The Market


$12.5m for Bonhams at its 2020 Quail Motorcar auction

$12.5m for Bonhams at its 2020 Quail Motorcar auction 17th August 2020

Rather than going for the timed online concept favoured by Gooding and RM, the Bond St saleroom chose to conduct a live auction for its Quail Lodge-branded Californian sale.

US-domiciled auctioneer Rupert Banner – regular front men James Knight and Malcolm Barber were absent no doubt thanks to the pandemic – was at the controls, taking bids from the telephones and internet. No bidders were actually in the Petersen Museum in LA, where the sale was held. Banner’s characteristic hard stare might work at an actual live event when mixed with Knight’s easy-going banter and Barber’s John Bull-like steadfastness, but if the aim of this format was to entertain, it missed the mark. And Hollywood is but a nine-minute drive away.

At a glance:

* Gross (motor cars): $12,528,150 (2019, $31,410,840)
* Percentage sold by number: 63% (2019, 76%)
* Top-selling car: 1959 Porsche 718 RSK Spyder $2,232,500 gross, $2,025,000 net (est. $2.8m to $3.2m)        
* Well sold? At 81% sold under low estimate, a hard call. But the 1959 Porsche RSK did find a new a new owner, albeit way below its guide
* Well bought? The couple ($52.64k gross 1956 100M, $24.6k gross 1957 100-6) of No Reserve Healeys were cheap

The 1950s Porsche lacked the magic numbers ‘550’, was not eligible for the Mille Miglia Retrospective and unsurprisingly did not come with its original engine, though did have some nice period US racing history. Nowadays, as a collectors’ – rather than historic racers’ – model, an RSK will live or die on provenance and originality. A figure of $2.23m with Bonhams’ split 12/10% premium is still a little light; expect considerably more for a totally matching, unspoilt example. They do exist – but in a notoriously picky market, owners can almost name their price.

The catalogue was typical Bonhams fare, though did include younger cars than usual: the average year was 1972, compared with 1964 in 2019. It was no surprise that neither of the matronly pre-War Mercedes limousines moved on, nor did the headlining Alfa Romeo 8C 2300. If ever a car needed explaining or managing and presented in the metal it was this one. Like the similar 8C Tourer offered by Bonhams at Scottsdale, it failed to sell. The Aston Martin Ulster certainly should have, despite lacking its correct-type two-seater Ulster bodywork.

The post-saled 2014 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse 'Meo Costantini' added a useful $1.75m to the total. Like at Gooding, sell-through was around 63%, some 10 points off Canadian giant and current king of the online auction scene RM Sotheby’s.

Top auctioneer Charlie Ross will test the model of a live auctioneer at closed events in September, when he sells the Fabri collection at Hampton Court Palace. Until then, we remain unconvinced of its merits, particularly in the face of the efficient internet platforms used by RM and now Gooding.

Bonhams Quail Motorcar Auction 14 August 2020 – results (2019 Quail Lodge sale)

Gross: $12,528,150 ($31,410,840)
Number of cars not sold: 37 (53)
Number of cars withdrawn: 0 (4)
Total number of cars: 99 (219)
Number sold: 62 (166)
Percentage cars sold by number: 63% (76%)
Percentage by value average low/high estimate: 28% (45%)
Percentage of cars met or sold below low estimate: 81% (81%)
Percentage of cars sold below avge of estimates: 90% (93%)
Percentage of cars sold met/exceeded top estimate: 3% (4%)
Average price of cars sold: $126,547 ($143,428)
Average year of cars offered: 1972 (1964)
Percentage of cars offered at No Reserve: 35% (56%)

Photo by Bonhams