A recent major classic auction in London saw a number of Porsches failing to find new homes. David Sutherland asks if this was because the market is softening, or because sellers have become too greedy when setting reserve prices
As 2017 unfolded an increasing number of siren voices were head telling us that the top end of the classic car market was at best levelling off, and at worst falling. It’s easy to look back and identify when a market turned, but harder – impossible perhaps – to pinpoint it at the time. This is partly because although the premium classic market is global, there can still be a marked difference in confidence in California and in London, or in Paris or Stuttgart, which impacts prices.
Nonetheless, September’s auctions, both international and local, brought solid evidence that the market was not delivering the prices buyers were expecting, not least at the UK’S highest profile annual sale, hosted by RM Sotheby’s at the Battersea Evolution venue in Central London. Out of 14 Porsches, mainly classic models, carrying six-figure pre-sale estimates, just four were sold on the night.
The most spectacular Did Not Sell had to be the righthand drive 1973 911 Carrera 2.7RS Sport, or “Lightweight”, expected to fetch between £825,000 and £1m. Not only was this model, one of 17 Sports sold in the UK out of a 200 production batch, and the one collectors die for, but this particular car’s provenance was boosted by it being the final car sold in the UK and hence delivered with some RSR features, after which it raced extensively.
‘That RS is a strange one,’ commented Peter Haynes of RM Sotheby’s. ‘On the one hand it’s one of the most important 2.7RSS because of its racing history, and it has been beautifully restored. But the question is, as it is with many cars that have been raced, how much of the original car is left?’
A 911 RSR from the batch of 30 built by Porsche’s Motorsport department in 1997, and which raced in US endurance events before finding its way into a collection in 2006, did not make its reserve, which we reckon was around £850,000, given its £800,000–£900,000 expectation.
As we mention in this month’s Buyers’ Guide in the preceding pages, the 930model 911 Turbo has been the darling of investors, with prices soaring towards £200,000, but the 1975 car expected to make at least £175,000 was another DNS. And, moving on two generations to the 993, the seller of the 2133-mile, 1996 911 Turbo was looking for too much, at £165,000 to £195,000.
Are we seeing a turning point in the classic car market as a whole, or something pertaining to Porsches in particular? ‘The market for limited run Porsches of the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s has never been hotter than in the last two years, but inevitably there comes a point when the market can’t take any more inflation and I think we’ve reached that point,’ Haynes told us.
He adds that it’s a familiar scenario: ‘There’s been a correction in the Ferrari market over the last two years, and probably the same thing is happening with Porsches.’ But the problem is not the cars, but the owners, he continued. ‘It’s become quite hard to consign cars at realistic reserve prices now – people seem to think that if a car sold for £500,000 at a high profile auction a year ago, then it must be worth £550,000 this year. They need to accept that in many cases it’s still a £500,000 car.’
But if the auctioneer’s hammer mostly fell at Battersea without the satisfying crack of a sale, there were some strong prices achieved. A black, 18,000km (11,250 miles) GT2 – the ultimate road-going, aircooled 911 – sold for £775,625, which was £26,125 above its upper estimate, while a 1971 911E thrust past its £70,000–£90,000 estimate to make £126,500. The 2003 911 GT3 RS’S £126,500 was £3500 short of expectation, but nonetheless was a reminder of how the original lightweight 996 GT3 has left its list price behind in little more than a decade.
Even cars that sell can hint that the model is perhaps being touted at ambitious prices, such as the 9365-mile 2011 911 GT3 RS 4.0 that was sold for £287,100, more or less in the middle of its upper and lower estimates, at Bonhams’ Goodwood Festival of Speed sale, occurring three days after Battersea. At that time, Lakeside Classics in Shrewsbury in Shropshire was asking £346,500 for the same model with 7342 miles.
At what is one of the UK’S most likeable local classic auctions – Historics at Brooklands, held at the Brooklands Museum – an interesting looking race replica of the 1970s Group 4 ‘Jagermeister’ Tribute, based on a 1980 911SC, was offered in the September sale. Previewing this car in our October issue we said that with its £70,000–£90,000 estimate it ‘seems pretty good value’, but our crystal ball must have been having an off day because it didn’t find a home. Sellers of two earlier Porsches, a 1967 912 (£27,000–£34,000) and a 1972 911T Targa (£29,000–£36,000), pulled their cars at a late stage.
We tend to look at prices achieved at the top end of the market for a steer on values, but life at the other end can also be revealing; two cars in particular, which for many years we’ve regarded as Auto Trader/ebay cheapies, the 944 and 928, provided more proof that this mindset is out of date. Historics collected £33,040 for a tidy but not immaculate 1990 928GT with 71,030 miles, while at Goodwood, Bonhams sold a 1992 944 S2 SE with 85,000 miles for £40,250, its price reflecting that it was one of 14 very late 944s built with special equipment.
We think it unlikely that the classic Porsche market – at whatever price point you’re looking – is going to drop off. But sellers should also bear in mind Haynes’ observation: ‘There is a buyer for everything – if the price is right.’ PW