2016 has been a fascinating year for the car auction world. We caught up with industry specialist Bryan McMorran from Abbeyfield Sports & Classics to understand what it all meant. Bryan has been in the industry for longer than he will care for me to mention and alongside his specialist knowledge in Aston Martin, he is a personal buyer for private collectors at auction.
Bryan, at the beginning of the year there seemed to be a lot of talk that this year the market would start to stall and that prices fetched for cars in 2015 were unmatchable. Was that the general feeling within the industry too?
Prices have continued to surprise everyone, and it does seem when one particular sector starts to level out, another starts its rise. For example, the 1980’s supercar icons such as the Countach and Testarossa have now, I believe, reached their peak, but then air-cooled Porsches seem to be continuing their rise. I think that this is the future trend. Not just the continual rise of cars that have been climbing, but other marques becoming desirable and having their moment in the sun. Maserati is a prime example of this, and I believe one to watch.
Monaco Historique saw a fine selection of cars being offered by most of the top auction houses but there was a large quantity of cars that didn’t sell. Did they get greedy?
Yes, I think so. In my opinion there are too many auctions and people don’t have time to catch their breath. There are only so many cars available, and the auctions are pushing to fill their catalogues. If they cut down on the number of auctions per year, they would achieve better prices, but when you keep seeing multiples of certain cars over and over again, it lessens the effect on their desirability, and ultimately their prices.
RM Battersea saw some crazy prices for modern RS 911s, surely that’s unsustainable?
Well, yes, that was a crazy night! I think many were taken by complete surprise! But I suppose it was a new area of the 911 market for the auction to delve into so there was nothing to benchmark it. You also have to keep in mind that the cars sold were cars that were built in such small numbers that if someone really wants one, they are going to have to pay the price. I personally don’t think it sets a bar for other examples to sell at that price, however. It was just over-excitement!
The Duomo Ruote in Milan seemed like a potentially great opportunity to buy some bargains, then the news came that some cars didn’t have paperwork and would remain on site until they did have Italian papers. When you factor in storage fees, there was no longer a bargain. Still, most cars sold for well over estimate and over market value, do you think this was a case of new buyers?
The lack of papers should have been dealt with long before the cars were offered in my opinion, and many were possibly caught out by this. The political situation in the country didn’t really help, and there was obviously a need to get them to market as quickly as possible. That being said, it is a very clever way to achieve high prices by offering everything at No Reserve. People believe that they will get a bargain, and so it attracts more buyers on sale day, and then “auction fever” takes hold and cars achieve better prices as bidding wars take place. Yes, I believe a lot of new buyers were there hoping to snap up a cheap investment and have come away the worse for it.
What cars were of great value in 2016?
I like an underdog, and I think you should look to the less obvious cars to see what made a lot of sense to buy. For instance, we know air-cooled 911s are having their moment in the sun, so I would rate the 924/944/968s as long as you look towards the rarer examples such as the Turbos, 924S Le Mans edition, 944 SE’s and 968 Sport/Club Sport. I think they still have a way to go value-wise. Mercedes too have an interesting back catalogue with certain sporting models. Take a look at where the original E30 BMW M3 and Sierra RS Cosworth are now and compare their prices to the 190E 2.3-16/2.5-16. Forgetting the Evo models, they were a bargain between £10k – £15k. In exotica, look at the contemporaries to the ubiquitous Ferrari and you have some fabulous cars such as the Maserati Merak & Bora and Lotus Esprit, not to mention some oddities like Alpine A310/GTA/A610. With the relaunch of the Alpine brand in 2017, I think these will start to gain ground, and I believe the same will happen with Maserati as the marque continues to grow from under the skirt of Ferrari.
What do you envision happening in 2017?
Pretty much the same I think, but with different brands achieving growth. You will always have the blue-chip manufacturers such as Ferrari, Bugatti, Aston Martin, etc., but as I have said, look at some of the less obvious, yet still rare, cars. Pre-war cars have their own following and I don’t see much change there, and certain cars have reached their peak, but with more manufacturers achieving success with their modern sports cars, many buyers will be interested to delve into their past to sample the classics. What is important to remember though is that it is still originality and provenance that defines prices. Gone are the days of over-restoration. You can buy condition, but not history, and the “continuation cars” such as the Jaguar E-Type Lightweights, XKSS and now Aston Martin DB4 GTs can’t be valued the same as those original cars.
Welcome to the new world. Same as the old world…
Tim Hutton has been involved in the automotive industry for 17 years, creating ideas and content for premium brands. When not writing about cars, you will find him driving them all around the world. Having learned to drive at seven in a racing car, petrol is very much in his veins.