Pebble Beach’s $343 million collectable car auctions reveal a red-hot market
After a year of record-breaking online-only sales, the auctions during Monterey Car Week and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance roared back as strong as ever, showing no sign of abatement in the collectible car segment.
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Five auction houses brought in a total of $343 million across three days of sales—up 37% over the same array of opportunities in 2019. (Monterey Car Week was canceled in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
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“It was spastic and bombastic," says Peter Brotman, a longtime specialty car broker to ultra-high-net-worth clients. Brotman sold four client cars during the annual auction series near Carmel, Calif.
Monterey’s high sales numbers were even more impressive, considering that 25% fewer cars were offered than in 2019. A higher-than-normal sell-through rate of 80%, compared to 59% in 2019, contributed to that result, but so did the recognized high quality of many cars on offer. The average sale price of a vehicle sold in 2021 was $428,004, up from $334,114 in 2019, according to Hagerty.
“The collector car market has weathered the pandemic and then some," said Brian Rabold, vice president of automotive intelligence for Hagerty, in his auction report. “We forecast 2021 will be the best year ever for auctions."
A 1995 McLaren F1 Coupe was this year’s top seller, bringing in $20.5 million, including buyers premiums, at the Gooding & Co. auction. (That price beat the $19.8 million McLaren F1 that scored the high mark in 2019.)
A 1959 Ferrari 250 California LWB Competizione Spider sold for $10.8 million at the same sale, while a 1962 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato rounded out the top three sellers by taking $9.5 million at RM Sotheby’s.
“Monterey provided a reminder that live auctions continue to serve an important role, especially as a venue for exceptional top-dollar cars," Rabold wrote.
As usual in blue-chip automotive auctions, a large portion of the top sellers across all sales were Ferraris; five of the top 10 cars sold were vintage Ferraris. But modern analog supercars sold well, too.
“Enthusiasts recognize that era [of supercar] is gone and not coming back," Rabold noted. A 2012 Lexus LFA Nuerburgring drew $1.6 million, setting a record for a Japanese road car at auction; a 1995 Nissan R33 Skyline GT-R sold for nearly twice its auction high-estimate and 91% more than its associated value in the Hagerty Price Guide; and a 1994 Bugatti EB110 SS sold for $2.8 million, setting a record for the model.
“There has been great diversification in the market," says Steve Serio, the founder of Bond Group and insider in million-dollar Aston Martins, Porsches, and obscure European marques such as Iso Grifo and Bizzarrini. “Everyone is eager to pay cash for what they want. No one is borrowing money to spend money."
Not all of the big cars that should have sold did so, however.
The biggest surprise of the weekend was the 1970 Porsche 917K that did not even make its reserve price. It went unsold by RM Sotheby’s, with a high bid at $15 million. Buyers may have been lured by options with stronger provenance, despite the 917K being an iconic race car; this lot had been crashed and re-bodied.
Similarly, a second racing icon of a similar era, the 1966 Ford GT40 Alan Man Lightweight race car, also failed to meet reserve, with a high bid of $5.1 million at the Gooding & Co. auction. It, too, had been crashed and re-bodied, making it less desirable than an unblemished GT40.
“These are educated, intelligent, thoughtful buyers," Brotman says. “They are eager to buy, but they want to buy the best. So this is healthy growth."