Desert Storm: the invasion of no-reserve Aston Martins
For the last four years, a wave of ‘No Reserve’ Aston Martins from a mystery Middle Eastern consignor has hit the auction rooms. Most have been offered by Bonhams, though some – from a related source in the same region – have popped up at RM. What effect has this had on the Aston Martin market?
Although always collectable, ‘DB’ Aston Martins traditionally lagged behind more-fancied Ferraris until the start of the 2008 to 2015 surge in classic car prices. Led by demand from one Kuwaiti buyer in particular, Bonhams’ annual all-Aston auction at Newport Pagnell set the benchmark for values and 1960s Aston Martins leapt into the big-time as $500k to $1.75m+ classics. That same collector is now selling and many hundreds of cars – from DB2s and DB4s to DB6s, V8s and more recent models – have poured onto the auction market, all without reserve. More valuable DB5s and Convertibles are rare, usually offered by rivals RM out of a different collection in the area, often needing restoration and generally selling well.
Luckily for owners of pinnacle Astons such as the DB4 GT and Zagato, and valuable sports-racing models, the Kuwaiti buyer seemed to favour volume and value over owning fewer trophy assets, so none of these made it into a collection that some believe may have numbered as many as 2,000-3,000 cars.
The current situation is nuanced. We analysed sales of DB6s in the K500 Index from 2015 – the peak of the most recent Aston market – to mid-2023. Including all sales, not just Kuwaiti entries, 86 DB6s sold in this period, 43 in the past three years. The equivalent figures for the DB4 are 71 and 33. So it’s not accurate to state that many more cars have come to market from 2019-2020 onwards, though it should be noted some of the worst-case examples appear in online auctions and are not always included in our figures.
However, a deeper dive into the results shows that, of cars sold between 2020 and 2023, 25 DB6s (58%) and 12 DB4s (37%) were from this source. Further, while the DB6 as a model has generally lagged behind the DB4 and especially the DB5 in desirability, and many of these auction DB6s are RHD ‘projects’ with auto ’boxes, the DB4s were sought-after left-hand-drive, many of which had interesting histories when new.
In recent years, offered almost by the container load and without reserve, the very public prices of sold cars – without import taxes (anywhere) and “re-commissioning” costs added – have distorted values of DB Astons, the DB6 in particular.
What you get – or usually don’t
Consider a sample catalogue conclusion for a Kuwaiti auction entry:
“Please note that this vehicle is only offered with a photocopy of its old registration document, bidders should satisfy themselves as to registration requirements in their own jurisdiction. Please contact the department for further information.
Please note that this vehicle is from outside the UK. Our customs agents, CARS UK will manage all post sale customs administration. A fee of £350+VAT will be charged on the buyer’s invoice to administer both import or export customs movements. If the buyer also chooses to ship with CARS UK, this will be quoted separately. If this vehicle is to stay in the UK, it will be subject to Import VAT at the standard rate of 20% and Import Duty at 10%+VAT on the hammer price. This vehicle will not be available for immediate collection after the sale and will only be released on completion of customs clearance.”
And another common warning:
“Since acquisition the car has been on static display as part of the vendor’s extensive private collection in the Middle East and will require recommissioning before returning to the road.”
Only in the rarest cases do any have paperwork other than a reprint of the car’s original Build Sheet. All have been in static storage for a decade or more. Should any be imported to Europe, customs duties and additional fees (5% VAT for older cars in the UK, up to 30% for those under 30 years) apply on top of Bonhams’ healthy buyer’s premium of a flat 15% in mainland Europe. There is no history file, other than anything on the Build Sheet and what the cataloguers can glean from past sales at auction or the internet. The engines are often non-matching, some are right- to left-hand drive conversions and automatic ‘slush’ gearboxes abound.
In occasional cases, the cars have been restored to personal taste at Newport Pagnell, and some have been finished in a kaleidoscope of non-original colours and materials. Take Lot 109 at Scottsdale this year, for example. The left-hand-drive 1963 Aston Martin DB4 Series V was first delivered to Mad magazine illustrator Paul Coker Jr in Platinum (white) with black hide. It was estimated at $250k to $300k. For a late DB4, it was unusually a non-Vantage with open headlamps. The market price for a decent LHD car in original colours such as this might be $550k to $650k. On this one, every surface other than chromework had been repainted and retrimmed in red, including even the spokes of the steering wheel. A modern radio was fitted, as was modern air-conditioning and dual electric door mirrors. For good measure, the usual black dashboard had been replaced with burr walnut.
It did well to sell for $313,000. But that’s still nearly a $300k discount on a regular car.
The cost of restoration and its effect on final value
A broad figure to restore a DB4-5-6 properly in the UK today is ca. £300k. Buyers interested in the DB market see the headline “£150k all-in DB6” without adding in fees and duties and the likely amount needed to bring the car back to life at one of the handful of British restorers with reputations good enough to do the job and add future value. The “£150k DB6” becomes a “£450k+ DB6” three years down the line. That makes life difficult for trade and private sellers with good, running cars in 2023 now realistically valued around the £325k mark: a lot more than “£150k”.
No registration documents
This may sound like an easily rectifiable situation, especially if you plan to import the car somewhere else and pay the taxes. You’ll usually get good ownership title buying at a reputable auction, but unless you have an original registration document to show the country where you wish to register your new purchase, you’re likely to struggle to get it registered for the road without a lot of hassle and expense.
Have values actually fallen?
For some models, yes, although bear in mind that during this period the market as a whole for ‘touring GTs’ such as DB Aston Martins has softened. After the highs of 2014-2015, values of most classic cars retreated until a bounce-back during and post-lockdown led by strong sales for some speculative models such as the Ferrari F50. The 300 SL Gullwing and Roadster remained resilient after a brief pause and are gently nudging upwards again for exceptional examples. Prices of Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytonas remain static, with occasional flashes of brilliance for the right car.
Taking K500 rolling average values in $US for the following models, we compared each one in 2015 and 2023.
Aston Martin DB4, $600k in 2015, $500k in 2023 – 83% of its 2015 value.
Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, $2.2m in 2015, $1.8m in 2023 – 80% of its 2015 value.
Aston Martin DB6, $435k in 2015, $224k in 2023 – 51% of its 2015 value.
The fact that No Reserve DB4s formed a smaller percentage of the overall total, plus the fact they were all in rarer desirable left-hand drive, probably limited the damage done to that model.
I’ve always wanted a DB Aston Martin, isn’t this good news?
On the face of it, yes – as long as you have proper advice on what you’re letting yourself in for, and understand that these cars come with zero paperwork, usually no recorded history and are generally in a neglected state. And you are prepared to second-guess the market during the time it takes to restore them.
Nicholas Mee has sold Aston Martins since the mid-1970s, when he worked for Aston Martin’s own London sales outlet, and for 30 years from his eponymous business. Nick says the problem is the uncertainty created by a distorted market.
“It’s made life difficult for buyers, in the sense that no one knows what the real market value of, say, a DB6 is today. When prepared and supported by a recognised dealer, a well-maintained standard car with meaningful history will retail between £295k and £350k. Using recent published results of £95,625, £118,125 and £125,000 for these no-history and rough DB6s, it’s hard for the average buyer to understand why there is a ca. £200,000 disparity.
“Although the numbers must be finite, when will this all come to an end? As ever, pricing is determined by supply and demand. To the less knowledgeable, fresh to the classic Aston market, the current disparity between auction prices and dealer prices is confusing – which never helps.
“We had a new owner’s DB6 with us recently. It had just been bought from Bonhams for £170,000 including commission and import duties. Its engine was in need of a rebuild, its chassis rusted out, body misshapen, and interior worn and torn. The car needed everything. Nothing short of a full, £300k + VAT restoration would make it a functioning and presentable car again. Did he buy a £170,000 DB6 or a £470,000 DB6? If the latter, then he’s in negative equity territory.
“You can buy these cars now and then commission a restoration, although the budgets and timescales involved can be eye-watering. You’d then own a lovely car for probably more than it’s worth today, yet still be without the all-important and valuable earlier history.
“Everyone is waiting for the distortion in the market created by these cars to end. Only then will a sense of order and a new normality in pricing and market confidence re-emerge.”
Neil Thompson of leading sales and restoration company RS Williams takes a slightly different view: “We’d put a value on a properly done, ‘RSW’ DB6 of £425k, with around £500k for a rarer Mk2.
“You would not buy every single one of these cars, just those with a good specification, a matching engine and, possibly, interesting history or specification such as colour, like the Bahama Yellow DB6 we sourced last year.
“It’s true there is no paperwork, but that could perhaps turn up one day. We are commissioned by buyers to evaluate the Middle Eastern cars at auction and, working to a budget, buying them for restoration to our standards. A 4.7-litre DB6 Mk2 completed in this way is a nice car to drive, a well-sorted classic Aston Martin. They do not always need the body removing and our 4.7- or 4.2-litre engine conversions are reversible. No one is scrapping these cars: let owners and restorers bring them back to life to be used and enjoyed.
“I think it’s an opportunity to buy cars now at prices that are unlikely to be repeated.”
This story will likely run until the supply dries up. Perhaps later this decade we’ll see freshly restored ex-Kuwaiti Astons coming back on the market, by when it may have recovered enough to justify their investment. But in the short term it makes valuing a normal Newport Pagnell DB-era Aston Martin road car a difficult science.
Parting shot: if you thought the oversupply of DB6s was unfortunate, spare a thought for Jensen Interceptor and Humber Super Snipe (yes, really) owners. We understand hundreds were purchased for the same collection and will make it to market at some stage in the future.
With thanks to Nicholas Mee, and Neil Thompson of RS Williams.
Photo by Alamy