It was a spectacular array of auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona as the major auctions houses - including Barrett-Jackson, Russo & Steele, Gooding & Company, and RM Auctions -brought a vast assortment of vehicles in hopes of seducing buyers in this unstable economy. Despite the downturns in the stock and housing market, many of the auction houses reported that the number of registered bidders had increased over prior years. From muscle cars to European sports cars, from antiques to classics, modern production cars to customs, and from motorcycles to airplanes, the selection was all encompassing.
Russo & Steele had over 500 vehicles at their multi-day, all-reserve auction. There was a very nice assembly of cars from the ‘50 – ‘70s including many high-octane muscle cars. Proving their abilities to cater to a wide audience, they assembled a plethora of European beauties, eye-catching customs, and everything in-between. A very short distance away and having a similar genre, the well-televised Barrett-Jackson auction had the largest audience and the largest number of vehicles, with about 1,050 vehicles. In comparison to last year, they accepted around 10 percent fewer cars. The six day auction moves at a rate of 17 cars an hour on average. Their first three days of sales accounted for more than $17 million dollars. Some of their top sellers included a 1989 Corvette ZR-1 for $176,000 and an Oldsmobile Custom Touring Roadster that sold for $220,000. Barrett-Jackson president Steve Davis answered the question of 'how sales were this year' with one word - 'Awesome!' Craig Jackson, whose father co-founded this event, stated that for the first three-and-a-half days of the auction, they were 'running on average about 10-percent over what we valued the cars.' Forecasted estimates for all six days were around $55 million.
Gooding & Company and RM Auctions both had single day auctions with Gooding offering around 100 vehicles while RM having slightly more, at around 120 lots. Both had assembled an exceptional array of vehicles with many in the multi-million dollar and six-figure category. RM went first with Gooding's auction following a day later. RM had the highest bid of all auctions; their 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Roadster took those honors at $5 million dollars. Sadly this was not enough to satisfy its reserve (rumored to be near $7 million). Several of their other high ticket cars failed to sell, though further negotiations may still close the deal. The same holds true for the 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC which peaked at $4.4 million. Their Ferrari 250 GT TdF was estimated to sell for $2.0 - $2.5 million which meant the $1.8 million dollar bid was close, but not enough. A gorgeous Dodge Firearrow III Concept sold for $800,000 and a Ferrari 275 GTB old for $835,000.
Gooding & Company had several million dollar vehicle sales with the highest of the day going to the no-reserve 1960 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider. (It was rumored to have an estimated value of $5 - 7 million.) As the gavel fell for the third and final time, the lot had been sold for $4.95 million including buyer's premium. This rarely seen car has been called 'the most significant Ferrari find in a generation.' Its sale made it the second highest in Arizona's history. Another stunning Ferrari, a 250 GT SWB Competizione, failed to sell at $4.4 million. A Talbot-Lago T150 C SS fetched $3.52 million, and a 1932 Daimler Double Six Sport Saloon sold at $2.97 million.
Gooding & Company's average price paid per vehicle was nearly $400,000, seven cars were over the million dollar mark, and total sales neared $31.8 million.
Last year, Barrett-Jackson sold $88 million dollars worth of vehicles, down from $111 million in 2007. Part of the reasons given for this decline were the current state of the economy, fewer consignments, and that many higher-end cars might be held back in fear of not generating top dollar.
Russo & Steele had $20 million, RM Auctions did $26.7 million and Gooding & Co. did $21 million in 2008.
Though it is hard to gauge the market because it is never strictly 'apples-to-apples' and there are too many variables, several assumptions can be made about the current state of the collector car market. Many of the cars, especially the high-priced cars that sold in the past, may have been purchased above their true value. Buyers had more resources and were able to spend whatever it took to purchase the car of their dreams. The slowing economy means that buyers have become more frugal and a bit more cautious. The hesitations and the small incremental bids seemed to suggest that buyers want to make certain they are not overspending and will be able to re-sell the vehicle without incurring a loss.
Sellers who may have paid too much for their vehicle in the past are looking to get an equal return on their investment. This leads to high reserves and ultimately, a vehicle that does not sell. The auction houses do a superb job of working with sellers at determining what limits should be set. After all, it is their job to sell the vehicle and - more than likely - are not going to consign a vehicle that just will not sell if priced too high. They have a keen understanding of the market, the location, what buyers are willing to spend and what types of vehicles are going to sell.
What appears to be happening is that true market values are being realized, especially those offered without reserve. The collector car market is still a valuable investment especially for the rare, one-of-a-kind vehicles. But even in this economy, when there are two motivated buyers, anything can happen.
Arizona in early January offers over 1,700 vehicles to admire which sits well with even the causal automotive enthusiast. Vehicles aside, the cloudless, 70-degree weather and gorgeous scenery was a welcomed sight to the below zero-degree temperature that many other parts of the country were experiencing. It would be hard to be an auto enthusiast and leave Arizona unhappy.