BIDDING WAS NOTABLY MEASURED AT A WORKS SALE WITH A BIT OF EVERYTHING
Results and analysis as the spotlight falls on the Bonhams Works sale
AS AMERICA’S Twitter-troll-in-chief reminded us when he collected the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on 20 January, a heck of a lot can change in a year…
For an extended period beginning back in 2013, bidders at major car auctions were falling over themselves to spend money. Prices rose precipitously and consistently enough that many people felt it was almost impossible to overpay for a good car.
At Bonhams’ 18th annual Aston Martin extravaganza on May 13, that sentiment was entirely absent. As usual, the Works Sale featured an array of desirable Astons; every year it deservedly attracts a ‘car show’ crowd as well as potential buyers. But, for all the nice stuff in the catalogue, among those with paddles to wave there was none of the giddy excitement to which we have become accustomed.
Bidding was uniformly restrained as 42 lots were offered, with auctioneer Jamie Knight often having to work hard to help the cars meet estimates and reserves. The bald facts of the day were as follows: 14 lots sold for the expected money, with premiums factored in; seven sold for more than the top estimate; four sold for less than the bottom estimate; and 17 lots were unsold – although a deal for one of those, a 1970 DB6 Mk2 Volante, has been completed since auction day.
That car, first owned by Sir John Saunders, former chairman of HSBC, was one of three DB6 drop-tops consigned, and the only one to change hands. Bidding on the two Mk1 cars stalled at £670,000 and £580,000.
The DB6 Volante was not the only auction staple to struggle: four DB4S were passed, while the sale’s sole DB5 was eventually hammered for £561,500 including buyer’s premium after some slow bidding. The royal blue 1964 Bondmobile looked a good, properly exercised example, and came to Newport Pagnell after 45 years in the care of a chap who bought it when he was just 21 to use as his daily driver. That there was not a greater clamour to become its next keeper was noteworthy.
We had been curious to see how the perennially underappreciated DBS would fare here, in the year of its 50th birthday. Bonhams had gathered a quartet of cars – two early, straight-six-powered machines plus two 1971 DBS V8s – and three of the four were sold, with the best of the bunch, a freshly restored 1968 car with manual gearbox, bringing £101,180 all-in. A fair £82,140 was paid for the Dubonnet Rosso 1971 car with do-ityourself transmission, while its automatic counterpart, in need of recommissioning after years in dry storage, made £51,750.
The answer to our question, then, was ‘okay’. The DBS seems to exist in a sort of collector-car netherworld, unloved by those with eyes only for the more traditional, glamourpuss looks of the DB4/5/6, and ignored by those fixated on performance, who gravitate towards later models. We’re happy for it to stay right there while we slowly fill our war chest.
Those later models were well represented at the Works Sale, with V8s, Virages, Vantages and DB7S up for grabs. Among the assortment were a V8 Vantage Zagato Coupé (unsold), a V8 Zagato Volante (£281,500), and a stranger fish still: a factory-built 1996 V8 Sportsman Estate Car, with fitted humidor, no less. If nothing else, it is an exclusive set of wheels, Aston having completed only two more cars of its awkwardly proportioned kind, and rarity alone saw it reach the middle of its estimate range as it sold for £337,500.
Less rare but equally polarising was the 1979 Lagonda offered at no reserve, and which nobody seemed to want initially. Against an estimate of £50,000-80,000 it was ‘practically given away’ for £28,750. Even accounting for its distinctly Marmite flavour and the fact that it will inevitably need some fettling after 14 years without use, it was a decent buy.
Quite what we should read into a subdued Works Sale is hard to know. Nearly all HAGI classic car market measures, as reported by our sister magazine, Octane, have declined in recent months; at the time of writing, the HAGI Top Index, which tracks the prices of 50 key cars, is down 3.33% in the year to date. For anyone with an interest in the long-term health of the old car world, that is welcome news, but the prices achieved (or not achieved) at Newport Pagnell, during a UK general election campaign and with the country still mired in Brexit-related uncertainty, may not provide an accurate indication of anything other than the momentary cautiousness of potential buyers here and in mainland Europe.
Certainly, recent auctions elsewhere in the world have seen slightly more enthusiastic bidding. RM Sotheby’s brought seven Astons to a rain-hit Amelia Island in early March and disposed of all of them. The big-money lot was a 1966 Short Chassis Volante that commanded $1,705,000. At Gooding’s Amelia Island event, a 1965 DB5 Vantage cleared the million-dollar mark to make $1,100,000, while the storied ex-david Brown 1949 DB MKII mentioned in the last issue went to a new home for $1,540,000.
A number of auctions taking place in the coming weeks may give us a better sense of where the market will settle, with cars including the DB MKIII prototype (Bonhams, June 30); a barn-find DB6 (Historics at Brooklands, May 20); and a 1964 DB5 (H&H, June 6) set to cross the block. There’s RM’S sale at Villa Erba (May 27), too, featuring another V8 Vantage Zagato Coupé and a V8 Vantage Volante Zagato. The former is valued at ¤ 400,000-500,000 and the latter thought to be worth ¤ 50,000 more. Those figures look optimistic right now, but we’ve had enough surprises recently to know better than to rule out the improbable.
From top The only DB5 offered at Bonhams’ Aston Works Sale was just about bid to its presale estimate, with a bit of artful cajoling from auctioneer Jamie Knight; this 1979 Lagonda was the bargain of the day, selling for around half its estimate; one of three V8 Sportsman Estate cars built, and among the main attractions on auction day, despite its rather gawky appearance. A bid of £337,500 bought it
Clockwise from top Among the Astons lined up for Bonhams’ Goodwood Festival of Speed sale is this DB2/4 MKII – the DB MKIII prototype and a Monte Carlo Rally entry; a pair of V8 Vantage Zagatos will go under the hammer at RM Sotheby’s Villa Erba event on 27 May