all-original car with just under 100,000 miles. My question is, who brings a car to a high-end auction with so many needs? Anyone who stuck their head through the open driver’s window could read the sticky note on the dash: “Brakes are VERY soft. Be prepared to use handbrake.” The RM staff had great trouble starting it, and it barely ran under its own power onto the block. On its way out, it stalled and would not restart. The hammer price is just the start of the expenses.
$10,000 to $15,000:
Lot #113, 1928 Pontiac 2-door coupe, tan body, black running boards and fenders, orange wood wheels. Six-cylinder engine, 3-speed manual transmission. Pre-sale estimate of $18-25,000
SOLD at no reserve for $12,500
A good-looking pre-war car in attractive colors, it ran well across the block. I’ll call it a good buy for someone interested in Pontiacs which pre-date Silver Streaks and Wide Tracks.
Lot #115, 1931 Chevrolet Independence 2-door sedan, dark blue body, black fenders, yellow wire wheels with whitewall tires. Six-cylinder engine, 3-speed manual transmission. Pre-sale estimate of $25-30,000
SOLD at no reserve for $15,000
A nice change from the usual Ford Model As, this compared well to the 1928 Pontiac which sold for a similar price. You had a choice of pre-war GM cars for under $20,000.
$20,000 to $35,000:
Lot #112, 1922 Buick Model 22-45 Five Passenger Touring, beige, dark tan fenders, white top. Six-cylinder engine, 3-speed manual transmission. Pre-sale estimate of $25-30,000.
SOLD at no reserve for $22,500
This makes an interesting comparison to the Pontiac and Chevy which sold for substantially less. This Buick appeared to be a more recent restoration (the odometer read 13 miles, and the catalog claimed this was the total mileage since it was restored), yet as a car with open sides, it may be seen as less usable than the two newer closed cars. The seller should be happy: it “almost” made low estimate.
Lot #125, 1928 Marmon Model 68 Roadster, blue, black fenders, white top, blue-painted wood wheels with whitewall tires. Inline 8-cylinder engine and 3-speed manual. Pre-sale estimate of $70-90,000.
SOLD at no reserve for $27,500
The catalog claimed that this was a mostly-unrestored car with 38,000 original miles. I thought it looked like a striking and honest automobile. (The straight-8 must give it some oomph.) The question is, was the pre-sale estimate way off, or did someone steal this car?
Lot #260, 1960 Volvo PV544 Sport 2-door sedan, red with red and white interior. Four-cylinder engine, two carbs, 4-speed manual transmission. Pre-sale estimate of $15-20,000
SOLD at no reserve for $31,000
While you do occasionally see Volvo PVs at auctions, from my experience it is rare to find one so thoroughly restored, and to original specs too. This car sold on Friday, so I was not present to witness what must have been spirited bidding, as the car sold for significantly over its high estimate. The audience recognized the quality of the resto.
$50,000 to $90,000:
Lot #114, 1929 Packard Deluxe Eight Roadster. No paint color can be discerned. Inline 8-cylinder engine and 3-speed manual. Pre-sale estimate of $55-75,000.
SOLD at no reserve for $56,000
A barn find, or just a neglected old car? While the write-up assured all that the owner had brought the beast back to running condition, it still needed to be pushed around. Hey, at least it rolled. Sold almost right on its low estimate.
Lot #134, 1962 Ford Thunderbird convertible, white with aqua interior, Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels with wide whites. 390 V8, 3-speed automatic. Pre-sale estimate of $40-45,000.
SOLD at no reserve for $60,000
The catalog claimed that aside from one repaint in its original white, this was mostly an original car. While it looked nice, and I do like these so-called Bullet Birds, I can only explain the sale price blowing past reserve by the fact that the car sat on the block for 10 minutes while two determined bidders duked it out.
Lot #141, 1969 Jaguar E-Type roadster, green with green interior, Series II car with inline 6 and 4-speed manual. Pre-sale estimate of $60-70,000
SOLD at no reserve for $64,000
At first glance, under the harsh tent lights, this looked like a lovely and well-preserved E-Type. The green-on-green may not be to everyone’s taste, but at least it was all original. Upon closer inspection, one noticed that there was no sheen to the paint at all. It actually looked like primer. The interior was decent, and underhood, things appeared like the car got occasional use and maintenance. This is today’s price for a “driver” Series II E-Type roadster.
Lot #127, 1935 Packard Eight Convertible Sedan, yellow, black top, wire wheels with whitewalls, tan interior RIGHT HAND DRIVE. Pre-sale estimate of $80-100,000.
SOLD for $70,000
A lovely yet imposing thing, its sale price may have been held back by its steering wheel placement. I don’t pretend to know Packards, but this one sold for only $14,000 more than Lot #114, AND it ran, AND it looked good. If I were in the market for a pre-war Packard, I know which one I would have sprung for.
Lot #128, 1959 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, white, silver coves, red interior. 230-hp 283 V8, 4-barrel carb, 4-speed stick shift. Pre-sale estimate of $75-90,000
SOLD at no reserve for $85,000
A stunning cosmetic restoration in striking colors, the catalog claimed that the car has “almost zero miles” since restoration, although the write-up goes on to state that the engine is an “unstamped replacement block”. That did not hold back the bidders. Like the ’62 T-Bird, a contest ensued among several attendees until the hammer price almost reached the high estimate.
$300,000 to $750,000:
Lot #140, 1957 Porsche 356A Speedster, orange, black hardtop, black interior. 60-hp 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed manual. Pre-sale estimate of $200-250,000
SOLD at no reserve for $310,000
This is a car which, to the uninitiated, should be sent directly to the junkyard. This Porsche could be the poster child for a “barn find”: It was bought by a man in 1967 who hand-painted it orange over its original white, enjoyed it for a few years, then stored it for 40 years, until it was rediscovered and sold. This 356 got more attention under the tent than anything else on Thursday. After protracted bidding, it screamed past its high estimate. Originality has its price. Shame about the paint.
Lot #142, 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster, red with tan interior, pre-sale estimate of $900,000 – $1,100,000
SOLD for $750,000
This was another cosmetic stunner, even if its red-over-tan was a change from its factory blue-over-cream. Claimed to come from long-term ownership, I had every reason to expect the car to break into seven figures. These 300SL roadsters long ago achieved price parity with their Gullwing brothers. Therefore, it came as a total shock to watch the hammer fall at a number so far below the low estimate. Was it the color change, did the audience see something I didn’t, or is the market that soft?