What happened at Rétromobile: the mood of the market in early 2023
After the first ‘normal’ show in Paris for three years, let’s take the temperature of the classic car market at the world’s favourite classic car fair. Not only did a record number of 340 cars change hands in the auctions, around the stands the familiar, first-event-of-the year buzz was back again.
At over €112m for RM, Bonhams and Artcurial, this year’s combined gross was the best ever, despite the high-profile no-sale of the French firm’s “€24m to €28m” (although it seemed a moving target) unraced Ferrari 250 LM. In line with the results from Scottsdale in January, percentage sold by number was down (75% vs. 83% in 2022), while more cars sold beneath low estimate. The effect of the latter, though, was not as extreme: only 51% against 48% the previous year. Like in Arizona, some serious post-auction action ‘grinding’ was needed to match buyers to vendors of unsold lots. Experienced practitioners of the art, RM shifted 12 of the 66 cars it eventually sold in this manner, nearly one fifth.
Due to a greater proportion of more modern entries, the average year of car offered jumped to 1974. Back in 2014 it was 1958. And a 2022 one-off Bugatti Chiron came out top dog at €9,792,500 with premium. Nine years ago, a €3.7m Jaguar D-type topped the charts when the leading ten cars generated €19.1m and their average year was 1950. Last week, those figures were €37.3m and 1981.
The times are changing... and yet. Two cars sold last week demonstrate the polarities in today’s market. RM sold an attractive 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B Mille Miglia Touring Berlinetta post-auction for €850k all-in last Wednesday, say $929k on the night. The late US collector Oscar Davis had bought this car during Monterey Week in 2008 for $2.585m.
So far so normal, though in this case extreme; the Alfa was one of the final lots of the swimming pool equipment tycoon’s estate and was there to be sold.
On Friday, Artcurial presented a 1951 Ferrari 340 America Touring Barchetta with an estimate of €5m to €8m. It was ‘old school’ but had terrific in-period racing history including Le Mans. Hervé Poulain dropped his gavel at €4,950,000. That’s €5,580,000 gross. And the buyer? Not the retired North American doctor or lawyer one might expect. Instead, marque historian Marcel Massini bought it on behalf of an Eastern European collector in his 50s relatively new to the hobby. He wanted the car for the Mille Miglia Storica and will pay a further €500k+ to finish its restoration. It’s a terrifyingly fast, usable – thanks to its generous proportions – and historically significant Ferrari sports-racer that ticks every box. We congratulate the new owner.
The Ferrari 250 LM was trade-entered more in hope than expectation, a toe in the water for a car with no period history and a model frankly better offered elsewhere. At a broad €3m to €5m for Bonhams’ matronly 1932 Bugatti Type 55 Cabriolet, the Brits surely read the mood of today’s market wrong. It was the other high-profile casualty. The Bond St firm’s No Reserve Italian Porsche Turbo collection was more on trend, though most sold below low estimate. Artcurial’s high-profile modified 1980s Mercedes selection failed to fire, proving you can only pump some models so far.
The stands offered some interesting cars, ranging from a familiar Porsche 917K and Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider to a recently restored Ferrari 512S, plus the usual eclectic array of Gallic oddities and dusty barn finds such as a Maserati A6G/2000 Allemano. Two Miuras caught our eye, a pretty S in Luci del Bosco (metallic brown, pictured above, left) and a red P400 with period sunroof but not its original engine. Record asking prices included €1.25m for a 500km Lancia Delta S4 road car claimed to have belonged to Gianni Agnelli, €4 million for an unremarkable Ferrari 288 GTO and €2.5 million for a ‘cooking’ spec drum brake 300 SL Roadster (pictured above, right) in ‘Uranium’ yellow (presumably from how far away you can see it...). Dealers reported lots of visitors and good enquiries: ‘SOLD’ was prominently placed on a petite Maserati 6CM soon after the show doors opened.
Next stop, Amelia Island, where a record number of cars will be offered by Bonhams, RM, Gooding and new rival Broad Arrow, part of the Hagerty group that now owns the event. Gooding gave Arizona a miss to concentrate on a two-day sale in Florida. For RM it’s likely to be the last time the Canadian giant holds an auction during the Amelia Island concours weekend. There are some really big-ticket entries headed by Gooding’s covered-headlamp turquoise Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider. Expect a full preview from K500 before the event and reporting as it happens from Florida when the cars start to cross the block.
February 2023 Paris Rétromobile auctions, RM Sotheby’s Bonhams and Artcurial combined (2022)
Gross: €112,358,299 (€79,441,978)
Number of cars not sold: 111 (61)
Number of cars withdrawn: 8 (3)
Total number of cars: 451 (368)
Number sold: 340 (307)
Percentage cars sold by number: 75% (83%)
Percentage by value average low/high estimate: 58% (66%)
Percentage of cars met or sold below low estimate: 51% (48%)
Percentage of cars sold below avge of estimates: 76% (71%)
Percentage of cars sold met/exceeded top estimate: 13% (17%)
Average price of cars sold: €249,131 (€215,875)
Average year of cars offered: 1974 (1967)
Percentage of cars offered at No Reserve: 45% (56%)
February 2023 Paris Rétromobile auctions, Top 10 cars sold by value
1. RM 2022 Bugatti Chiron Profilée €9,792,500
2. Artcurial 1951 Ferrari 340 America Barchetta by Touring €5,580,000
3. RM 2003 Ferrari Enzo €4,055,000
4. RM 1991 Ferrari 643 €3,661,250
5. RM 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 €3,098,750
6. RM 2020 McLaren Speedtail €2,367,500
7. Bonhams 1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupé 'Chambas' €2,185,000
8. Bonhams 1988 Ferrari F40 €2,185,000
9. Artcurial 1929 Bugatti Type 35C €2,164,000
10. Artcurial 1992 Ferrari F40 €2,164,000
Total value of top 10 sales in Paris in 2023: €37,253,000 (2022: €29,487,075) or +26%. Note that last year’s event was moved back to March due to Covid. Only Artcurial conducted an auction during the 2022 show; Bonhams and RM held standalone sales in February.
You can download a list of all cars sold by RM Sotheby's, Bonhams and Artcurial sorted by make and model HERE.
Photos by Shutterstock (main) and Kidston for K500