2017 in the rearview mirror

By Dr. Vincent van der Vinne

It’s that time of year when we look back on the past 12 months and take stock. With that in mind we invited Dr. Vincent van der Vinne, author of ‘Investing in Cars,’ to look back on what has been an exciting year for auction houses around the world.

To begin our look back at the year, let’s start with a list of the most expensive classic cars sold at auction in 2017. In compiling this top 10 list, I’ve set some criteria. First of all, the list only includes cars that were actually sold at auction, so it does not include cars that were sold after an auction. This means that the Jaguar E-Type Lightweight ex-Team Cunningham, offered at auctioned by Bonhams in August is not in the top 10 – as the car was sold after the auction for $8 million. Also, for the purpose of this list, cars younger than 10 years of age are not included in the overview. This applies to the Ferrari LaFerrari Aperta that RM Sotheby’s auctioned for more than $10 million in September. This car was also auctioned off for charity, which naturally had a significant impact on the hammer price. Below right is the top 10 of 2017:

Marque and Model$£
1. 1956 Aston Martin DBR122,550,00017,514,500
2. 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider Alloy17,990,00013,442,000
3. 1995 McLaren F115,620,00012,132,500
4. 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C14,520,00011,277,600
5. 1970 Porsche 917K14,080,00010,935,800
6. 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider9,504,5007,163,800
7. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta8,305,0006,450,500
8. 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Cabriolet by Vanvooren7,700,0006,329,600
9. 2001 Ferrari F2001 F1 GP Racer7,504,0005,607,071
10. 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweigt Competition7,370,0006,002,700
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When the top 10 of 2017 is compared to that of the previous 10 years, the price level of the leader is (comparatively) low; the highest amount paid in 2017 for a classic car was less than in the previous four years, however it is significantly higher than the preceding five years. This is evident when we make a list of the most expensive cars since 2008:

Marque and Model$£
(2008) 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider10,895,0005,632,000
(2009) 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa12,402,5007,937,600
(2010) 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider7,260,0004,648,700
(2011) 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa16,390,0009,908,700
(2012) 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster11,770,0007,497,500
(2013) 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196R F1 Racer29,650,00019,601,500
(2014) 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO38,115,00022,836,800
(2015) 1956 Ferrari 290 MM28,050,00018,567,500
(2016) 1957 Ferrari 335 Sport35,711,50024,680,800
(2017) 1956 Aston Martin DBR122,550,00017,514,500
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Similarly, the sum paid to be included in the top 10 was lower. To be in the top 10 of 2017, a car had to be auctioned for a minimum of $7,260,000 (or £6 million). The list of the cars on the tenth place since 2008 is as follows:

Marque and Model$£
(2008) 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France3,617,0002,255,000
(2009) 1913 Bugatti Type 183,131,5002,129,500
(2010) 1928 Mercedes-Benz S Boattail3,740,0002,395,000
(2011) 1955 Ferrari 340 Mexico3,685,0002,228,000
(2012) 1957 Ferrari 625 TRC6,527,0004,051,500
(2013) 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680 S Roadster8,250,0005,280,000
(2014) 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C7,860,0004,660,500
(2015) 1982 Porsche 95610,120,0006,466,500
(2016) 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster9,900,0006,895,000
(2017) 1963 Jaguar E-Type Lightweigt Competition7,370,0006,002,700
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From these overviews, one could deduce that the auction year 2017 was less successful than previous years, at the highest level of the market, at least. The highest prices (in US dollars) were paid in 2014-2015. But this picture must not be taken at face value. In the first place, we haven’t seen the same cars of the same quality or with the same history offered for sale every year. For example, in 2014 a Ferrari 250 GTO was offered at auction. In the years thereafter, no such car was taken to auction. Such comparison, then, gives an incomplete picture of the overall health of classic car prices at auction in 2017. One way to improve this picture is to take a look at the total number of cars sold for more than a million dollars. To date, the most cars sold at auction for more than a million dollars was in 2014, with 227 cars going under the hammer above that price (again, cars under 10 years old are not counted in this analysis, as well as the cars that were sold after the auction). In 2017, the large well-known auction houses auctioned 208 cars above a million dollars, more than in the previous year. The process is shown in the bar graph below.

 

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So, one could conclude that the auctions have reached a healthy level, with so many cars auctioned for $1 million-plus. However, for the sake of completeness, this must also be nuanced: On some cars more than a million dollars was offered, yet this was not always enough to meet the reserve price. So in this year and in previous years a larger number of cars received a bid of more than a million dollars, but these cars are not taken into account. In the end, more cars were sold above a million dollars than in previous year.

To better review the auction year 2017, we can go to the granular level of the individual marques and types of cars. It turns out that many cars, let’s say with a value of £200,000+, remained more or less on the same price level or made a small appreciation. In the latter case the highest auction result in 2017 was (a little) higher than the highest auction result in 2016. Due to the exchange rate of the pound, the value increase in pounds sterling is slightly larger than in dollars. The increase in value applies, for instance, to the Aston Martin DB5, Bentley S1 Fastback, BMW 507, Dino 246 GT and GTS, Jaguar XJ220, Ferrari 250 GTE, Ferrari 330 GTS, 288 GTO, F40 and F50, Lamborghini 400GT, Maserati 3500 GT(i) Spider and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing and Roadster.

Aston Martin DB5 highest auction results per year

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1964 Aston Martin DB5, ex-Paul McCartney. Auctioned by Bonhams at 2 December 2017 for 1,345,500 pound. Photo Bonhams.

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Bentley S1 Fastback highest auction results per year

1957 Bentley S1 Continental Fastback. Auctioned by RM Sotheby's for 781,000 dollar _ 642,000 pound. Photo Darrin Schnabel, RM Sotheby's.

1957 Bentley S1 Continental Fastback. Auctioned by RM Sotheby’s for 781,000 dollar _ 642,000 pound. Photo Darrin Schnabel, RM Sotheby’s.

911 Speedster, Value graph

Highest auction results per year – Ferrari F40 highest auction results per year

1988 Porsche 959 Komfort, auctioned by Bonhams at 20 August 2010 for CHF 227,416 (£ 141,500), photo Bonhams.

1991 Ferrari F40, auctioned by Bonhams at 13 September 2014 for £ 634,300, photo Bonhams

Porsche 959, Value graph

Jaguar XJ220 highest auction results per year

1993 Jaguar XJ220. Auctioned by Bonhams at 6 October 2017 for 351,150 pounds. Photo Bonhams

1993 Jaguar XJ220. Auctioned by Bonhams at 6 October 2017 for 351,150 pounds. Photo Bonhams

911 Carrera, Value graph

Maserati 3500 GT Spyder highest auction results per year

1961 Maserati 3500 GT Spyder. Auctioned by RM Sotheby's at 27 May 2017 for 733,400 pound. Photo Tim Scott, RM Sotheby's.

1961 Maserati 3500 GT Spyder. Auctioned by RM Sotheby’s at 27 May 2017 for 733,400 pound. Photo Tim Scott, RM Sotheby’s.

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Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 Touring highest auction results per year

1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 Touring. Auctioned by RM Sotehby's at 19 August 2017 for 649,000 dollar _ 504,000 pound. Photo RM Sotheby's.

1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 Touring. Auctioned by RM Sotehby’s at 19 August 2017 for 649,000 dollar _ 504,000 pound. Photo RM Sotheby’s.

1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 Touring. Auctioned by RM Sotehby's at 19 August 2017 for 649,000 dollar _ 504,000 pound. Photo RM Sotheby's.

An exception to this rule has been seen in many cars from Porsche, which were auctioned for less. That many models were auctioned for a lower amount than in earlier years, does not mean, however, that the interest in this marque is reduced. This is apparent when we compare the figures for the year 2014 again with those for 2017. In 2014 about five per cent of the cars that were auctioned for more than a million dollars were from Porsche. In 2017 it was around 10 per cent (this year also saw the highest amount ever paid at auction for a Porsche).

After a period of many falling prices, the conclusion that can be drawn is that the auctions of 2017 were, on average, fairly stable and more cars were auctioned for more than a million dollars. On the level of the prices of individual cars the conclusion that can be drawn is there was a balance between any relative lack of appreciation and gains across the board.

When making a decision about whether to purchase a classic car at auction, I recommend choosing the car that you really want to own, not just for its investment potential. That way, you can get the enjoyment and thrill of the classic car ownership, while any appreciation in value is a bonus.

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