2021: K500 end-of-year market report
Last year was a rip-roaring success for collectible car sales, right? We make sense of the market at the start of another 12 months when the pandemic once again made sure – Monterey Week apart – there were few comparable metrics of year-on year growth or decline.
Unsurprisingly, it was the brief window of hope that was a relatively ‘normal’ seven days on the Monterey Peninsula that produced the big-ticket public sales. Of the other usually high-grossing events, only RM held a truly conventional live auction in Scottsdale; Rétromobile was cancelled though some held sales in February; Amelia moved to late-May but lacked Gooding’s presence; the Monaco Historics were held behind closed doors; there was no Le Mans Classic.
Post-Pebble, Bonhams rediscovered some of its past glories at the Goodwood Revival and in Bond St, while RM tested the water at different venues with varying degrees of success. Who would have thought the Canadian giant’s decision to conduct a sale in Lichtenstein of Rolls and Bentley classics that would only appeal to older buyers would have resulted in every car sold, 50 per cent over top estimate and a gross of 11.1m Swiss Francs? The average year of cars offered was 1956.
This is against the chorus of “modern limited-edition Porsches”, “Youngtimers” and “the next generation”.
For the record, here are the ten top auction sales of 2021. Ferrari provides half. Lewis Hamilton’s racing car apart, it’s a list that would not look out of place any year in the last decade.
Top 10 cars sold at auction by value 2021 – all sales (gross)
1. 1995 McLaren F1, Gooding Pebble Beach, $20,465,000
2. 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider, Gooding Pebble Beach, $10,840,000
3. 1962 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, RM Sotheby’s Monterey, $9,520,000
4. 1972 Matra MS 670, Artcurial Paris, $8,288,640 (€6,907,200)
5. 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C, RM Sotheby’s Monterey, $7,705,000
5. 1962 Ferrari 268 SP, RM Sotheby’s Monterey, $7,705,000
7. 1955 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Competizione, RM Sotheby’s Circuit Paul Ricard, $7,024,370 (€6,192,500)
8. 2010 McLaren MP4-25A, RM Sotheby’s Silverstone British GP, $6,528,470 (£4,730,000)
9. 1958 Ferrari 250 GT LWB Berlinetta ‘Tour de France’, RM Sotheby’s Monterey, $6,000,000
9. 1955 Jaguar D-type, RM Sotheby’s Arizona, $6,000,000
Total value of top 10 sales in 2021 $90,076,480 (2020, $59,630,059) +51%. In 2019, the last full year before lockdown and in subdued trading conditions, the figure was $96.7m.
Speaking to leading dealers and auction house principals, the message is clear: the market was buzzing in 2021, with strong sales and a discernible shift to more recent cars bought by younger clients. With far fewer conventional events at which to make purchases and a surplus of time at home thanks to lockdown, many went online.
The big winners were recent internet-only arrivals to the market Bring a Trailer with a reported 2021 gross of $828.7m and UK-based Collecting Cars, which turned over £110.9m (ca. $150m) in the UK, £135.5m (ca. $184m) overall. Already, there is talk of Bring a Trailer hitting $1bn in 2022. In comparison, RM Sotheby’s stated an overall gross of $406.6m in auction sales while smaller rival Gooding declared “a total exceeding $150 million in sales”.
Here are our five takes on the year:
1. Movers and shakers. Ferrari remains the ultimate collectors’ car. It fills most of the top slots, though the shift in demographics meant an F40 set a world record ($2.89m gross at Pebble) while an only average Pinin Farina Cabriolet S1 sold nearly 30% below low estimate at the season-closer in the South of France. In volume terms, Porsche leads the way with cars of every era finding new homes.
2. Buyers want performance. Sportiness and speed sells. The 007 connection keeps DB5 values high but the attraction of older British and Italian touring cars of the late ’50s and early ’60s has waned.
3. Law of unintended consequences. The auction tent is not an auto show, but it does give potential owners the opportunity of seeing cars, having a “I wouldn’t mind one of those” moment to make an impulse purchase right there, or at the next event. The lack of live sales means minds are focused on ‘safe’ choices buzzing on the forums – a gift to recent limited-edition Porsches offered online.
4. We’re all in this together. Last year, Rolls-Royce delivered 5,586 cars worldwide, the most cars Rolls-Royce has sold in a single year in its 117-year history. Bentley also set a record in 2021, selling 14,659 cars and SUVs (an increase of 31% compared to 2020). The grey market in Rolex and Patek Philippe watches reached new heights; pre-Christmas vintage watch sales broke all records. Global liquidity continues to inflate asset prices and classic cars were no exception.
5. Because I’m worth it. It’s been a tough couple of years; people want a treat – who knows what’s around the corner. That sentiment has driven the market relentlessly on, with the temptation of “just one more bid” only a mouse-click away.
Thank you for your support last year. Expect K500 to give you the low-down on how the market develops in 2022 with a preview of the forthcoming Arizona sales next week.