The market for collectible cars may be going soft, but a vehicle with the right pedigree can still command a premium price.
Witness the $4.4 million sale last weekend of a 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante in Paris by Bonhams, the London auction house.
The winning bid fell short of some pre-auction estimates — which ran as high as $5 million — but was seen by some in the auto-collecting world as evidence that the market is holding up fairly well, given the dire state of the global economy and the stock markets.
Rare barn finds
“The sale attracted unprecedented exposure, we had a packed sale room of over 1,500 people and I am very pleased with the results,” said James Knight, international head of Bonhams’ motoring department. “I felt the Type 57S Atalante made a market-correct price.”
Knight had earlier referred to the Bugatti as “one of the last great barn discoveries” — a reference to its excellent condition, colourful past and the fact that it was put up for auction after sitting dusty and unused in a garage for almost 50 years.
Such million-dollar “barn finds” are legendary among car collectors. They have become increasingly rare as eBay,
Antiques Roadshow and other venues have made folks much more savvy about the potential value of the old T-Bird that granddad kept out back or that squiggly-looking painting in Aunt Ethel’s attic.
“They’re getting rarer, but we still see them,” said Terry Lobzun of RM Auctions in Canada. “We recently had a Shelby Cobra that came out of a barn that we sold privately with the dirt still on it. That was a half-million car.”
What makes them valuable
The Bugatti auctioned by Bonhams commanded a premium price in part because its original owner was British racing pioneer Francis Curzon, first president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club and 1931 winner of the Le Mans 24-hour race.
The Bugatti passed through a couple of owners before ending up in the hands of the aptly named Dr. Harold Carr in 1955. The doctor drove the car for a few years, then parked it in his garage in the early 1960s, where it remained until his death in 2007.
The Bugatti wasn’t the only classic to fetch an eye-popping price at the Paris auction. A 1913 Bugatti Type 18 two-seater known as Black Bess went for $3.1 million, and a Citroen DS23 EFi Cabriolet sold for $435,375.
Black Bess’ original owner was Roland Garros, a name associated with the famous tennis stadium in Paris but more properly remembered as the moniker of the aviation pioneer and innovative World War I fighter pilot.
It remains to be seen whether the collectible-car market manages to avoid a sharp contraction. Lobzun said his firm was satisfied with the results of its annual auction in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last weekend, which saw 66 per cent of the listed items sold, including a 1952 Schwinn Black Phantom tandem bicycle that went for $8,000.
That was down from 73 per cent the year before, but Lobzun said it was a respectable showing given the sorry state of Florida real estate.
Not a dire state of things
But the lower end of the collectible market, especially cars that sell for less than $100,000, is softening. Muscle cars — from the late ‘60s-early-’70s that were so much in vogue a few years ago — are one segment in particular that is slowing down.
“Those have settled to more realistic levels,” Lobzun said, “but we don’t see anything really crashing and burning.”
LA Times – Washington Post