Blazing Paddles: the 2021 Amelia Island sales
Fewer cars offered at No Reserve and catalogues dominated by old-school early Americana – this year’s Florida auctions could have flopped. Instead, the only two international players present at Amelia turned in solid figures right across the board, “almost like 2014”, as one experienced industry insider told us.
We’ve crunched the numbers and spoken to those in the know at Amelia, the first big international event for 14 months.
Travel restrictions made it an all-American affair, with commentator Max Girardo probably the only European to make the trip:
“The atmosphere at the concours, the auctions and all the other events that Bill Warner does so brilliantly was wonderful. Everyone was in a good mood and upbeat about the market and, more importantly, their own businesses.
“This was reflected in the salerooms where the figures were surprising, though bear in mind that outstanding results such as those for RM’s 1929 Duesenberg [sold for $5,725,000 gross, estimated at $3.5m to $4m] were more the consequence of two determined bidders than a sudden uptick in enthusiasm for inter-war American cars
“I know, from my days as an auctioneer, that North American sales tend to be more dynamic and upbeat than those in Europe. The country’s ‘let’s do it’ attitude gets into everything; you know there’s going to be some action, and Amelia this year proved that once again.”
Californian firm Gooding & Co decided to sit this one out, leaving it to RM Sotheby’s and Bonhams, who’d placed all their bets on the Earlies. The average year of car at the London company’s sale was 1944. In 2020 it was 1953. They did well, which begs the perennial question, “Who’s still buying this stuff?”
Classic car broker Miles Morris of MM Garage was at Amelia and commented: “You ask who’s still buying the early cars. The older collectors are still active, but they’ve been joined by the next generation which includes a surprising number of 40-year-olds, perhaps new to the hobby, who see value in these cars compared with mass-produced modern supercars with uncertain futures in a post-petroleum world.
“The sweet spot is the Brass Era, pre-1918. There are many events to enjoy and clubs to join. The $2.425m Mercer Runabout on Thursday was one of two surviving cars and carries the mechanicals of the Raceabout, a model that could be described as the ‘McLaren F1 of its day’. The inter-war cars are harder to call, though Bonhams’ Duesenberg sold well considering its history. This period is all about bodywork – a one-off with exceptional features could be valued at ten times that of a regular car, however mechanically similar.”
Stephen Serio of the Bond Group dealerships called the weekend’s vibe and the way the bidding developed in the room, on the ’phones and the internet as “incredibly healthy”. “These were not spectacular cars,” he continued, “but they sold well, better than I thought they would. There is a lot of liquidity right now. People have not been able to do much for over a year. Call it right and stocks have done well, private property has done exceptionally well, people feel relaxed about buying. The push up in confidence is tangible.
“Yes, machines from the Brass Era performed beyond expectations, maybe better than the older post-War cars that have been the focus of more recent collectors’ attentions. But every one of RM’s big Ferraris sold strongly. Overall, the event had a 2014-2015 feel about it.”
Much talk pre-event centred on whether the market’s appetite for online-only sales that had seen exponential growth 2019-2021 would impact on live auctions. Both the big players went into Amelia with a degree of trepidation. In the end, the outcome exceeded everyone’s expectations.
And if the public did not buy, wily traders were there to pick up the really cheap No Reserve lots if they foresaw a profit ahead, itself a sign of confidence.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. Covid restrictions limited the numbers in the salerooms and at the Concours itself, which was a sell-out before Sunday. With three months to go before Pebble Beach, it might not be exactly ‘business as normal’, but looking at the figures below, where every metric is an improvement on 2020, that normal has ratcheted up a few degrees after last weekend.
You can download a list of results for all three days, sorted by make and model, HERE.
The Amelia Island auctions 2021 – Bonhams and RM Sotheby’s combined (2020*)
Gross: $62,683,061 ($77,758,722)
Number of cars not sold: 24 (40)
Number of cars withdrawn: 7 (3)
Total number of cars: 205 (351)
Number sold: 181 (311)
Percentage of cars sold by number: 88% (89%)
Percentage by value average low/high estimate: 84% (59%)
Percentage of cars met or sold below low estimate: 50% (70%)
Percentage of cars sold below avge of estimates: 69% (84%)
Percentage of cars sold met/exceeded top estimate: 21% (10%)
Average price of cars sold: $346,315 ($250,028)
Average year of cars offered: 1954 (1966)
Percentage of cars offered at No Reserve: 45% (66%)
*The 2020 results include Gooding & Co, which did not hold a sale at Amelia in 2021
Top 10 cars at Amelia Island 2021 by value
1. RM 1929 Duesenberg Model J 'Disappearing Top' Torpedo $5,725,000
2. Bonhams 1934 Mercedes-Benz 500/540K (Factory Upgrade) Spezial Roadster $4,900,000
3. RM 1995 Ferrari F50 $3,772,500
4. RM 1968 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 $2,810,000
5. RM 1971 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spider $2,452,500
6. Bonhams 1913 Mercer Type 35K Runabout $2,425,000
7. RM 1992 Ferrari F40 $2,040,000
8. Bonhams 1933 Duesenberg Model J 'Sweep Panel' Dual-Cowl Phaeton $1,655,000
9. RM 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500 K Three-Position Roadster $1,600,000
10. RM 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet Series II $1,490,000
RM Sotheby’s at Amelia Island, 22 May 2021 – results (2020)
Gross: $41,152,641 ($35,726,501)
Number of cars not sold: 5 (10)
Number of cars withdrawn: 1 (0)
Total number of cars: 99 (146)
Number sold: 94 (136)
Percentage of cars sold by number: 93% (93%)
Percentage by value average low/high estimate: 93% (75%)
Percentage of cars met or sold below low estimate: 48% (67%)
Percentage of cars sold below avge of estimates: 72% (82%)
Percentage of cars sold met/exceeded top estimate: 17% (11%)
Average price of cars sold: $437,794 ($262,695)
Average year of cars offered: 1965 (1965)
Percentage of cars offered at No Reserve: 40% (70%)
Bonhams at Amelia Island, 20 May 2021 – results (2020)
Gross $20,691,120 ($21,247,141)
Number of cars not sold: 19 (26)
Number of cars withdrawn: 6 (1)
Total number of cars: 106 (116)
Number sold: 87 (90)
Percentage of cars sold by number: 82% (78%)
Percentage by value average low/high estimate: 70% (51%)
Percentage of cars met or sold below low estimate: 53% (73%)
Percentage of cars sold below avge of estimates: 66% (87%)
Percentage of cars sold met/exceeded top estimate: 23% (8%)
Average price of cars sold: $195,199 ($183,165)
Average year of cars offered: 1944 (1953)
Percentage of cars offered at No Reserve: 49% (55%)
With thanks to Max Girardo, Miles Morris and Stephen Serio
Photo by Alamy