Did you buy a classic car in 2020? Plenty of people did. Collector car auctions in the time of the coronavirus might have been rather strange – think online rather than in-person – but while 2020 won’t go down as a memorable sales year, there was still plenty of auction action, as Bonhams proved. Cars worth millions were bought… with a mouse-click.
Bonhams’ best car sales of 2020
And among the lots that came up for socially-distanced sale was truly something for everyone, from some spectacular pre-war Bugattis and rare Ferrari and Porsche models, to a fairground steam locomotive – it made more than £900,000! – and surely the world’s most expensive Volkswagen dune buggy, for which someone splashed out £340,000. Even a UK registration number sold for £126,500 in 2020.
We might have missed out on the traditional Bonhams auctions at Members’ Meeting, the Festival of Speed and Revival, but with Bonhams’ new online platform and the addition of SpeedWeek in October, Goodwood’s auction partner showed how to keep the wheels turning amid all the worry of the appalling pandemic.
The year got off to a flying start for Bonhams when it achieved the highest price of the Retromobile week sales in Paris in pre-COVID February, in what turned out to be the last regular auction of the year, in Europe at least. The prize lot was a 1931 Bugatti Type 55 two-seat Super Sport. In its heyday it had been raced at Le Mans by Louis Chiron before being reconfigured with unique bodywork by celebrated Parisian carrosserie Giuseppe Figoni. One of only 29 survivors of its type, it sold for €4,600,000 – around £4.2m.
A record was set at this sale for the world’s most expensive Invicta when a 1931 4.5-litre S-Type low-chassis Sports sold for €1,610,000, or £1.46m. With other highlights including a 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500k Cabriolet A (also sold for €1.61m), Bonhams' first European auction of the year realised a total of €20 million to record its best-ever result in the Grand Palais sale.
The pandemic meant that in Europe at least the collector car auction calendar was suddenly ripped up, but in the States big-spending remained the order of the day. And there was no bigger spending at Bonhams in 2020 than the US$7.1m – about £5.3m – that someone forked out for another pre-war Bugatti, a 1932 Type 55 Super Sport, formerly the property of the 3rd Baron Rothschild. Sold at the Amelia Island sale in Florida, the exquisite machine is one of just 11 surviving Jean Bugatti-designed and factory-bodied roadsters.
Second highest-priced lot at Amelia Island was a veteran racing rarity from the early days of American motorsport. In 1907 US motor racing pioneer Willie K Vanderbilt commissioned Renault to make a run of special cars, powered by a 7.5-litre four-cylinder engine, which became known as the Vanderbilt Racers. They were said to be spectacularly fast for the time. It was one of these Renault Type AI 35/45HP machines which sold at Amelia Island – for $3.3m (£2.46m).
Any Ferrari 330 GTS is going to make big money, especially when it is Ferrari Classiche certified and a platinum award winner, and the ’67 car in the sale was no exception, selling for $1.475m (£1.1m). What was a surprise was the VW Beetle-based beach buggy in the same sale that went for… $456,000. Why so special? It’s a classic Myers Manx but one specially built for Steve McQueen to drive in The Thomas Crown Affair – the pre-Bullitt movie that first displayed McQueen's talent at the wheel.
Not even Steve McQueen could have guessed what happened next as the world went into lockdown. One of the first casualties was the Bonhams sale at the 78th Goodwood Members’ Meeting in March. The event was cancelled but all the lots that had been listed for the auction were made available for private sale.
The highlight of the MM sale was always going to be the ex-works, ex-Archie Scott Brown 1956 Lister-Maserati sports-racing two-seater, and so it proved. Familiar from competing at Goodwood Revival, it made an impressive £575,000. It was a doubly good sale for Lister fans, with another racer from the 1950s – the Jaguar-powered 1958 3.8-litre 'Knobbly' that won the 2018 Stirling Moss Trophy at Revival – also going to a new home.
Bonhams’ Tim Schofield said at the time: “The results show that, despite the current situation, there is still an appetite to buy good quality classic and historic competition cars among collectors and enthusiasts.”
Bonhams’ “live and online” sale format quickly showed that cars could continue to be bought and sold even without anyone being physically present. The auction house held its first such sale at Bicester Heritage at the end of May when more than 500 lots crossed a virtual block. All the motorcycles sold and 76 per cent of the cars went in what turned out to be a £2m sale.
Top lot was a 1966 Aston Martin DB6 which sold for £146,250. Among the more popular classics of the Bonhams MPH part of the sale was a 1977 Ford Escort RS2000 which sold for £48,937, while top bike was a 1986 Ducati 1,000cc Mike Hailwood Replica 'Mille', at £16,875.
Bonhams’ second mega US sale of the year, held behind closed doors at The Quail in Los Angeles in August, lived up to its reputation for offering star cars even, if not all of them found buyers. In fact only two cars sold for over a million dollars and the highlight – a 1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Cabriolet – didn’t sell, despite garnering a bid of $4.6m which if nothing else is likely to put it in the record books as the highest online bid.
In the event it was a rather special and certainly rare Porsche that came out on top. The 1959 718 RSK Spyder – Porsche’s giant-killing sports racer and one of only 34 made – had been campaigned by Bob Holbert, a driver synonymous with Porsche racing in the US. The car’s provenance struck a chord with US buyers, one of whom paid out $2,232,500 (£1,665,000m) to get hold of it.
The only other million-dollar machine was a 2014 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse, one of three “Meo Costantini” limited-edition versions and with only 400 miles under its wheels. It went for $1,750,000, or around £1.3m at today’s exchange rates.
It was another Veyron that made headlines at the Bonmont sale in Switzerland in September, an auction which marked the first traditional live European sale for Bonhams since February. The 2012 16.4 Super Sport, one of 48 produced and featuring a full exposed carbon-fibre body, sold for CHF 1,840,000, or around £1.55m.
It might have made only a third that, but the 2007 Porsche Gemballa Mirage GT in the same sale promised even more exclusivity: only 25 of these cars based on the Porsche Carrera GT were ever made. A one owner machine with 5,000km, it sold for CHF 669,300 (£563,400).
It was monarchs’ motors that got a royal amount of attention at the Zoute sale in Belgium. Star of the show was a 1959 BMW 507 roadster sold new to HRH Prince Constantin II of Greece. It sold for a king’s ransom of just over €2m (£1.81m). And a 1955 Aston Martin DB2/4 3.0-litre saloon, originally owned by King Baudouin of Belgium, sold for €264,500 (£239,412).
Just as encouraging after a year in which many cars didn’t make their estimates, was the fact that all top 10 sales in the Bonhams Zoute auction achieved their pre-sale estimate prices. Top lots were a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso berlinetta (€1,782,500, or £1,62m) followed by a 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL roadster with hardtop (€851,000, or £771,742) and a survivor from the 1960 Le Mans 24 Hours in the form of a 1957 AC Bristol (€454,250, or £411,943).
And so, at last, to Goodwood, and the new Bonhams SpeedWeek sale which like the event itself combined the very best of both the Festival of Speed and Revival. In a COVID-secure Earls Court Motor Show building at the Motor Circuit, a trio of fab Ferraris made all the running in front of a limited number of socially-distanced invited guests.
Top lot of the SpeedWeek sale was a 1967 330 GTS, one of only 100 convertibles made, which sold for £1,269,400. A 4.4-litre 1969 Ferrari 365 GTC came next at £531,300 while rounding out the top three was a 1974 Dino 246 GTS, recently restored to 100-point concours standard. That sold for £300,000.
It was also a sale to confirm the appeal of W.O. Bentley-designed Lagondas – a 1939 Lagonda V12 drophead coupé sold for £230,000 – while the 1957 BMW 503 convertible that car and bike double World Champion John Surtees used as his personal car for 30 years went for the same money.
The SpeedWeek sale also saw the sale of what might be the year’s most valuable UK registration number, which sold for £126,500. The plate? RR 3.
Bonhams left sports and supercars behind for its limited-attendance Golden Age of Motoring sale in London at the end of October. Here were veteran, vintage and giants of the steam age up for grabs, none more giant than the 1932 Fowler 10hp B6 showman's road locomotive, a steam-powered monster known as The Lion.
As one of only four ever made, The Lion had powered fairground rides in its day but more recently has been a staple at steam rallies like the Great Dorset Steam Fair. The Lion had only ever had two owners, both in the West Country, and, despite attempts from the US to take it across the pond, it is staying in this country. It was sold to the Bedfordshire-based Saunders Steam Collection. The price? A very steamy £911,000.
Just as incredible, £400,000 was raised from Bonhams’ online auctions this year to raise money for the NHS Charities COVID-19 appeal. A 2019 race suit worn by seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton was one of the lots on offer, but top price of £25,000 went to something closer to home – a personal invitation from the Duke of Richmond to join one of his exclusive track days at the Goodwood Motor Circuit.
Images courtesy of Bonhams.
The most expensive cars sold by Bonhams in 2020
(Prices include premium and are shown in selling currency with £ equivalent as of 8 December)
- 1932 Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport, Amelia Island, $7.1m (£5.3m)
- 1931 Bugatti Type 55 with Figoni coachwork, Paris, €4.6m (£4.2m)
- 1907 Renault Type AI 35/45HP Vanderbilt Racer, Amelia Island, $3.3m (£2.5m)
- 1959 BMW 507 roadster ex-HRH Prince Constantin II, Zoute, Belgium, €2.07m (£1.88m)
- 1959 Porsche 718 RSK Spyder, Los Angeles, $2.23m (£1.67m)
- 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso Berlinetta, Zoute, Belgium, €1.78m (£1.6m)
- 2012 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport, Bonmont, Switzerland, CHF 1.84m (£1.55m)
- 1931 Invicta 4.5-litre S-Type low chassis Sports, Paris, €1.6 (£1.5m)
- 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500k Cabriolet A, Paris, €1.6m (£1.5m)
- 2014 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Meo Costantini, Los Angeles, $1.75m (£1.3m)
- 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS, Goodwood SpeedWeek, £1.27m
- 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS, Amelia Island, $1.475m (£1.1m)
- 1932 Fowler 10hp B6 showman's road locomotive, London, £911,000
- 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster, Zoute, Belgium, €851,000 (£773,000)
- 1956 Lister-Maserati ex-Archie Scott Brown, cancelled Goodwood 78MM, £575,000
- 2007 Porsche Gemballa Mirage GT, Bonmont, Switzerland, CHF 669,300 (£563,500)
- 1969 Ferrari 365 GTC, Goodwood SpeedWeek, £531,300
- 1967/8 Con-Ferr Meyers Manx dune buggy, Amelia Island, $456,000 (£341,000)
You can only have one: a Type 55, a 330 GTS, a Veyron Super Sport or a steam-powered leviathan?
Join our motorsport community
Get closer to motorsport at Goodwood! Join the GRRC Fellowship to be first in the queue for event tickets, to attend the GRRC-only Members' Meeting and to enjoy year-round, exclusive benefits.
Sign up for Motorsport news
Stay in the know with our newsletters that contain all the latest news, stories and event information.