Auction Report

Successful sale but no wow factor at Bonhams 2022 Members’ Meeting

by John Mayhead
14 April 2022 3 min read
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. Photo by Bonhams

The Members’ Meeting sale is the most low-key of Bonhams’ three annual Goodwood auctions, but over the years, we’ve become accustomed to the mix of good, solid mid-range classics interspersed with a few veteran and vintage cars. This being Goodwood, competition vehicles also feature prominently, and the auction usually attracts a few headline cars that have been driven on the right track by the right people at the right time.

This year’s catalogue seemed light, however. The cover star was a 1967 Maserati Mistral Spyder which is rare enough with under 40 constructed, but wasn’t ever going to have the ‘wow’ factor, even with the desirable 4.0-liter engine and manual transmission.

There were bunches of Aston Martins in various states of repair; these are the type of Astons flooding recent auctions, a byproduct of an overseas collection sell-off. At the entrance of the sale was a 1956 Albatross Mk III speed boat previously owned by The Duke of Edinburgh, and the inside display centered around a 1976 ex-Sobislav Zasada/Bjorn Waldegaard Porsche 911 rally car. Next to it was a massive Packard Eight 745 Dual Cowl Phaeton—rare this side of the Atlantic—but challenged in the presence stakes by an extraordinary coach-built 1952 Humber Pullman shooting brake.

Now, these are all objectively interesting cars, and cynics may suggest I’m simply a jaded observer who has been to innumerable events, but absolutely nothing jumped out to me as truly special. A very tidy 1989 Porsche 911 Supersport cabriolet did catch my eye, but a check of the catalogue showed it had been in an accident at some point in its life. Similarly, a 1953 Bentley R-Type special was a pretty machine, but it was virtually brand new, having been constructed in 2021.

Nevertheless, sometimes an auction doesn’t need a star car or the magic ‘wow factor’ to be successful. The temporary building in which the Bonhams auction is held at the Members’ Meeting is a great place: light and airy without being cold, all with plenty of seating. It’s visible from quite a way away, unlike at the Revival and Festival of Speed where you really need to know where to look. Plus, it was the first live Members’ Meeting sale for three years, thanks to pandemic restrictions. As a result, when the auction started, the room was packed and more than a usual number appeared to hold bidding paddles.

And bid they did. At the time of writing—including post-sale arrangements—just five of the 76 cars offered failed to sell, with nearly a quarter selling for over top estimate. There were even some that exceeded expectations by a significant margin. A 1964 Aston Martin DB5 that had been off the road since 2018 made a huge $663,000 including premium, a full $204,000 over its top estimate, and well over Hagerty’s Condition 4 (‘Fair’) value of $416,000. A rare AC 3000 ME Turbo (which we put in the spotlight last month) probably best described as ‘well loved’ nearly doubled its top estimate, selling for $37,677, a figure in excess of Hagerty’s top Condition 1 (‘Concours’) value of $37,349. Modern classics also performed well: a 1998 Porsche 911 (993) Turbo coupé with X50 pack sold for $180,000, well over Hagerty’s Condition 2 (‘Excellent’) value of $169,000.

Overall, lots that struggled to attract buyers were the competition cars, with four of the five ‘no-sales’ in this category. For me, the highlight was a 1961 Lotus 20, driven to Formula Junior championship success by Jo Siffert, but the tempting low estimate of $91,000 wasn’t reached. A brace of race-prepared Corvettes, a Lynx T2 and a 1964 Lotus-Ford Type 23B also did not sell, in addition to the domineering Packard.

Nearly one third of the cars in the auction were offered with no reserve, and this certainly helped push up the sell-through rate, but 93-percent is an extraordinary achievement and it says a few things about the market at the moment. Firstly, the pre-sale estimates were tempting, and the expectations of vendors were maybe more realistic than they have been for a while.

This could be down to the staff at Bonhams who have consigned the cars, but I believe it is a wider trend, as recent sell-through rates at ACA and Brightwells have been similar. Compare the overall value achieved at this auction ($9.33 million) against the last live Members’ Meeting sale in 2019: right around $7.8 million with a sell-through of just 70%. The market has been through something of a frenzy since then, but these more sensible figures and higher sale rates could suggest that the market has settled a little after the post-Covid boom.

Secondly, it was interesting to see how many dealers were bidding, most presumably seeking to replenish stocks. This shows a sense of confidence in the market, and these results will undoubtedly help future sales: after all, only a maximum of five vendors went home from this sale unhappy at the outcome. That will surely encourage more. Finally, it shows that reports of the demise of the well-organized live auction are greatly exaggerated. The internet may be a huge force in selling cars, but you can’t beat the excitement of a well-presented saleroom.

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