Next week’s Monterey Car Week is the most important six days in the global classic car calendar (other than Revial of course, ed) – a plethora of events and auctions culminating in the famous Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Pretty much everybody who is anybody in the classic car world will find an excuse to be there and the eyes of the world’s classic car collectors, enthusiasts, speculators and media will be focused on California. Champagne will flow and calculators will smoke.
It’s a busy time for those involved in the industry. With over $400million worth of cars sold in 2014, classic car journalists and commentators have a hell of a job on their hands trying to put together their ‘ten best’ lists of the most expensive/most interesting cars let alone trying to figure out which way the market is going and what all the statistics that invariably pour out actually mean. The path of least resistance will be to run with the auction records and ‘best year ever’ headlines before jumping on a plane home rather than opting for any meaningful analysis – people will lap it up anyway, but thoughtful analysis is important. Either which way, the ripples of the 2015 Monterey auction results will have an effect on the classic car market in some form or other for months to come.
There seems to have been a shift in focus in this year’s auctions and ‘quality not quantity’ probably covers it, although you can rest assured that the quantity is most definitely there. Estimates (in some cases) are less conspicuously extravagant and the catalogues should satisfy enthusiasts more than speculators, with an increase in carefully chosen lots that will appeal to those looking for something unique. As annoying as it will have been for him at his busiest time of the year I called Jakob Greisen, head of Bonhams’ US motoring department, to get his take on what we could expect to see happen this year and he gave some interesting insight into the classic car hobby as a whole.
Bonhams have adopted ‘feet on the ground’ pricing this year and focused on offering special cars rather than the speculator’s favourites, which makes perfect sense to me – the slightest rumour can send them into a panic so why not build your catalogue around the real car enthusiasts. As Jakob pointed out, the market has evolved from the ‘bobble-hatters’ (my phrase, not his…) of yesteryear to the mainstream hobby it is today, so a vibrant market shouldn’t be a complete surprise and, in his own words: ‘it’s easy to understand. Classic cars are beautiful, accessible and fun to drive.’ Fair point – not like art then.
The cynical side of me (the side that auctioneers and car dealers keep sending me tablets for) wanted to know why there were so many European cars up for sale, where are the speculators and whether Monterey 2015 would be ‘better’ than 2014. He responded to the former with such assurance that I took his word for it. It’s because Monterey is a great fun place to buy and sell (point taken) and it looks great on your car’s CV rather than for any more sinister exchange rate based reason. Confidence amongst speculators has diminished, but there are more than enough real car enthusiasts. His answer to the latter was what I was hoping for – ‘about the same’ – and I’d agree. We’ll find out if he’s right in ten days or so.
What will Mr Greisen be watching out for at his own auction? The BMW M1 and a Fiat 8V Supersonic which was shown at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance in 1957. Nice choice – I’ll take the Veritas Scorpion, thanks.
Edward Legge is Director of Commercial Development at Classic & Sports Finance