The Market


RM at Villa Erba: K500 mid-2023 market comment

RM at Villa Erba: K500 mid-2023 market comment 23rd May 2023

The Canadians grossed €53m gross last Saturday, the best ever for a Villa d’Este concours weekend auction. Considering this, and following positive results in Arizona, Paris and Amelia Island, let’s take stock of the market in late-spring 2023.
Top-selling car was the 1972 Ferrari 312 PB consigned from a well-known French dealer, sold over the telephone to a compatriot for a surprisingly modest €12m including premium, way under its €14m to €18m hammer price estimate. It was a strange ‘high point’ in a successful sale for RM Sotheby’s, who once again led the way in presentation.
Older cars in Europe are not RM’s natural territory but five pre-War machines made it to Italy. Only a pair of less expensive No Reserve entries sold. Outside the North American concours scene, other than the ‘greats’ (Alfa 8C, sporting Bugatti Type 57, Mercedes SS and 540K et al) activity over here is concentrated on suitability for driving events. Cars need to be wieldy and fun, particularly for younger enthusiasts – who don’t always appreciate a 90-year-old car with competition history just might not have all matching numbers.
“Rumours of my death…” and all that, but outside Amelia Island and Monterey Week, the attraction of stately and pedestrian, however elegant, pre-War machinery becomes narrower by the year. So far, 2023 is no exception.

Early post-War
It’s a similar story for classics from the late-1940s and early-1950s. Two cars at the weekend are perfect examples. The bluff 1949 Ferrari 166 MM Touring Barchetta with English replacement body carried an estimate of €4m to €5m; the right-hand-drive 1952 R-Type Continental was €750k to €1m. Both were popular in the 1990s and 2000s but can look dated today if not perfect, and are often challenging to drive in modern driving conditions. Neither sold; blame fashion and unrealistic estimates.
That said, Artcurial found a buyer for a 1951 Ferrari 340 America Touring Barchetta for €5.6m at Rétromobile. Gooding achieved $3.53m for a 1953 Ferrari 250 MM Spider at Amelia Island. The former was No Reserve, had a fine history and went to an enthusiast new to the hobby who wanted a powerful car to enjoy in events once restored. The latter was offered in the more buoyant North American market and was, too, a potent machine with interesting provenance. There are buyers for these, but not necessarily at more than they used to be worth. Not everything has outpaced inflation.
The stars of auction location, provenance and performance need to align for this sector to produce the goods.

Later Ferrari road cars
Here, it’s a healthier situation. RM’s 250 GT SWB at Ville Erba was a car with a ‘colourful’ history – their words, not ours – and was born bright red; as average as it gets. In 'OK' condition, with non-matching gearbox and offered at No Reserve, it sold for the equivalent of $7.1m, at least a $1m+ discount on a decent steel SWB.
There were no real bargains amongst the other No Reserve Ferraris. The ‘Daytona’ Spider was one-owner and presented in as-delivered Marrone – both pluses. Against this was less desirable North American spec and average condition despite very low mileage; its visual appeal was somehow ‘flat’. In the circumstances, €2.3m/$2.5m might be a little light, but not far off market value for this car.
The 275 GTB four-cam had been around the world – Italy, US, Japan, Sweden – and through three different colours: Celeste when new, then red, now gold. Matching numbers, but like many Ferraris from the same source lacking originals of Ferrari Classiche certification†, it went for €2.8m/$3.1m, a good figure for a car that deserves restoration. The 250 GT Lusso was fully priced (€1.3m/$1,4m) for something needing a full restoration back to original Oro Chiaro.
The black-on-black Testarossas were also there to be sold. In our Stop Press report on Saturday, we described the fate of the ugly bug F512 M that went for only €297.5k/$322k as “perhaps a sign that that the model has peaked”. Gooding sold a red/tan US car with 3,572 miles for $731k at Amelia this March; RM’s Villa Erba one was tired, with 85,509km on the clock. But did that really justify the $409k discount? Maybe.
Interestingly, the 512 TR is the sweet spot of the model (2,280 of the 9,957 total) and RM’s black/black car met top estimate of €250k. That’s €286,250 gross, or ca. $310k. It had covered 55,954km – also no ‘out of the box’ jewel.
Talking distance covered, the 2001 550 Barchetta was put in at an enticing No Reserve €250k to €320k and found a new owner at €635k/$687k. Maybe just 901km on the odometer of the otherwise plain Jane, one-owner red/black car did the trick.
After a pre-Pandemic 2018-2019 dip, the appetite for genuinely fast 12-cylinder Ferrari classics from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s has bounced back. Interesting colours and back-stories, continuous history and Red Book certification add value. And ‘project’ cars with potential, such as the 250 GT Lusso, can sell well as a result.

† It’s not possible to simply ask for duplicates of misplaced Ferrari Classiche documents. The cars could well need fresh inspections, to 2023 standards.
Aston Martin

We’ll be looking at the effect of the Kuwaiti cars recently flooding the Aston Martin market in an extended feature next month. The sorry DB5 at Villa Erba came from an offshoot of the same source and, as usual, had no paperwork, was liable to all sort of extra duties if remaining in Europe and required a proper British £300k+ restoration. And it was a rare but unloved automatic in RHD.
Its final price of €472k/$510k proves once again the enduring popularity of the classic ‘James Bond Aston Martin’. Well sold, but it was a DB5, not a ’4 or ’6. Expect a flood of the latter at Bonhams’ Goodwood Festival sale in July.

Ferrari supercars
No F50 but a solitary early 1989 F40 at a No Reserve €2.2m to €2.8m that sold for €2.1m/$2.3m. This one was ‘non-cat’ and ‘non-adjust’, with 17,250km and Classiche certificate. Speaking to a British expert, he thought it had probably had some paint. Better bought than sold, it may show a steadying of values after some well-publicised big figures posted by US-spec cars at Monterey last year.

Mercedes 300 SL
“Thought to”, “understood” and “reportedly” did some heavy lifting in RM’s cautiously worded 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster catalogue description. It sold for €961k/$1m, which is light to right for a ‘dregs de la crème’ basic-spec Roadster in 2023. Both Gooding and Artcurial have broken the $3m barrier for Best-of-the-Best examples: but only the best.
After a flurry of big-ticket sales of genuinely special 300 SLs, including Gullwings, interest in the market staple is steady and firm (rather like the cars themselves).

Miura and Countach
If you wanted a great Miura or Countach you would not start with either of these, but both models are in vogue and the very average Miura sold well for €1.6m/$1.7m. The ex-Rod Stewart LP 400 Periscopica had carried out its own world tour in the ’70s and ’80s: to Australia new in RHD, then the US, when converted to left-hand drive with the roof cut off to make it a Targa top. It’s since been returned to standard, but left in LHD. Considering this, €989k/$1.1m was punchy. Artcurial’s silver LP400 sold for similar money in Paris was leagues ahead in terms of potential.
Expect more strong results for Miuras this year, though the ability of poor cars to find buyers at top prices baffles us.

The generational shift
The average year of car offered on Saturday was 1975. In 2011, RM’s first visit to Como, it was 1953 (Arizona 1972/1957 in 2014; Rétromobile 1974/1958 in 2014; Amelia 1964, 1950 in 2014).
More modern cars, though, flourish on internet platforms and RM’s Villa Erba offering was limited to some high-performance BMW M cars and the inevitable Bugatti Chiron – no Porsches. None really starred, though all sold, and the Bugatti just met the general $3m paid for standard cars at public sales.
The No Reserve 2019 Ferrari Monza SP1 – a first at auction – achieved the equivalent of $3m, setting a benchmark for the 799bhp cars that cost every carefully selected buyer $1.8m when new.
No fireworks but consistent. The financially aware owners of an SP1 (we doubt there is any other kind) will be glad they took the opportunity to buy one if they had it.
So what does all this mean?
A great result for RM and a positive result for most sections of the market. Quality and rarity, as always, continue to be rewarded. The shift toward more modern cars, and younger collectors seeking more exciting models, continues. Pre-War is polarising to ‘The Best’ or nothing. The Monterey catalogues are taking shape. Based on last weekend’s figures, expect at least one Ferrari SP1 or SP2, Miuras and stand-out 1960s V12 Ferraris to be signed up for the biggest event of the year.
All prices quoted include buyer’s premium unless stated otherwise. $US conversion on the day.

RM Sotheby’s at Villa Erba, Cernobbio, Italy 20 May 2023 – results (2019)

Gross: €52,982,100 (€19,700,825)
Number of cars not sold: 9 (23)
Number of cars withdrawn: 0 (1)
Total number of cars: 55 (54)
Number sold: 46 (31)
Percentage cars sold by number: 84% (57%)
Percentage by value average low/high estimate: 63% (44%)
Percentage of cars met or sold below low estimate: 61% (87%)
Number of cars sold below avge of estimates: 36 (30)
Percentage of cars sold below avge of estimates: 78% (97%)
Percentage of cars sold met/exceeded top estimate: 11% (3%)
Average age of cars offered: 1975 (1968)
Average price of cars sold: €1,151,785 (€635,510)
Percentage of cars offered at No Reserve: 62% (17%)

Photos by Kidston SA and Thomas Berns (top) for K500