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RM Sotheby’s Essen Auction 2019

The news was widely announced beforehand, because it certainly represented a milestone moment in the classic car business. RM Sotheby’s, today the world’s biggest auction house in terms of number of yearly sales, number of  cars offered and total turnover, was preparing to hold its first ever German classic car auction. What is more, the two-day event was to take place in Essen, to coincide with Techno Classica, one of the world’s most important classic car shows.

This much awaited and interesting event, which saw 211 cars crossing the block, finally took place on 11 and 12 April. Of the 211 cars offered, 105 (almost 50%) were youngtimers, cars built between the 1980s and the turn of the century, a category that is increasingly attracting the attention of both traders and customers. These cars represent an area of car collecting where the old, established rules are often re-written by new, usually younger, buyers, and where, for example, Alfa Romeo lags far behind BMW or Nissan in terms of appeal and value, and Ferrari is not the undisputed leading force, often being surpassed  (again in terms of interest or value) by Porsche.

A collector will often be drawn to a youngtimer by its usability, the ready availability of spare parts, and its affordable purchase price. But judging by some of the current trends on the market, where values are increasing generally and the prices of low-kilometer cars have leapt amazingly, two out of these three attractions are fast disappearing.

The only car brand that does not seem to have lost any ground over the decades in terms of presence, appeal and volume of cars offered, is Mercedes-Benz, which remains well represented across all categories: among pre-war and post-war cars, youngtimers, and even contemporary cars (from 2000 onwards).

The youngtimers offered, by brand

Of the youngtimers offered, eight were Bentleys, 24 were BMWs (including 7 Alpinas and 9 Ms), 11 were Ferraris, and four were Lancias (all but one of the latter, the Thema Ferrari, boast something of a rally heritage). Mercedes-Benz was represented by 24 cars (+1 from 1979, and the reason for this “+1” will become clear below, while 12 of the Mercedes-Benz cars were AMGs). Finally, four of the cars were Nissans, 18 were Porsches (including 10 Turbos) and seven were Rolls-Royces. A few isolated other brands were also represented.

General results

The overall sale rate was 86%, corresponding to a total of EUR 18.7 million, including the buyer’s premium (15% on amounts of up to EUR 199,999 and 12.5% on anything paid over this threshold).

Four new world record prices were set, by the following cars:

  • 1982 Lancia 037 Stradale (chassis #ZLA151AR000000022). This vey original specimen, the 22nd manufactured, with just 3,500 kilometers covered since new, sold for Euro 770 K, doubling its pre-sale estimate of EUR 350–400 K.
  • 1985 Lancia Delta S4 Stradale (chassis # ZLA038AR000000155). One of only 200 built, very original, and with less than 2,200 kilometers covered since new, this car completely smashed its pre-sale estimate of EUR 450–550 K, fetching EUR 1,040,000.
  • 1979 Mercedes-Benz S123 500 TE AMG (chassis #WDB12319012010043). This car, the sale’s most eagerly awaited lot, more than doubled its pre-sale estimate of EUR 60–70 K, selling for EUR 143,750.
  • 1984 Mercedes-Benz C126 500 SEC AMG 5.4 “Wide Body” (chassis #WDB1260441A017380). In good preserved condition, this car came under the hammer at EUR 161 K, far exceeding its pre-sale estimate of EUR 90–100 K.

The sale’s top lot was a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet A by Sindelfingen Karrosserie, the Mercedes internal body shop. Still equipped with its original engine and transmission, this car (chassis #154078), restored but with highly authentic components, fetched Eur 2,255 million after a pre-sale estimate of EUR 2–2.4 million.

The Top 10 cars

  1. 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet A. EUR 2,255,000.
  2. 1985 Lancia Delta S4 Stradale. EUR 1,040,000.
  3. 1959 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (chassis #198.042.10 9500093). Well restored, original engine, complete with factory hardtop and set of luggage. EUR 893,750 (estimate EUR 0.85–1 million).
  4. 1982 Lancia Rally 037 Stradale. EUR 770,000.
  5. 1970 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 “Daytona” Berlinetta (chassis #13183). Plexiglass, European version, matching numbers, original A/C. EUR 635,000 (estimate EUR 550–650 K).
  6. 1975 Lancia Stratos HF Stradale (chassis #829AR0.001832). Original engine, 11,800 kilometers covered since new, in very good preserved condition. EUR 545,000 (estimate EUR 480–520 K).
  7. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 Sc Coupe. EUR 432,500.
  8. 1962 Aston Martin DB4 Series IV (chassis #DB4/850/L). Still equipped with its original engine, original A/C, restored in 1995. EUR 387,500 (estimate EUR 345–395 K).
  9. 1970 Ferrari Dino 246 GT (chassis #00840). Freshly restored. EUR 331,250 (estimate EUR 200–300 K, offered without reserve).
  10. 1930 Avions Voisin C23 Canduite Interieure (chassis #47001). Matching numbers car, one of the only 15 surviving, well restored several years ago and well preserved ever since. EUR 275,000 (estimate Euro 300–400 K).

The four most amazing results

1979 Mercedes-Benz S123 500 TE AMG

It was clear as soon as the first pictures appeared well before the sale that the AMG version of the S123 (the station wagon built by Mercedes from 1976 to 1985, a true workhorse) would be one of the hot lots of this sale. All of a sudden, it seemed that everyone had always dreamed of owning one! Despite these high expectations, even RM Sotheby’s people were surprised when, for the first bid on the car, as many as 10 people in the room raised their paddles (and that is without counting the internet bidders).  There are several reasons for this success: this is an amazingly beautiful car, classic but very “bad boy” looking. The S123 is increasingly achieving collectible status, and its design is aging very well indeed. The 123 series is considered the most reliable Mercedes ever built and the AMG version (produced well before Mercedes bought AMG), created using the engine, transmission and brakes taken from the contemporary W126 S-Series, is very rare indeed.

1984 Mercedes-Benz C126 500 SEC AMG 5.4 “Wide Body”

The moral victory at the Essen auction can certainly be said to have gone to Mercedes-Benz. Almost every car of this brand offered for sale did itself proud. Particularly gratifying was the result recorded by this legendary AMG “Wide Body”, a version based on the C126, one of the most beautiful cars ever built in Sindelfingen and the ultimate Bruno Sacco design. Very few Wide Bodies were built, even fewer survive, and fewer still remain in good condition today. The sound of the V8 engine, upgraded to 5.4 liters, was another great selling point. Had this been a specimen with manual instead of automatic transmission, its final result would likely have been even more staggering. But only two were built with manual transmission and it seems that one of these disappeared many years ago, while the other is so loved by its young owner that it will probably be a good 50 years before it turns up on the market!

1985 Lancia Delta S4 Stradale

There seems to be a sort of global conspiracy afoot. Ever since the late Sergio Marchionne dismissed the history of Lancia as unimportant and commented that the brand had no real appeal for the market, and was therefore destined to be left trailing by Fiat, the collectors’ world seems to have awarded Lancia cars every trophy going, including a Pebble Beach Best in Show. This has led to a level of market interest not seen in recent years. While pre-war Lancias, with their spectacular, mostly one-off, bodies are works of art on wheels, the appeal of the post-war models is, more and more, linked to the rally successes recorded by the brand. The Fulvia, Flavia Coupé and Stratos have long been collectibles, while the more modern 037, S4 and Delta models are more recent additions to the classic car world. At the Essen sale, this trend was confirmed, with the 037 and the Deltas going for very serious money and a Stradale S4 breaking the 1 million Euro barrier for the first time ever. Impressively, several potential purchasers continued to bid on it almost until the hammer came down.

1992 Land Rover Range Rover, 4 doors (chassis SALHV1249NA614906)

In recent years we have become used to seeing the prices of classic two-door Range Rovers rising, and repeatedly reaching new highs. What was perhaps rather surprising to see in Essen was the more modern and refined four-door version attracting the same voracious interest. The hammer price paid for this 1992 red, four-door, automatic Range Rover was EUR 40,250. With American specification and the added bonus of only 24,000 miles covered since new, this car comfortably beat its pre-sale estimate of EUR 20–25 K.

All images copyright and courtesy of RM-Sotheby’s

Mercedes 540 K Tim Scott, courtesy of RM-Sotheby’s
Mercedes AMG 500 TE  Tom Wood, courtesy of RM-Sotheby’s
Mercedes SEC AMG 5.4  Tom Wood, courtesy of RM-Sotheby’s
Lancia S4 Peter Singhof, courtesy of RM-Sotheby’s
Range Rover Tom Wood, courtesy of RM-Sotheby’s

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