Cars That Are Very Old—or Very Fast—Dominate Amelia Island Auctions

 Collectors spent $127.7 million at three auction houses during the annual event off the coast of Florida. 

A 1934 Packard Twelve-Series 1108 Dietrich Convertible Victoria sold for $4.1 million.

Source: Rafael Martin / RM Sotheby's

Eager car collectors shrugged off worldwide volatility in financial markets and spent $127.7 million during three days of auctions ahead of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

It was the second-highest gross total posted by the big three international auction firms at Amelia, the annual event held off the Florida coast, after 2016’s record $140 million total. It’s an indication that enthusiasts are willing to spend plenty of money on cars, even in unpredictable times.

“I’m not feeling any change in the market,” says Peter Brotman, pointing out that even with the shaky economy, he hasn’t had one client borrow money to buy a car in the last two years. The Philadelphia- and Los Angeles-based automotive broker for ultra-high-net worth individuals purchased two Ferrari F40s at auction and a Ferrari 275 GTB4 pre-auction over the weekend on behalf of buyers participating in their share of the spoils. He also purchased two Porsche 959s privately during auction weekend. 

“People are associating cars with a lifestyle now,” Brotman said, noting the packed sale tents and heaving concours lawns. “People are much more experiential than they were 15 years ago, and there are more events for buying and enjoying these cars than ever. You couldn’t even get a seat at the [Gooding & Co.] auction.”

A 2015 Ferrari LaFerrari.
Source: Robin Adams / RM Sotheby's

Gooding took in the most money of any auction house during the event: a $66.5 million total. RM Sotheby’s drew $46.3 million, and Bonham’s took $14.9 million. 

Either Very Old—or Very Fast

The weekend’s list of top sellers looked downright bipolar, split largely between 75-year-and-older relics and modern supercars. The most money spent on a single vehicle went to a 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS—the swoopy Art Deco coupe fit for Cruella deVil sold for $13.4 million, including fees, at the Gooding & Co. auction on March 4.

A 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder Roadster took the No. 2 spot, selling for $4.2 million at Bonham’s. A 1934 Packard Twelve-Series 1108 Dietrich Convertible Victoria was third when RM Sotheby’s sold it for $4.1 million.

“Prewar values remain extremely stable over the last decade,” John Wiley, the senior automotive analyst for Hagerty, a collector car insurance company, wrote in an auction report. In addition to the top sellers, Wiley noted, a 1939 Bentley 4.25-Liter that sold for $775,000 on March 4 had previously sold for $770,000 in 2016 and for $769,000 in 2015, showing that its value has held up.

“While they might not keep pace with inflation (especially in today’s world), these are indicators that despite their age, prewar cars are still holding some attention in the collector world,” he said.

On the modern side, a 2015 Ferrari LaFerrari sold for $3.6 million, a 2019 Bugatti Chiron Sport went for $3.36 million, and a 2020 McLaren Speedtail Coupe was bought for $2.7 million—all at the RM Sotheby’s sale held at the Ritz-Carlton on March 5.

“Staple collector cars—Ferraris and Porsches in particular—tend to be a hedge against inflation and generally, a safe place to park money when other markets are unpredictable,” Wiley wrote. 

A 1930 Duesenberg Model J convertible ($3.5 million), a 1954 Bentley R Type Continental ($2.9 million), and a 1967 Toyota 2000GT Coupe ($2.5 million) filled out the top 10 high-seller list. The Toyota was the most expensive Japanese car ever sold at public auction. 

1930 Duesenberg Model J convertible sedan.
Source: Robin Adams / RM Sotheby's

Pump the Brakes

Behind the headline sales, some indicators show the pace might soon slow. A quarter of the lots that failed to sell at Amelia were bid above their best-condition estimated values but still failed to meet their reserve prices, which may have been unrealistically high , according to Hagerty data. In the auctions in Scottsdale, Ariz., the proportion was 13.6%.

“Some sellers appear to have overestimated the heat of the market and rushed in to sell with a reserve that was too high,” Wiley said. And such automotive oddities as the three-wheeled 1948 Davis Divan failed to attract enough money for a sale.

“The consistent steps-up in value we have seen since late 2020 appears to have paused for now,” he wrote. “We suspect we’re simply seeing a market-finding equilibrium.” 

In-Person Sales Are Here To Stay (for Now)

Rumors of the impending demise of public auctions were decidedly premature. Sell-through rates during the Amelia concours weekend averaged a higher-than-average 92%, up from 90% in 2021. The average sale price this year was $431,915, up from $237,761 in 2021. 

“The results point to the resilience of the classic-exotic car market, but also to the longevity of the physical auctions,” says Juan Diego Calle, the chief executive officer of Classic.com, an online marketplace for vehicles.

Standout marques included Porsche, which sold 100% of cars offered, even though several top-sellers were offered in less than pristine condition. A less-than-perfect 1959 Porsche 718 RSK had the crowd cheering at the Gooding auction after it hit a sale price of $2.98 million; a 1965 Porsche 904/6 hit a sale price of $2.2 million even though it had a collision in its history.

“They are also very rare vehicles—even with questionable history,” Calle says. 

The 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS Teardrop coupe sold for $13.4 million.
Source: Jensen Sutta / Gooding & Company

A total of $33 million of Porsches sold over the three auctions, more than three times the marque’s total sales in 2020, on 30% more lots, Hagerty reported. Their average sale price doubled, with 10 Porsches selling for over $1 million. Additionally, a $2 million 1998 RUF Turbo R Limited set a world record for the custom Porsche hotrod builder. “Anything ‘Porsche’ is selling well at all venues,” Calle says. 

All told, sales at Amelia seem to have been enhanced by the success of online platforms such as Bring a Trailer ,rather than threatened by them. The auction website, which sold $829 million worth of cars last year, has increased access to data and streamlined the education, vetting, and buying process for both newcomers to the hobby and old-hands, Brotman says.

“These days, a neophyte can access data points in a minute, and instant access to data provides comfort,” Brotman says. “Bring a Trailer is allowing regular people and collectors and dealers [more transparency and access]. While that doesn’t define the quality of a car, it does define the market.”




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