If I’m totally honest, I went to the Festival of Speed this year looking for some answers. After an extended period of growth the classic car market hit something of a plateau at the tail end of 2014 with prices remaining high but stable. Many of the people who you might look to for a bit of sensible comment on this sort of thing saw this as good for both buyers and sellers, but certain sectors of the market seem to have found yet another gear coming into the summer.
I began to ask myself what it all meant and then wondered if I was over-thinking things, but knew I would find some answers at the Bonhams Festival of Speed sale. So, armed with an impressive but very heavy Bonhams catalogue, I fought my way into their marquee to see what I could learn.
The first thing I noticed was the presentation of the cars. Pretty much everything looked in good, recently trimmed and painted order all displayed in an impressive, air conditioned ‘marquee’. It was like being in a showroom – only better….. I had a poke about at the cars as one does when one isn’t a buyer and interrogated a few poor innocents about their thoughts on classic cars and the market in general which was illuminating. Soon enough, the venue was packed to the gunwales with spectators, collectors and dealers and the auction kicked off – I watched the first ten lots and then left everyone to it having learned that I would never make it as an auctioneer.
If you ever want to gauge the popularity of motoring and motorsport in the UK, you only need to go to FoS. This was my ninth visit in the last ten years (Goodwood please take note – I am looking forward to next year’s theme, Ten Years of Ed Legge) and every year I feel that I see the UK’s affair with cars grow and grow. You only need to see people swarming to listen to a Mazda 787B as it clears its pipes to get an understanding of the deep love we have in this country for any car with a little soul – no wonder the Aston Martin Works Ulster was so enthusiastically bid on. By the time I got home the results of the auction had been published and I won’t deny that I was delighted with the result. I’m not going to get into the fine detail, but the upshot is that the sell-through rate and value sold against expectation were both in the 80+ percent zone, which is good for owners and the classic car industry alike. Pundits poised to pronounce the premature demise of the classic car movement must have been disappointed.
‘Some won’t thank me for saying it, but the auction houses are taking the fight to the dealers and in some respects beating them at their own game. Buyers now have plenty of good people to deal with when it comes to acquiring cars and I certainly wouldn’t want to be one of the not-so-good guys right now’
What did I learn from my visit? #1 – Always stand near the air conditioning unit in a packed auction in June. #2 – Everyone has a different take on classic cars. I can’t pretend that I found any sort of consensus of opinion on where the market will go and why and there are a lot of armchair experts out there willing to comment as well as a lot of dedicated owners and enthusiasts. #3 – We all know that there are plenty of speculators out there, but it appears that the classic car hobby in the UK has such a depth of grassroots support that we shouldn’t worry too much about those who are more focused on making a quick buck. #4 – Some won’t thank me for saying it, but the auction houses are taking the fight to the dealers and in some respects beating them at their own game. Buyers now have plenty of good people to deal with when it comes to acquiring cars and I certainly wouldn’t want to be one of the not-so-good guys right now.
The outlook for the market? Good cars are doing well and will continue to do so because they are the cars that people want to buy (sounds obvious, doesn’t it?). Compromised cars – by condition, provenance, specification, or originality – don’t fare so well and as James Knight of Bonhams pointed out to me, people who own ‘fashionable’ cars that had been voguish in recent years – Mercedes 300SL, Porsche 911 2.7RS, Periscopio Countach, even Testarossas – should not expect a new record price whenever they consign them. Roll on Monterey for the next litmus test of global collector car appetite.