Monterey, CA — The 2019 Monterey Classic Car Auctions wrapped up Saturday evening with total preliminary sales totals coming in at $245.5 million — roughly 34% lower than last year’s and the lowest tally since 2011’s $197 million.
Although a few more major sales have likely finalized since Saturday’s close, the preliminary totals fell short of expectations and lagged behind 2018 results of $370.9 million, which was a 12% increase over 2017.
Standard measures like average sale price ($319,610 vs. $436,849), median sale price ($24,200 vs. $29,700), and sell-through rate (58% vs. 62%) were all down, as was performance against estimate (the average high bid was 16% below the low estimate this year vs. 10% last year). With all these statistics signaling a slumping market, the question will be whether this is felt in the broader market or be isolated to last week’s sales.
Struggling headliner cars had the biggest impact on declining overall totals. The sell-through rate for seven- and eight-figure cars in Monterey this year was 42%, well below the 56% achieved there last year. Outside of Monterey, seven- and eight-figure cars at auction have had a sell-through rate of 55% during the first seven months of 2019. The average price of the cars that did sell in this bracket was $2.9 million this year compared to $3.6 million in 2018.
The top sale of the week was the LM-spec 1994 McLaren F1 that RM Sotheby’s sold for a hefty $19.805 million, followed by a 1958 Ferrari 250 California LWB Spider from Gooding & Company at $9.905 million, and a 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB from RM Sotheby’s at $8.145 million.
Those sales weren’t enough to offset misses for some of the biggest lots. Squarely in that category was RM Sotheby’s 1939 Porsche Type 64, expected to sell for over $20 million. Bidding was stopped at $17 million after the tote board operator mistakenly understood auctioneer Maarten ten Holder’s starting bid of $13 million as $30 million. When ten Holder realized the trouble — as the screen read $70 million instead of $17 million — he announced the error and RM Sotheby’s pulled the lot.
Other instances included Mecum’s 1959 Ferrari 250 Monza that went unsold at $20 million, and the SWB 1962 Ferrari 250 California Spider that was bid to $9.4 million. In those cases and many more, cars at the top end of the market will be returning home with their sellers.
The softness was felt further down the price spectrum, as just 11% of vehicles valued between $250,000 and $500,000 were bid to or above their current market values in the Hagerty Price Guide, which is 28 percentage points lower than last year. Two examples in this category include a 2005 Ferrari Superamerica from Gooding & Company that sold for $240,800 and a 1950 Jaguar XK 120 Alloy Roadster at RM Sotheby’s that sold for $207,200 against a Hagerty Price Guide value of $295,000.
While the upper end of the market is largely responsible for lower-than-predicted sales results, vehicles priced below $75,000 fared better. This was the only price bracket to see more vehicles bid to condition-appropriate amounts compared to 2018. In particular, traditional classics from the 1960s and 1970s in this price bracket sold for above their condition-appropriate values more so than vehicles from other eras. Examples include a restored 1970 Triumph TR6 that Bonhams sold for $28,000 (+112% above current market value), Mecum’s 1974 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia coupe that won $20,350 (+80% above current market value), and a 1961 Chevrolet Impala convertible that sold well above book value for $66,000 (+63% above current market value), also at Mecum. This supports the ongoing trend that the entry level remains the healthiest and most active segment in the broader market outside the auctions.
Motorcycles were another bright spot, with several record prices in this segment. A 1936 Crocker Small Tank sold for $825,000 to become the most expensive Crocker ever sold at auction and the third most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction. As cars at the top of the market struggled, motorcycles experienced the opposite with the most expensive bikes selling more strongly. Motorcycles priced over $100,000 — considered the high end for bikes — had the highest sell-through rate of motorcycles in Monterey 2019 and an average sale price nearly triple that of 2018.
Even during a down sale there are cars that smash the ceiling. Gooding & Company sold a 1931 Studebaker Indianapolis race car for $1.105 million, far surpassing its $750,000 high estimate, and RM Sotheby’s sold a 1967 Porsche 911 S with Rally package and just over 8,000 miles on the odometer at nearly triple its high estimate at $912,500.
–Thanks to Jonathan Klinger of Hagerty for providing results and analysis.