The Market


Gooding’s Mark Smith Estate auction grosses $8.9m

Gooding’s Mark Smith Estate auction grosses $8.9m 11th April 2023

In a setting reminiscent of the movie Witness, on 7 April 2023 California saleroom Gooding & Co auctioned off motor cars formerly owned by the late Mark J Smith. Nearly all were pre-War, every entry was there to be sold, and the event generated nearly $9 million.

Neatly, the ‘Percentage by value average low/high estimate’ (a comparison of pre-sale mid-guide values versus hammer prices) matched the percentage-sold-by-number: 100%.

The location for the event was the picturesque former Chrysler dealership Midland Motors in downtown Lynchburg, a building owned by Smith who turned it into a showcase and museum. As usual, the vastly experienced Charlie Ross was the man with the gavel. Bidding came from a select audience in the room, over the phones and via the internet.

At a glance:
* Gross, motor cars: $8,857,040
* Percentage sold by number: 100%
* Top-selling car: 1932 Chrysler CG Imperial Custom Roadster $1,600,000 gross, $1,450,000 net (est. $800k to $1.2m)    

Smith’s reputation as connoisseur of unrestored and unusual older classics was legendary. Following his passing in 2021, his vast collection of petronalia, signs and other automobilia was gradually sold off at local auctions. The 87 cars were kept for disposal by international house Gooding at a no-reserve afternoon sale in early April 2023.

In a catalogue packed with rarities, one car stood out and duly sold for a record figure for the marque. The stylish one-off 1932 Chrysler CG Imperial Custom Roadster (pictured, above) nearly doubled its lower estimate. Until Smith’s ownership, it had had had just four owners from new.

A characteristic of all the cars in Smith’s collection was their patina; though many were ‘earlies’ from the Brass Era and the first part of the 1920s, there wasn’t a highly polished headlamp or ‘serpent’ horn to be seen. A brace of later cars was topped by the 1959 AC Ace Bristol (est. $150k to $200k) that achieved $240,800 with premium. The 1958 Lancia Aurelia B20S GT Series VI sold for a bargain $72,800 gross.

Many were presented in sombre but atmospheric dull black or dark colours. All were in 'display condition' ripe for recommissioning. We rated the 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Riviera Town Car (sold for $201,600 all-in) and the 1934 Mercedes-Benz 500 K Offener Tourenwagen, a raffish two-door tourer with interesting first ownership (Nazi Deputy Führer and unlikely aviator Rudolf Hess) oddly not mentioned during the car’s introduction. Bidders bailed out at $775k – or $857,500 gross – some way below its pre-sale estimate of $1.25m to $1.75m. A charismatic and powerful 1930s car bought well.

The event proved once again that offering a once-in-a-lifetime selection of genuinely rare cars is a route to success. There might only be “xx Ferrari Testarossas in Canna di Fucile”, but there is only ONE Chrysler CG Imperial Custom Roadster. Which puts the prices of rare pre-War machinery like that from the Mark J Smith Collection and the recent trend of sale after sale of modern, showroom fresh supercars into context.

Ninety years or so hence, will a paint-to-sample 2020s Porsche boast just five owners, and be lauded accordingly when many 100s of broadly similar cars were sold new?

Gooding & Co The Mark Smith Estate Sale, Lynchburg, VA, 7 April 2023 – results

Total gross cars: $8,857,040
Number of cars not sold: 0
Number of cars withdrawn: 1
Total number of cars: 86
Number sold: 86
Percentage cars sold by number: 100%
Percentage by value average low/high estimate: 100%
Percentage of cars sold below low estimate: 38%
Percentage of cars sold not met avge of estimates: 57%
Percentage of cars sold met/exceeded top estimate: 34%
Average value of cars sold: $102,989
Average year of cars offered: 1931
Percentage of cars offered at No Reserve: 100%

Photos by and Anna McGrath (top) and Mike Maez (middle) for Gooding & Co