Audrey Hepburn once said, “Paris is always a good idea”, and I have to concur.
Is it the little back street patisseries that allure me to this beautiful city, or perhaps the underworld Jazz culture? I can’t say that it isn’t the picture postcard scenes of being a lover’s obvious destination, although perhaps it was watching the impressionable C’etait un Rendezvous by Claude Lelouch that made it one of my favourite places. Either way, it has a draw for me.
More likely, however, is the annual Retromobile show that seems to kickstart the annual classic car season in Europe. And I am thinking that with the impending (shhh, whisper it…) Brexit situation, this year’s show will be more indicative of where the market stands than that of previous years. Scanning the auction catalogues give me a feeling that it could go either way.
No, I won’t be a harbinger of doom, but the healthy lots either mean that the market is ready to start buying, or that people are are off-loading. Either way, it is encouraging that the big auction houses have been busy building these for the start of the year.
Previously, I have been critical of too many “modern classics” in the auctions, and whilst they are still there, they don’t outweigh some fine old cars that are coming to market. The fact that RM Sotheby’s decided to spread out the much publicised Youngtimer Collection over various auctions was a deft move. Their Paris sale features some tasty morsels from it, including a rather nice Alpina, and two wedge Lagonda’s, one of which I know personally and can safely say is a rather splendid car (it’s the Series 4 car in case you wondered).
Bonhams’ catalogue is of particular note for its almost complete lack of modernity. Bar a 1998 Ferrari 550 Maranello and lovely Ruf Porsche 993 CTR2 hillclimb car, its almost devoid of anything remotely modern. In fact, they have a glut of veteran cars coming across the block, which is wonderful to see. Are these car ever going to rise on value like later classics however? I’m in the “no” camp as I feel the market for these is quite stagnant due to their limited appeal. However, 1920’s Bentleys and Bugattis will always be a welcome addition to any collection, and being France, Bugatti as a brand makes a strong impression at this year’s sales. From Type 35s to a new Chiron, there is something for all tastes for those loyalists. The Type 43 Grand Sport Tourer in Bonham’s sale is a peach, despite the non-original chassis. An estimate of €1.25m – €1.45m shows that as long as its documented and done properly, sometimes this isn’t of concern.
With Bentley celebrating their centenary in 2019, this should be a good year for them. I’m particularly drawn to the simply exquisite 1928 6 1/2 litre saloon offered by Bonhams, which along with matching component numbers, also retains its original coachwork and fabric covering by Weyman. It is believed that the total mileage of just 42,000 from new, is true, and given the demand for these “Big Six” cars from the WO period, this is a unique opportunity to bag a significant car in which to wish them happy birthday. At an estimate of €1.2m – €1.4m, it almost seems like a gift.
I remain impressed with Bonhams catalogue this year, not just for the lack of modernity, but also the diversified range of marques on offer. Delages mix with Delahayes, Abarth and Maseratis drown out Ferrari, and, my particular star of their offerings, a simply beautifully bumper-less Mercedes 300SL Gullwing on Rudges. Graceful yet brutal at the same time.
Artcurial need a cap doffed to them though, as they bring the stars of the show. The 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta, with full matching numbers is the second of only 5 ever built. This particular car has continuous ownership for 43 years, and has never been fully restored, so comes with outstanding originality, hence the €16m – €22m estimate. If this was achieved (and if the market is strong, there’s no reason it shouldn’t) it would be a record price for the marque, and deservedly so. It is a work of art, and needs to be appreciated as such.
And if the Alfa is a bit rich for you, then a 1931 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix car should just be the ticket. With many illustrious drivers gracing the seat, it is a veteran of over 40 Grand Prixs, and retains its dark blue paint, now beautifully patinated. Just an exquisite machine that truly justifies its €4m – €4.5m estimate.
Just as you think that is it, they bring in yet another significant lot in the shape of a 1957 Porsche 550A Spyder, one of only 50 built. Having competed in various South American events, this stunning little car shows just how far these classic Porsche competition cars have come over the past few years with its estimate of €3.8m – €4.8m.
Whilst fielding a few more modern cars than the others, it is still a refreshingly diverse sale with some obscure treasures (Serenissima anyone?) and a telling lack of classic Ferraris. Maybe its the nationalistic pride of a nation, or, more likely, the auctions knowing their audience at this Parisian event, but the home teams are very well represented this year, and its nice to see some of these cars hogging the bright lights of the Grand Palais rather than the usual suspects.
Whatever the outcome of the political landscape that lies before us, it cannot be denied that there is a dogged confidence at these sales, and with a refreshing concentration on brands that have languished unloved for too long. This diversification and shift of focus may just be what the market needs to keep our interest alive in the classic car world, and shows that putting all our eggs in the one basket, may not have helped up until now.
And anyway, would I love Paris any less if C’etait un Rendezvous had featured an Alpine A110 instead of the (rumoured) Ferrari 275? No, absolutely not.
Words by: Bryan McMorran
Photo credits: RM Sotheby’s/ Bonhams/ Artcurial