Last year, about this time, I was in Pebble Beach at the venerable Concours d’Elegance which takes place in the center of second home nirvana: Pebble Beach and Carmel. Family matters kept me away this year, but I hear the crowd was even bigger, better and richer this year: Jay Leno’s Fiat 500 Prima Edizione sold for 10 times its expected worth. Twenty-four collector cars sold in excess of $1 million, highlighted by the summit of the weekend on Sunday evening when the von Krieger Special Roadster, a 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K, sold for $11,770,000, a double world record for a Mercedes-Benz and a pre-war car at auction.
In a way, collectible cars can be like second homes and certainly cost more than a mansion. Leno’s small white coupe was initially valued between $25,000–$35,000 but grabbed a final total price of $385,000. I mean, that’s a condo at the beach, right?
That was just one standout in a weekend of record-breaking sales. Gooding & Co., the largest auction, came away with nearly $115 million in sales, up from about $78 million last year. And I’ve read that sales at the five biggest auction houses at Pebble combined (Gooding, RM, Mecum, Bonhams, Russo and Steele) totaled $260.3 million, up from $197.5 million last year.
“This is proving once again and more than ever that the world of people who are collectors who are well-heeled are realizing there is a limited number of these types of cars,” McKeel Hagerty, the founder of Hagerty Insurance, said in Forbes.com
No, this proves once again that luxury is nowhere near dead and the well-heeled are buying — three hundred thousand dollar cars (that’s about the average selling price at Concours), mansions and vacation homes. Sellers have to make sure they are finding these buyers and changing marketing skills to capture the affluent. What better place to capture them than Concours?
This increase in sales volume came despite lower volumes: according to Hagerty, 882 lots of cars sold in 2011 at an average price of $223,950. This year fewer autos — 754 — sold for an average of $345,272. The mood at the auction we hear was “nuts”. And of course Jay Leno, who recently took a salary cut as TONIGHT laid off staffers, helped feed the frenzy. Last year, when Leno walked in, it was as if like stood still to greet him.
This year seemed to be the Concours of the Movie Star: Steve McQueen’s 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage Coupe was sold by RM Auctions for (GULP!) $11,000,000–a world record for the sale of an American car. Like Ferratis? A 1960 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider set another world record, going at $11,275,000. Then there was that tip-top seller, a 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster that once had been owned by the legendary Baroness Von Krieger.
On Saturday, Jay Leno surprised the audience by making a special on stage guest appearance with David Gooding and Auctioneer Charlie Ross, auctioning his personal 2012 Fiat 500 Prima Edizione to benefit the Fisher House Foundation. Talk about top brass, more metal was onstage than in the cars: the United States Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Leon Panetta and Chief of Staff of the United States Army General Raymond Odierno introduced Fisher, a non-profit organization that provides a wide range of services and support to the families of wounded American solders. Leno’s Fiat 500, valued only between $25,000–$35,000, sold for $385,000 and pulled in an additional $215,000 of charitable contributions. Thanks, Jay.
Including these results, Gooding & Company has auctioned off a grand total of more than $30 million in collector cars over the years, generously benefiting charities that impact various great causes and foundations world-wide.
And, of course, it takes place in Pebble Beach every August. If you want to go and stay there in August of 2013, I suggest finding a place NOW.