Keith Martin Gives the Insider's Look at Monterey Sales

558 Cars sell for $119m this year in Monterey.
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Sept. 25, 2009 - PRLog -- In the weeks following Monterey, the entire collector car world anxiously awaits the final sales totals. Now that the last car carrier has left the Monterey peninsula, the final tent has been taken down, and Ferrari 360s and 430s are no longer as thick as Ford Fusions in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, we can settle back and analyze what the market had to say.

First of all, the overall totals were encouraging, with 558 of 836 cars selling (67%), for a grand total of $118,692,823. That number falls neatly between the $100m choice and the “same as last year” $139m choice in the poll.

The total numbers were down just 17% from the year before, and as we mention elsewhere in this issue, when weighed against the declines in the stock market, housing or even contemporary art, 17% seems nearly inconsequential.

The Buzz

But even more important than the results was the mood of the weekend. Having lived through the 1991-92 collapse, where Xanax anti-depressant dispensers were installed at the entrance to every auction, and Aston-Martin and Ferrari owners were seen wearing signs around their necks saying, “Will Trade Cars for Food”, the mood this year was decidedly upbeat.

After all, over 500 cars did sell, and over $139m did change hands. That’s certainly a far cry from the $25m of just six years ago in 2003.

In each auction tent, there was a sense that buyers were being thoughtful, but still willing to pull the trigger when they saw value. As we have said many times in the past two years, lesser cars, in lesser condition, fell hardest, while the strongest no-stories examples continue to do well. Not as well as last year, but strong nonetheless.

One of the questions bandied about before Monterey had to do with the number of auction companies, and the number of cars for sale. Collectors wondered if there were “just too many auctions, and just too many cars.”

Of course, the longer an auction house has been established in Monterey, the more it views the Peninsula as its rightful turf. Surely RM would like a return to yesteryear, when, as the Rick Cole Monterey Sports Car Auction, it owned the weekend.

But over the years, Christies (now essentially replaced and surpassed by Bonhams), then Russo and Steele, followed by Kruse, then Gooding and now Mecum, have all staked out their place on the (very-expensive) turf.

More is, Well, More

From a collector’s point of view, the more auction companies, the better. This year, buyers had 836 cars to choose from, compared to just 542 the year before -  an impressive 54% increase in the number of lots offered.

And don’t forget, by comparison the 900-pound gorilla that isn’t at Monterey, Barrett-Jackson, offered 1,239 cars and pulled down $108m at its peak, in 2007. So who’s to say that the Monterey peninsula couldn’t handle another 300 or 400 cars, if properly cataloged and presented.

Frankly, from an editorial perspective, our life was much simpler when it was only Rick Cole we had to cover. I did the auction reporting myself, often standing should-to-shoulder with Rick Carey (Automarket Journal) and Phil Skinner (Old Cars Weekly). At that time, we were the only guys in the room who actually cared about reporting what was happening.

Now, as our Operations Manager Jennifer Davis-Shockley reports on page XX, our planning for Monterey starts literally months in advance, and I sometimes wonder if the Operation Overlord D-Day preparations were as complicated (B. Mitchell Carlson has offered to parachute in to Pebble Beach to avoid having to wrangle a parking pass, but so far we’ve been able to restrain him).

Tough Love

That’s not to say it was an unrelenting collector car love fest. Russo can’t be happy with a near 50% decline in sales, from $9.1m in 2008 to $5m this year. And Bonhams dropped from $21m to $13.2m – surely bittersweet given just how hard their team has worked over the past few years to develop their presence in Monterey.

We’ve yet to get any official results from Kruse, but our reporters on site saw just a handful of cars, in a nearly-empty tent the day their auction was scheduled; this is just another reflection of the organizational difficulties that are besetting this once-dominant auction company.

Of course the winner of the weekend has to be judged Mecum, selling $14.2m, besting both Russo and Bonhams first time out of the gate. But this total has to be leavened by the fact that the Cobra Daytona made up $7.65m of that total, and they will be hard-pressed to come up with a similar car next year.

But looking back, from 2000 to 2001, the overall weekend totals dropped then, year-to-year, from $54m to $32m, a 40% decline. If we had seen the same this year, the total would have gone from last year’s $139m to just $83.4m – in which case there would surely have been red Castrol R running down Calle Principal.

My closing thoughts are that Monterey was really a better weekend than we could have hoped, and it affirmed that collectors of cars have decided that values of motorcars are not nearly so ephemeral as those of other collectibles. The trading market for cars, both in velocity and in terms of overall dollars realized, remains respectably strong.

Finback, Anyone?

For no particular reason, the SCM office has decided it needs a vintage four-door saloon for our outings. First choice would be a finback Mercedes, preferably a 220SE with a floor-shift, but condition trumps options, and a solid car in tasty colors, even powered by a diesel, would be considered. No automatics, please. Second choice would be the earlier ponton, again, six-cylinder preferred but condition even more important. Hopefully, this acquisition will evolve into the next Drive an SCM Car Across the Country saga. If you have a likely suspect, or know of one, contact me at, 503.261.0555 x 210.

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Page Updated Last on: Sep 25, 2009

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