Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance Shows Collector Car Market Weakness
Whatever happened to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? Robin Leach’s TV series motivated class warriors and aspiring entrepreneurs alike, fortifying the former group’s conviction that they had a sacred duty to redistribute wealth (if only on aesthetic grounds) while inspiring rappers, coke dealers and other venture capitalists to redouble their efforts to reach ever-greater heights of conspicuous consumption. These days we have federal stimulus packages and MTV’s Cribs, which doesn’t include a single golden bath fixture (or a single book, but that’s another story). Ah, but we pistonheads will always have Pebble Beach, where we can watch old money compete with modern-day robber barons to pocket the world’s automotive crown jewels. One can almost hear Robin’s Harrow twang calling the tune: “One lucky collector bought home this 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Special, Ettore Bugatti’s personal car, for $1.38 mmmmmillion dollars.” Leach-like, the majority of the MSM would have you believe the collector car market defies economic gravity. The New York Times sets us straight.
As expected, total dollar volume declined — to about $117 million this year from $138 million in 2008. Gooding & Company was again the overall leader with just over $50 million of sales.
But the total amounts that changed hands don’t tell the whole story: overall results were puffed up by sales of high-price cars like a 1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe that brought $7.25 million including buyer’s premium (the weekend’s high sale) at the Mecum Auctions sale; a Ferrari California Spider sold by Gooding for $5.1 million; and a Jaguar C-Type that brought $2.8 million at the RM auction . . .
Clearly, buyers at the very top end of the market still have no qualms about writing checks for very expensive cars. The 10 highest single-lot sales came to more than $40 million, or a third of the total.
But the situation was less rosy further down the line. More common cars and those in less-than-perfect condition sold, in many cases, for much less than their low estimates.
Keep in mind, this is Pebble Beach (doncha know). The financial reality is carefully hidden behind velvet ropes. And the action at lesser auctions (for lesser vehicles) is grim, with prices collapsing and a large percentage of cars failing to make their minimum. Not that you’d know from the media coverage, which always focuses on the top sellers.
Bottom line: if you have champagne wishes (and a bullet-proof bank balance), it’s a good time to buy the best. If you have caviar tastes on a hummus budget, TV coverage is still your best bet. Just remember: the revolution will not be televised.
More by Robert Farago
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