Pebble Beach sales 2015: Simon Kidston’s view from the 19th Hole
The hotels have emptied, the fairways handed back to eager golfers, the private jets on the ground at Monterey airport headed for the homes of the masters of the financial universe... and the auction houses are doing their sums to see whether 2015 was a vintage year, a tipping point, or just business as usual.
So which is it?
The definitive figures aren't in yet - 'the day after' is always a frenzy of dealmaking in the auction world - but anyone who witnessed this weekend's action first-hand should have a feel for what took place. K500 editor Steve Wakefield is busy interpreting the sales and trends with researcher Brett Theus and analyst David Elwen, and we'll have full results and hard numbers for you later this week, but here's our first-hand take:
There's a lot of money in the U.S, and the people who've earned it aren't scared to deploy it. Classic cars enjoy a huge following over here, but the market is as diverse as it is vast. This weekend we've seen muscle cars sell for millions of dollars which wouldn't raise an eyebrow of interest back in Europe, and barely registered on the radar of collectors attending an auction of sports and luxury cars just a few hundred yards away.
There have been more bargains than usual, cars sold noticeably below their pre-sale estimates, proving that American owners are usually more pragmatic than their European counterparts when it comes to cutting cars loose to get a deal done and move on. Yet those bargains are still outnumbered by cars sold far in excess of expectations, often for no more obvious reason than instant gratification. "Unpredictable" is still the word we heard most frequently amongst market observers this weekend.
Normal production cars in normal condition sold for what they were worth, which was often not what their owners had been hoping. Unrepeatable cars - fabulous-looking one-offs, cars from single family or 'A' list celebrity ownership, original cars with world-class racing history - did well. Presentation and client service contributed their fair share too, with the firms who excel in this reaping the benefits: I doubt the Fiat Eden Roc beach car would have come close to achieving its stellar result if someone savvy hadn't thought to fill the rear bench seat with a bevy of glamorous beauties and bidder hospitality hadn't been flowing liberally. Anyone can organise an auction but only the pros can create the feelgood factor which makes magic happen.
The best pre-War cars - either the most grand or the sportiest - proved that there's life in them yet. Witness the estimate-busting prices of the Packard Twelve Custom Dietrich sedan and Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental by Gurney Nutting, 1930s icons from opposite sides of the Atlantic, whilst their humbler relatives elicit the same excitement in the saleroom as on the road, which isn't a lot... We'll be digging further into the demographic of who is buying these cars.
Turnover will probably be up on last year, but more valuable cars have been offered, so it'll be interesting to see how the K500 index moves. The money's out there, but it's targeting the 'best of breed' that you'd want in your dream garage, not the also-rans vying for your attention along with a dozen others whose owners all claim they're just as good. In our opinion the balance of power is shifting from giddy sellers back to level-headed auction houses, and that's not necessarily a bad thing for the liquidity and health of the market.
Editor's note: The 1958 Porsche 356A Speedster registered 'SPDSTER' sold for $583,000 gross ($530k net vs. an estimate of $325k - $375k. About $50k of that can be seen, top.
Photos by K500 and the auction houses - Strictly copyright