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What We Learnt From a Weekend in Paris

Updated: May 19, 2023


Auctions from Bonhams, RM and Artcurial put on a show alongside Retromobile and kicked the European classic car year off in style.


We've run the numbers, run them again and here's what we found from our weekend in Paris.



Don't be so down

Much has been made of the weaker market as we face into the headwinds of 2023 but if the sales in Paris are anything to go by - those fears are misplaced.


Sell-through-rates (STRs) averaged 75.4% across the Bonhams, RM Sotheby's and Artcurial sales - all of which checked in with STRs between 78% and 74%. To put that into context, the STR across the whole of 2022 averaged at 69%, so we're up 6 percentage points since then.


Yes, there were a high proportion of cars that were offered without reserve, notably Artcurial with 52% of lots being offered at no reserve but two factors give me encouragement:


  1. Of the cars that failed to meet reserve, the average price difference between the high bid and lower estimate was only 14%. In other words, the majority of vehicles that didn't sell were on the precipice of doing so once buyers premium had been added on

  2. Based on the data, it seems many of the reserves were simply too ambitious from the auction houses, particularly given that we're still seeing record prices for cars that didn't even meet their reserve. Let us explain...



Didn't sell, but still a record. Eh?

The devil is in the detail as they say. And at a headline level the 9 1980's Mercedes-Benz lots that visited the auctions had a "nein, nein, nein" experience over the weekend with only 4 selling (44% STR).


Awful.


Or is it?


In fact, 2 of the 4 cars that didn't sell actually set world record prices from their high bid.


  1. The 450 SLC, owned by Maradona, didn't sell but despite this its high bid of €90,000 was a World Record price for the model at auction

  2. The 500 SEL Koenig didn't sell either but despite this its high bid of €70,000 was another World Record price for the model at auction


And don't forget - those prices are world records without commission being added on top!



Gotta do what you gotta do

The above is intriguing on the surface that we've got cars not meeting reserve but reaching world record prices such as the two Mercedes' above and the LM further on in this article.


The real question though is why is this happening?


I think it's quite simple: sellers have choices and there are bills to be paid.


Sellers can pick from an online only auction platform where they can list and sell for free or go via a traditional auction houses and pay higher commission and hope for a higher sale price. That word hope is key. If you've got a car and an auction house places an estimate X% above what you might expect elsewhere you may as well take your chance. Punchier estimates entice more sellers even if down the line it results in a no sale they've chanced their arm and tried to get the commission to pay the bills.


Listen up at the back

We've said it before and we'll say it again. The 80s and 90s is the place to be. Our piece towards the end of 2022 highlighted the 'Ride the Wave' graph (above) which we love - showing the price change of vehicles by decade and you can see the price changes moving like a wave through the decades.


You can see the increasing value and demand for cars from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Paris was testament to this once more.


STRs for 1990s cars was 82.5% over the weekend - the highest of any classic.


STRs for 1980s cars was 80.4% over the weekend - the 2nd highest of any classic.


Likewise looking at 40s and 50s cars the STRs were far weaker: 63.6% and 65.2% respectively.


This trend will continue! Don't say we didn't tell you...


I've got 250 problems and an LM is one

Talking of rising prices, after a 7 year hiatus from the public market, a 250 LM arrived back under the auctioneer’s gavel.


RM Sotheby's sold the last one most recently in 2015 for a princely £11,257,005.


It was Artcurial's turn this time around. All eyes were on the star of the show and the bidding opened at an already world record price of €16m (£14.35m) it climbed to €20m before a long pause and the announcement of pass to many’s surprise. Not sold at £17.8m 💵


What's even more remarkable is that of the 32 250 LM's produced this LM is 1 of only 2 to not have experienced the wounds of war on the racetrack. A 250 LM with non-racing history failing to sell at a price (pre-commission) £6.5m above the previous world record. Fascinating doesn't begin to cover it.



Bad day in the office?

While the 250 LM drew the big money, Facel Vega's drew the scratched heads. 9 went under the hammer, 8 of which sold but some weak results emerged within that group.


One of which was the Facel II sold by Bonhams for €101,200 - making it the second cheapest one to sell in history. It was in need of some love but a weak price without doubt. Bonhams' HK500 also struggled at €86,250 and was the 3rd cheapest to sell since 2015.


Despite a STR rate of 89% this weekend, Facel Vega's have been on the decline for a few years now, since their peak in 2020 the average price of one has fallen 31%. These sales aren't a bad day in the office - it's reflective of a softened market for this marque.


Fire up the V12

While most eyes were on the 1991 Jordan Schumacher's made his debut in selling for €1.495m. We were more taken aback with the 1991 Ferrari 643 that was secured for €3.66m - making it the 8th most expensive F1 car in history. The ex-Jean Alesi car contested the Australian, British and French Grand Prix in 1991 and fetched more than double what Schumacher's car did. Bizarre.


It's been a strong 6 months for F1 car sales with 3 new entrants to the top 10 most expensive F1 cars sold at auction. Check out our article here on that topic here.



One more thing...

Before the circus packs up and heads to Amelia Island for the first week of March it's worth reflecting on what we can learn from Paris. There are 3 main takeaways:


  • We're bullish on 2023. The strong STR and individual results reinforce our belief, contrary to many others, that 2023 will be a stronger year than we're led to believe for the classic car market.

  • The trends continue. The trend seen across the past few years of a highly fragmented market where prices and demand is incredibly variable by decade is present once more as we start 2023. This isn't stopping anytime soon.

  • Watch out for a surprise later in the year. We've got a sneaking suspicion that a highly highly significant motorcar will come to market later this year. The strength at the very top end is evident with the 250 LM reaching a record price and the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut smashing the all time record last year at €135m. It's been nearly 5 years since a 250 GTO came to public auction, don't be surprised if a car of that stature comes to market this year and sets a price in the top 3 sales of all time. After all, we've got a new benchmark to go after...


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