Classic Car Auction Yearbook 2017

Over the the past 24 years, in what has become an established tradition, the end of the classic car auction season is marked by the presentation of the Classic Car Auction Yearbook written by Adolfo Orsi and Raffaele Gazzi and published by Historica Selecta. Considered the “bible” of the classic car business, the Yearbook contains detailed information about every car offered for sale during the previous 12 months, from the 1st of September to the 31st of August, and thus provides a database of information that is fundamental in order to understand this market and its economic trends. The 2016-2017 volume is the 22nd published.

The 2016–2017 season

The auctions covered in the Yearbook, held all over the world by the most renowned international auction houses, generated revenue amounting to a total of USD 1.086 billion dollars, just below the result recorded for the previous year, but still a good 32% more than the value recorded in 2012–2013. In all, 5659 cars were offered in the course of the reported auctions (all are listed in the Yearbook by model, year, chassis number and estimated value, and for each one a short description is provided together with the final result). As is traditional, the values are given in three currencies (USD, GBP, EUR), but the data are analyzed in USD only, a choice that reflects the fact that 64% of transactions in this market take place at auctions held on American soil. As always, the two particularly interesting features of the Yearbook are the presentation of the data in raw numbers, in a way that makes it possible for readers to perform their own personal analyses, and the chapters devoted to in-depth analysis of several key topics.

Adolfo Orsi’s analysis of last year

The first thing that stands out on reading the book is that the auctions achieved a healthy overall sale rate of 75%, which is up 3% on the previous year and a result that made the past year the third best season after 1993–1994 and 2006–2007. This high figure, however, masks two other important data emerging from the 12 months reported in the Yearbook: the average price of the cars sold fell by 15%, from USD 299 K to USD 254 K, while the number of cars offered without reserve rose from 19% to 26% of the total, representing an increase of almost 400 vehicles. This latter result was largely an effect of the important Duemila Ruote event, a “no reserve sale” organized last November by RM Sotheby’s in Milan. “As always,” says author Adolfo Orsi, “single data can be read in different ways, but the truth is that the market, still clearly healthy, needed a more aggressive strategy from the auction houses in order to sustain itself. The season’s prices can no longer be considered to represent the seller’s expectations, as they did during the boom years, but they clearly show the direction that is being taken by the market, which will see expectations declining and potential buyers, at least those looking for a more “normal” car, being more willing to wait it out for a later opportunity, when prices may be lower. Even at the top end of the market, the mean value of the 100 most expensive cars sold during the season fell from the previous season’s USD 1.65 million to USD 1.54 million. Only four cars were sold for more than USD 10 million, compared with 12 in the course of the previous season, and eight during the season before that. Having said that, it is important to note that the overall market value was almost a third greater than that of four years ago (2012–2013), and that over the past four years we have seen a constant increase in the number of cars sold.”

Some of the analyses

Every year the Auction Yearbook evolves in order to better meet the requirements and answer the questions of its readers. We especially loved the analysis of the trends recorded, over time, by specific car models; this year this section covered 22 models and effectively highlighted the extent to which the value of a single car can differ from year to year. Of course a car’s value may change drastically if “some factor”, such as restoration work, has intervened between sales, but the general overview provided by this section is fascinating. The cars analyzed come from very different periods and range from a 1935 Alfa Romeo Type B (P3) (chassis #50006) to a 1998 Porsche GT1 Evolution (chassis #396005). The brands include Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati and, of course, Ferrari. This year, the analysis of average prices achieved concerned six models. Interestingly, to cite one example, the average price fetched by Aston Martin DB4s in the 12 months considered was USD 471 K, down from USD 555 K in the previous year’s analysis. Prices in euros for this model also fell, from an average of EUR 494 K to EUR 427 K, but remained stable in sterling, going from GBP 369 K to GBP 370 K. The same graph shows that this model sold for an average of USD 25 K (yes, twenty-five!) in the 1993–1994 season (EUR 21 K and GBP 17 K), and that during the 2012–2013 season, going back in time by a typical five-year span, it had a mean value of USD 325 K (EUR 249 K and GBP 207 K).

The chapters

The 2016–2017 Classic Car Auction Yearbook comprises 13 chapters dealing with: market analysis of the 2016–2017 season; authors’ comments; graphs of prices achieved by cars offered and sold in earlier times; the top 195 cars of the 2016–2017 season; the top 100 cars by make and country statistics; statistics for makes; average prices achieved graphs; the 2016–2017 season’s Top Ten; the 2016–2017 season case; auction results from 1st September 2016 until 31st August 2017; 24 years of Top Fives; 24 years of Top Fives by make; the Top Twenty of the last 24 seasons.

The presentation

During the presentation of the book, the top management teams from the most important classic car auction houses were invited to express their points of view and feelings about the season, mostly with regard to the analysis of their own performance published in the dedicated section of the Yearbook. The most interesting, and in some ways powerful, analysis was provided by Matthieu Lamoure, of Artcurial, who stated that the sudden increase in value of some models in recent years simply acted as an invitation to market speculators, and that today, finally, we are seeing a return to realistic pricing, which is having the effect of attracting lifelong enthusiasts back to the market.

The Classic Car Auction Yearbook Trophy

The most coveted award in the classic car world is, by far, The Classic Car Auction Yearbook Trophy, the Oscar of the business, given to the auction house that sold the most expensive car of the season. The trophy, which in the last two years was won by Artcurial in France, was this year assigned to a more than happy Augustin Sebatié-Garat of RM Sotheby’s, in recognition of the sale of an Aston Martin DBR 1 (chassis DBR1/1) for a remarkable USD 22,550,000 during the August Monterey sale. Accordingly, this is the car that graces the cover of the 2016–2017 Yearbook.

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