The Veteran Car Run always brings a host of car people to London on the first weekend in November. For years, we all knew the schedule: troop down to Bond Street for the Bonhams auction, meet for drinks at the Royal Automobile Club on Saturday night, then brave the wind, rain or snow at first light on Sunday morning for the ‘off’ in Hyde Park, the finishers meeting again that afternoon on Madeira Drive in Brighton for a bowl of stew and a hot toddy.
Then, last year, things changed. Bonhams was replaced by RM Sotheby’s as sponsor of the ‘Run and with it came a new auction. Compared with the comfortable Bonhams fare of brass-clad cars and early ephemera, last year’s RM Sotheby’s catalogue was a complete mix of 40 cars spanning everything from a hot little Vauxhall VX220 Turbo sports car that sold for £20,125 to a Jaguar C-Type that didn’t sell, after bidding stalled at £3.7 million.
This year, things have settled down a bit. The Bonhams auction went ahead on Friday afternoon at the New Bond Street headquarters with its usual mix of veteran cars and automobilia, although now obviously lacking any formal link to the ‘Run. It was a good result for Bonhams: all but one of the cars sold, with a full saleroom and, it was said, an enthusiastic collector from Australia who snapped up a number of lots.
Then on Saturday, RM Sotheby’s held its new-and-improved London auction, now located in the garden of the impressive Marlborough House, literally a stone’s throw from St James’s Palace and the Mall. The catalogue too was much more weighty than last year’s in every way, at its heart the ‘Gran Turismo Collection’, a group of 18 modern-classic, performance and racing cars entered by a single, UK-based collector. The cost of the catalogue – a hefty £100 – and significant security presence seemed to have the effect of putting off all but the most serious viewers.
The Gran Turismo Collection was an extraordinary group of cars reminiscent of an unassailable Top Trumps hand. It included the most coveted modern-era Ferrari supercars, comprising 288 GTO, F40, F50, Enzo and LaFerrari, as well as an immaculate Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+, one of just 30 made, a seemingly freshly-restored Lamborghini Miura and an Audi Sport Quattro Group B Works car that had been piloted by Hannu Mikkola. Just these cars alone netted just over £21.3m for the owner, minus a healthy fee for RM Sotheby’s.
Mind you, there were some eyebrow-raising misses on the day, too. A white 1996 Bugatti EB110 Super Sport failed to sell, bidding to £2.2m, some way short of its £2.5m low estimate but exactly on Hagerty’s ‘Good’ Price Guide value. That was probably fair: the car had the odd stone chip, a crack on the bonnet, the panel gaps on the rear quarters needed some adjustment and the original grey interior was also showing all of its age. Similarly, the 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO bid to £3m, just shy of its £3.25m low estimate. Again, the bid was exactly Hagerty’s top ‘concours’ value, although perfectionists may argue it could have done with a few cosmetic improvements to its sills, wheels, interior and rear deck. Finally, bidding on the 1997 Ferrari F50 stalled at £2.8m, short of its £3.25m low estimate, although fair considering Hagerty’s ‘Excellent’ value of £2.8m and given the need for a bit of work to bring the interior up to the quality of the rest of the car. Bidders may also have been put off by the bonnet and rear wing, both that seemed to have been resprayed quite heavily, obscuring the carbon weave.
The rest of the cars in the collection had their knocks and bumps too, but it didn’t put off bidders, and quite right too. The owner is known for his enthusiastic use of his cars, and we applaud him for that; cars like this were meant to be used and so few are. To make the point, the car that did best (compared to its pre-sale estimate) was a 1984 Lamborghini LP5000S that sold for £477,500, appreciably more than Hagerty’s top value of £321,000. Bidders may have been taken by the allure of the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ specification and willing to overlook the various signs of age all over the body, rather dirty carburettors and frankly grubby interior that showed all of its 51,800 Km on the odometer.
There were some other notable cars in the auction outside of the Gran Turismo Collection, too. The Ferrari Testarossa Spider has to be one of the most beautiful cars never to reach full production, and a 1990 custom-made example with just 413Km on the clock, one of just a handful produced by Pininfarina, presented like a new car. It rightly sold for a strong £1.461m. Then, there was the draw of the true celebrity: as Hagerty demonstrated in its Power List, a famous owner can make all the difference to a car’s value. A silver 1974 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow once owned by Freddie Mercury with a top estimate of £30,000 sold for an astonishing £286,250, all of which will go to a Ukrainian aid charity. Now that’s a kind of magic.