Coronavirus hits Classic Car Auction Sales

RM Sotheby’s has announced that its second auction at the annual Techno Classica Essen car show (which was to be held at the end of March) will be postponed to June 2020 due to the coronavirus scare.

“RM Sotheby’s today announces that its forthcoming Essen auction (scheduled 26-27 March) is postponed until the second half of June. RM Sotheby’s, along with all participants of The Techno-Classica Essen show, are working in consultation with the organisers of the event in order to establish a fixed new date. The decision to not proceed with original dates comes in light of the global COVID-19 outbreak and the need to secure the safety of the exhibitors, staff, auction and event visitors, and all decisions are being made in consultation with the health department of the German government.

“It is both our and the Techno-Classica organisation’s primary goal to ensure the good health of our customers, auction visitors and staff, while all parties are committed to reorganizing this incredible annual event as quickly as possible in 2020. RM Sotheby’s will do all it can to ensure the transition to a new date is as smooth as possible for all involved. We will be in touch with news of the new date as soon as it is settled.”

Techno Classica is a yearly ritual for me, so, assuming the fair goes ahead, I am heading for Essen. Having an auction on site is a handy addition and I will miss the opportunity to sit amongst bidders.

Last year’s auction – the first at Techno Classica – was held in a basement close to one of the furthest entrances from the centre. In previous years, this space had been filled by a mixed bag of enthusiast stands and trade sellers, none of whom one would place in the top tier of cars being shown. One had to leave the main arena to access this hall and, for those coming in from the main entrance, it was easy to miss it entirely.

Footfall was consequently low with many people skipping the hall through no fault of their own. One UK trade seller I spoke to at length who had consigned a Porsche 911 Turbo to the sale was disappointed with the bidding, but that might have been caused by a high asking price and a general lethargy around the model he was offering.

Sotheby’s press release after the event painted an upbeat picture. “RM Sotheby’s wrapped up the company’s first-ever German auction, reaching total sales of €18.7 million with 86 percent of all 229 lots on offer finding new homes. The two-day sale represents one of the most successful and significant collector car auctions ever held in Germany in terms of both total value and number of cars sold. The auction took place in a packed room on both days and drew bidders from 46 countries, with more than 40 percent of participants being first-time RM Sotheby’s clientele.”

This certainly sounds like an exciting result, but auctions rely on generating some fever and it felt a bit like the fever was going on elsewhere. A better spot for the auction might have been in one of the spaces between halls, where the buzz is constant and the sound of an auction in progress would build on that excitement. Sotheby’s always put on a characterful show and it felt wasted downstairs in the basement.

Porsche Auction Sales Mix

The catalogue for this year’s Techno Classica sale included several Porsches. The online catalogue shows 217 lots in total, with 203 being vehicles and sixteen being Porsches: two water cooled 911s in the shape of a 2005 996 Turbo S Coupe and a 2014 991 Turbo S Coupe, a 1992 928 GTS manual, no less than eight 356 models of various types and five air-cooled 911s/912s, including a 1977 Carrera 3.0 with little early history but offered without reserve.

The 2020 Essen Porsche auction mix is quite different to last year’s sale, which comprised 229 lots, 212 of which were vehicles. Seventeen of these were Porsche vehicles, including two tractors, one water-cooled 911 – a 2011 997 GT3 RS – three 928s and several air-cooled 911s. Everything sold except for two cars: both of which were air-cooled Turbos, which have been sinking from their overinflated prices in recent years.

While there is still decent demand for quality air-cooled cars sold by private owners and my consultation service for Porsche pre-purchase price checks has been busy all year, there is no doubt that the used trade and auction market is slow and air-cooled prices at auction have not been boiling over this year. I recently contributed to a piece in Classic Cars magazine on the 993 RS being offered at Sotheby’s Retromobile Paris sale on February 5th: a nice street optioned car with decent history, which failed to sell despite an apparently sensible estimate.

Auction Results for Sotheby’s Paris Porsche sale

The Paris sale was quite a low volume event. Just 97 lots were shown on the catalogue and only 78 of those were vehicles, with five of those offerings carrying Porsche badges. Two of the five failed to sell: one being the 993 RS and the other a black and gold Carrera GT modified from new by Gemballa for a footballer. The sellers were a 904 Carrera GTS at €1.9 million, a super low mileage 996 GT3 RS Club Sport that found a home at €250,000 and an ex-Porsche 924 Carrera GTS, which sold for over €200,000. Clearly there was money in the room for the right car, so it seems that the RS was not that example.

Postponing the TechnoClassica sale seems like a sensible option, both for sellers who don’t want their car to fail to sell in public due to low footfall and the auctioneers who don’t want a flop on their hands so early in the life of an annual event. Of course coronavirus is also a concern, but timing is everything in Porsche sales and June may give these eight 356s a much better chance.

One has to wonder what will come of the TechnoClassica if Germany follows the lead of other countries and prohibits events gathering of more than 5,000 people at a time. My hotel is non-refundable, so there’s a good lesson to start with!

Photos by Dirk de Jager ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Porsche valuations in 2020

While the retail Porsche market is still pretty sleepy at the start of the year, Porsche valuations have been coming in fast across the first half of January 2020.

Regular clients have commissioned updated insurance valuations for cars including a 1972 Porsche 911E, a modified Porsche 964 with RS equipment and several standard-to-modified Porsche 3.2 Carrera models.

I’ve had a few enquiries from people looking for help to sell their 911s. Strongest at the minute is an early 911 project, unfinished but with most of the parts required to get it completed. I’ll know a little more about that in the coming days.

Pre-purchase inspections remain a bit of a theme. Early impact bumper 911s are in demand and the 3-litre SC (perhaps my favourite air-cooled 911) has come up in a few conversations. I’ve guided a few people on what to look for and there are a few potential inspections looming through January on apparently solid cars.

On the legal valuation side, I’ve been retained by a UK dealer group looking for an independent expert witness to help find the way to a settlement on a collectible later 911 and am also helping UK Trading Standards as an expert witness, in a case which comes to court next month. I did a report on classic Porsche values for some special cars as part of an overseas divorce case at the end of last year: that is an ongoing project.

Air-cooled Porsche market overview January 2020

The market remains pretty short of what I would call nice classic stock, particularly desirable 964 models with low mileage and sensible history. Those cars are increasingly hard to source and owners should ensure that they are properly insured.

Carrera 3.2 models are a bit easier to find but not the easiest cars to sell at the minute. Still, replacement costs for properly nice cars are high so insurance valuations are super important.

Early 911 SC is a definite point of interest. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are reading buyers guides more than ten years old and still coming into this thinking that the SC is a great starter 911. I mean, it is, but not for the reasons it was fifteen years ago.

The days when a Porsche 911 SC was a cheap car you could cut your teeth on are long gone. Good examples fetch strong money and the cars that look cheap are frequently cheap for several very good reasons: normally relating to rust, oil leaks and snapped head studs. 3.2s are often a cheaper way into air-cooled and fit better with a big picture of a buy now/sell in twelve months.

What are you buying? What are you selling? I am always interested in talking to people who are active in the market. Feel free to get in touch if you need any help or ideas.

Porsche Market Watch – Ruf BTR2

A rare 1995 Porsche 993 Ruf BTR 2 will be offered at Brooklands’ Historics auction sale on Saturday, November 23.

Ruf chassis number W09TB0367SPR06006 is one of five 420hp RHD BTR 2s produced. First delivered to Top Marques in Singapore and sold to a local businessman, that aspect of provenance could make it quite an attractive prospect for re-importation into a famously locked-down export destination where Porsches command serious prices.

The original car was finished in Aventura Green, but a later owner refinished the body in Guards Red. Personally, I love dark green cars but red is quite rare and suits the 993 shape. Somewhere down the line, the engine was also rebuilt by a New Zealand specialist. The original Ruf EKS automatic clutch system (think Sportomatic-ish) has been replaced by a more conventional arrangement.

The Guards Red 993 came to the UK in 2015 and sold to a retired engineer who took it to his place in France and maintained it in-house. It is now back in the UK. The sales description says it has been MOT’d but the MOT database says the last test expired in 2016, so crossed wires somewhere. The mileage is low at less than 30k from new.

Offered for sale with history including the original book pack, the auction’s pre-sale estimate is £68-84,000. We’ll have to see what the market is like at the end of November and how the changes to the Pfaffenhausen spec – including a colour change and non-Ruf engine rebuild – affect the car’s desirability.

A factory 993 Turbo with less than 30k miles would be pretty good news, even in the current slow market. What’s the price jump (up or down) from a Ruf BTR 2 to a factory Porsche 993 Turbo, and what’s the net effect on that number of diluting the original Rufness through later modifications to an already modified car? Will we be able to look at the eventual auction result and say ‘that’s the correct answer’?

Porsche Boxster 987 Market Snapshot

I was asked to take a look at a pre-purchase valuation for a Porsche Boxster S (987 S) earlier this week and it turned up some interesting data. The car in question was a very high spec car finished in nice colours, but with higher than average mileage of circa 70k.

A look at the other cars on the market showed that, while the asking price was at the very top of the scale for cars being sold privately, the mileage was in the top 30% of all cars available. This was definitely amiss. The seller had added a very high premium for some of the spec items that the average private buyer simply would not value as high. My advice to the prospective buyer was to keep his powder dry and watch for bargains turning up towards the back end of the year.

Anyone selling their car at the minute must remember that the car market has been hard work through 2019. Current new car registration figures shows a very small lift in September over last year but the month is down over 27% compared to the peak in 2016. The market is not at full speed and this is a reflection of the wider economic picture. All of this general lack of consumer confidence has a knock-on effect on the used car market.

Sports cars are non-essential purchases and their values are more subject to external market forces than most other sectors. While 4x4s can get a bit of a lift in winter regardless of the economic picture, and vans get a bit of a lift around Christmas when deliveries are at their peak, sports cars peak when the weather is good and are a fairly low priority for most people through the rest of the year.

My client on this valuation had just sold his Boxster: a 2.7 987 with 105k miles. “I sold my 2.7 for £7500: full asking price. I made it stand out, though: painted the bumper, put new tyres on, cleaned it properly. It was a 2007, 245hp manual model with a few nice extras, OPC and specialist history. I had it for 5 years and put 30k on it. Paid £10k when I bought it. Possibly the best value sports car ever!”

While all this sounds great, the devil is in the detail. The sale was not easy, as the buyer was the only person who actually came to view the car. The seller had loads of timewasters and dreamers, offering £4-5k or to pay the car off monthly.

A quick look on Autotrader for 2007 Porsche Boxsters with circa 100k miles shows 32 cars with prices running from £7,500 to £17,000. The highest price is an outlier with 11k miles, with the next lowest at just under £15k. The spread of private sales runs from £7.5k for a 99k-mile Tip to just under £12k for a 42k-mile manual.

Retail asking prices for 2007 Porsche Boxster 987 2.7 manuals with 40-44k miles hover around the £11,850 mark, so assuming condition is more or less identical, how likely is a buyer to pay the same price for a private car as a dealer would charge for a car with 0% finance available and a warranty included? I think you know the answer.

The classified ads are full of private sellers asking strong money for average cars with the assertion that “if it doesn’t sell I will keep it over winter and sell it next year” or words to that effect. In this market, with book drops every month and very little likelihood of a bounce over winter, people need to take their first profit.

Many private sellers are going to have to try harder if they want their cars to sell. If they are really not bothered about selling, take their ‘meh’ cars off the market. Low supply of good examples is the best way to help the price of their car over time. If you want to sell, then get with the programme.


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First ever Porsche fails to sell at auction

Repercussions from the failed sale of the so-called “First Ever Porsche” – the 1939 Volkswagen Type 64 – at RM Sotheby’s in Monterey continue to be felt. If you missed it, the short version of events is that a mis-hearing of what was being said led to ridiculous numbers on the price boards and the car failed to sell. Others see things in a different light.

Auctioneer Maarten ten Holder opened by saying that Sotheby’s had an opening bid of $30 million. The screens were duly set to this. As Maarten called out the bids, the numbers on the screens (facing away from the auctioneer) went up in $10 million increments until the podium displays read $70 million, at which time the auctioneer said the bids were in fact at $17 million and the numbers should be corrected.

From videos of the sale, it is clear that Maarten is actually going up in increments of $500,000 from a start point of $13 million, and not ten million from a start of $30 million. However, the strongest criticism has come from claims of shill or chandelier bidding, where the auctioneer is increasing the numbers with no bids actually received. Auction watchers are calling this shady and pointing the finger at dishonourable conduct.

Bid Running at Auction

I am not presuming any guilt here, and there is no issue at my end. Anyone who thinks that this is unusual conduct at auction needs a reality check. The best auctioneers all make their reputations through generating a fever and driving bidders to ever-greater heights: the practice is known as running the bids. Having bought hundreds of cars at auction in my career as a retail car buyer, I have had the bids run on me more times than I care to imagine. It is part of the auction process.

I don’t remember one auction from the hundreds I’ve attended over more than thirty years in the motor trade where something that clearly was not worth the space it was taking up went for a higher price than expected. I have written several magazine columns about this crazy phenomena.

Private Buyers and Auction Prices

It usually happens when a private buyer comes along who has never been to auction before and the bids are run up to private sale money for a car sold as seen without prior approval. While it makes no sense to buy a car at auction without any sort of test drive, and pay the same price as one would from a bona fide private seller with a test drive before purchase, the practice is just as commonplace today as it ever was. Car auctions are not the best place to learn how to bid.

One type of auction where bid running was less common back in the pre-Internet days was disposal sales, where the auctioneers were getting a fixed price, regardless of whether items sold or not. This included Police and Lost Property sales held all over London and trade disposals, such as the old sales hall at Dingwalls in Croydon; probably now demolished to make way for a retail distribution centre. I bought a stack of cheap cars at London disposal sales in the late 1980s and early 1990s and they came at exactly the right price.

Contrast this to a job lot of cars I bought at a well-attended Colchester sale around the same time. This was a job lot of ex-Tesco fleet cars in the colours of the Tesco logo (all non-metallic red, white and dark blue) and I paid well into book for all of them. They were all presented in good condition, ready to be sold, so I knew I could make a profit on the lot, but the auctioneer made it bloody expensive for me. I never went back there again.

Likely repercussions for the Type 64

“Once bitten, twice shy” will probably affect some reputations for a while, but all auctioneers will feel Maarten ten Holder’s pain. The car was already cooling off after Porsche took the unusual step of publicly denying any special Porsche provenance for the Type 64, over and above its undeniable importance as one of the early VW-based racing cars built by Ferdinand. It was down to ten Holder to do his job and get things cracking in the hall and he had a good go. The problem with the numbers turned things into a bit of a joke, but did he really get the bids?

Before the sale started, the car had already been offered to everyone who was likely to buy it and all had refused at the asking price. Bids supposedly went to $17 million in the tent, but the car is still listed as being for sale. It is clearly worth buying, just seemingly not at that price.

The car now sits in storage in California, where its market value has been described as “f**ked” by people who should know a bit better. The truth is that good collectors are switched-on investors who get into this for the long term. Their experience and love of a deal makes then savvy and open to taking a risk. There is no doubt in my mind that the most up-for-it vultures are already circling above the Type 64.

The scandal surrounding the car and its first trip across the block has added to its story and therefore its appeal in certain quarters. Commentators who put a pre-sale value of up to $5 million on it may eventually learn that the car has changed hands privately for more than this: it would not surprise me one bit. It depends on the mindset of the owners: if there’s a lawsuit pending, then all bets are off.

The car is unique with exceptional early year history. I value it higher than $5 million and, if I had the money, I would be making enquiries and trying to inspect it in person. It’s an interesting story and perceived long term value of these things is all about the story. If you don’t already know this, you will never make a good auctioneer!

Photo by Jack Schroeder ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Porsche 991 Options vs low spec Carrera

I enjoyed an interesting conversation and follow-up exercise this week with a good friend and Porsche 991 owner about the relative desirability of factory options on a 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera.

The car in question is his own. In the fleet since the middle of 2018, he was gearing up to part exchange it against a 987 Cayman. I have a couple of people on my books looking for a well priced 991 with full Porsche history and preferably the manufacturer’s warranty. The Guards Red 991 for sale ticked all those boxes, apart from the spec: it was a relatively simple car with manual transmission, Xenon lights, electric sports seats and a diff.

Many reviewers will claim that the perfect 911 is a simple “driver’s” spec with very few options, but try getting a buyer to go down that road. The 911 has always been sensitive to specification and buyers are aware of this. The notion that one will spec a new car to appeal to the next buyer may seem slightly twisted, but the reality is that this is how it has to be if you want to easily exit the car when the time comes to sell it.

I am not sure that a perfect spec exists: it really depends on your plans for the car and how long one intends to keep it. I like a sunroof, good lights and heated seats. A rear wiper is nice. Multifunction wheel is nice but not essential. DAB radio is kind of a must but overpriced factory navigation is something I can get by without.

That would be enough for me on a new 911, but bring a used car like this to market in a challenging colour and get ready for some pain. Buyers like dark metallics, they like navigation, they are not too bothered on sunroof, but PSE (sports exhaust) and PASM (active suspension) are acronyms they appreciate, and sort of expect.

I ran the 991 past a couple of people who I thought would click with the basic spec and classic profile, at a price in the mid £40ks, but it soon became obvious that this conversation was not going far. They don’t necessarily want a high spec car for themselves, but again they were looking to the next guy.

When it comes to options and setting a price for what the car comes with, it is usually the case that a car with reasonable spec should be the market average. Lower spec cars should cost less, and really high spec examples will fetch more. Paint to sample with high spec is the creme de la creme and well worth the premium (assuming the shade is your sort of thing). Personally, I like the simple life and lean towards simple Porsches, but buying a simple Porsche should only be attempted at an irresistible price.

Porsche Market Trend January 2018

Though certain Porsche buying market sectors slowed down considerably through 2017, other parts of the market remain active. There is strong evidence that the familiar seasonal trends are returning to the air-cooled Porsche scene, overturning the ‘gold rush’ mentality of recent years. It is also becoming apparent that the age limits of these seasonal trends have stretched to encompass certain water-cooled models.

Seasonal markets make sense for classic cars bought to be enjoyed. Activity is dominated by hobby car transactions done in more user-friendly weather, rather than being powered primarily by investment buyers. While investment buyers have not evaporated completely from the classic Porsche market, they are now more discerning than ever, with only the lowest-mileage examples exciting them enough to open purchase negotiations.

Similar buying patterns are becoming more prevalent in water-cooled 911s, up to the 2010 MY. This takes in the last of the 997 models and could even be said to include GT3s. Where a really nice Gen II GT3 would have once been in stock for a week at most, the present tone of enquiries is less frantic. When a seller is motivated, this creates opportunities for some interesting discussions on price, but it also highlights cars priced well above buyer expectations, added to the market at a level that suggests the seller is not bothered either way.

General market overpricing has been the biggest contributor to a drop in enquiry levels across several market sectors. Good examples of the trend include 997 Carrera GTS, which has now been priced off enthusiast shopping lists, and early air-cooled, where six-figure asking prices for average cars or homegrown hot rods have had a negative effect on demand.

Car dealers have a number of tools available to tackle market downturns, but the main incentive will always be price. The wider Porsche market may need to experience a serious re-evaluation of air-cooled prices before buyers once again feel confident of some return over time and happily put their money into Porsche products rather than other classic cars of a similar vintage.

Four-cylinder turbocharged 718s have not met an overly ecstatic reception, with many reviewers preferring the engine character of the outgoing six-cylinder models. Cayman GTS has been generating interest, as the cars offer an exciting drive in a well-priced package. Boxsters are slightly less popular during winter, but spring usually brings in the buyers. Boxster Spyder remains evergreen: these cars were built in very low numbers and are regarded as bona-fide baby supercars.

For those intending to drive their Porsches on a daily basis, PDK is increasingly popular. The flexible and forgiving double-clutch transmission is great for daily use, so the price gap from manual to PDK is less pronounced than the manual premium over older Tiptronic gearboxes. There is a preference for PDK amongst buyers in certain sectors, so three-pedal transmissions are not the essential feature they once were amongst the more workaday models. Truly sporting machinery still benefits from a manual shift, however.

Ideal dealer stock in January hovers around 80/20 per cent water- versus air-cooled. Dealers comment that a degree of price realignment will need to take place amongst air-cooled Porsches for the market to really get going again in 2018. Only owners can decide whether they are willing to let the cars go for less money, or whether they are happy to keep looking at them for another twelve months.

The first proper litmus test for 2018 will be the Sotheby’s sale at Retromobile on February 7th, where some interesting classic Porsche product has been entered. Early sales always set a tone for the opening months of a season, so UK collectors considering offering cars to market will likely make the final decision to sell based on the bidding in Paris and the dealer pricing of new market arrivals.

Porsche Market Trends: September 2017

UK weather through summer 2017 was slightly disappointing, which has left dealers holding a few more soft-tops than they would probably prefer as we head into winter. Some of these will be cars on consignment (offered to the Porsche market by owners through dealers on a commission sale basis) but some will be owned by the dealers themselves. Dealers being dealers, they want these convertibles gone, to put money back into the bank for buying new stock.

Once summer has drawn to a close, many owners decide to sell as they have ticked all of their road-trip boxes, or they fancy something new or they are getting out of Porsche. Dealers love buying and selling, so cashflow is king: when cars stick around in the showroom, there is always pressure to get rid of them and try something else.

Porsche cabriolets are all-season vehicles, but, as autumn continues to creep over the UK and the central heating goes on for the winter, soft tops seem less relevant and dealers will begin to cut prices on the cars they own, which will also put pressure on commission sales and private sale prices. Cabriolet buyers should pick their moment carefully – no point jumping too soon on a car that is often avaiable. Rarer models are a slightly different story.

Porsche Cayman GT4 prices

There is still a healthy supply of Cayman GT4 on offer – some might even call the market slightly constipated for the time of year. My view is that the oversupply from earlier in 2017 has been addressed, with independent dealers sending overpriced consignment cars home and Official Porsche Centres leading the charge to get prices down to a sensible level in order to shift some metal.

Making GT4 prices more attractive is not a charitable move on behalf of the network. Almost half of the UK Cayman GT4 stock right now is held by the official dealer network, which definitely wants to keep cars moving. The only way to shift cars quickly is to undercut independent prices, so it is that we find the seven cheapest Cayman GT4s currently on sale in the UK are all at OPCs.

Some have issues, of course – wrong colour, wrong spec, too many miles or owners – but competition in GT4 pricing is certainly hotting up and all sellers need to get their elbows out. Private sellers with a GT4 to shift should be well below OPC prices for a similar car. Currently, private sellers are some of the dearest out there, so their sales stand no chance at all.

Modern vs Classic 911 Carrera

Dealers report good interest in “standard” 911s – Carrera and Carrera S models – with good spec and sensible mileage when offered at reasonable prices. The 911 has a reputation for being evergreen (i.e. a good seller whatever the weather), and the modern 991 Carrera is a fine platform for those who want to drive a 911 rather than stick it away in a dehumidified garage, so well specced 991s are steady sellers.

A nice 991 Carrera S with decent warranty is now under £60k from a good independent, which creates problems for air-cooled cars around the same price point. Yes, that 964 C2 for £55k may be a very nice car in good condition, but stick a significant other in the passenger seat of an average mileage 964 vs much lower mileage 991 and the decision will often swing to the modern equivalent if the car will be used regularly.

Air-cooled 911 Carrera sales at 991 price levels have been slightly under pressure all year. Good cars with average mileage and solid history are simply not drawing the attention they were twelve months ago when advertised with optimistic asking prices – nicely restored low mileage examples and one-owner cars not included – so sellers should take care with their asking price to avoid months of advertising with no bites whatsoever.

Porsche 991.2 GT3 used market premiums

As regards the latest 911 Gen II GT3, independent dealers have already passed a number of Gen 2 991 GT3s through their invoice systems and premiums are apparently much more sensible than the PDK-only Gen 1 cars were when first released. I’m pleasantly surprised by the sensible numbers I’m hearing, but of course there will also be more than a few new owners out there asking way too much money. The effect on 911R is still to be felt in its entirety, but that is not a car I would be buying right now.

The recent announcement of the Touring package for Gen 2 991 GT3s created quite a buzz in certain circles. I thought it was a bit of a faux pas not to shoot the car with a ducktail, but no doubt that large numbers of GT3 customers have no interest in classics: they want the cutting edge and not some pastiche. As with 911R, time will tell what the market thinks of it and which side of the classic line values sit down on.