The 2020/2021 Monterey Auctions

The 2021 Monterey auctions don’t stand alone and must be considered first with respect to the canceled 2020 Monterey Car Week and second in comparison with the notably weak 2019 auctions.

With respect to 2020, there was a restrained but appreciative attitude among the auction companies, bidders and onlookers. It was a joy to be back, to see friends, acquaintances and colleagues we hadn’t touched elbows with since Amelia 2019 and once again to be able to look at auction cars in three dimensions. Online auctions have proved their effectiveness, but there’s still no substitute to standing beside the real car and letting it talk to you about its history and how it’s been treated.

With respect to 2019 only a few things need to be mentioned:

  • $351 million in sales across the 2021 five auctions against $252.5 million in 2019 despite there being only 1,020 lots in 2021, 21.2% fewer than in 2019.
  • There were great cars on offer across the four main auctions (Bonhams, Gooding, RM Sotheby’s and Mecum), an unending succession of “I can’t miss this car”:
    • In 2021 89 lots had hammer bids of $1 million or more
      • The number of lots bid to $1 million or more in 2019 was exactly the same;
    • But in 2021 the million dollar cars brought $203.5 million in total
      • In 2019 the million dollar cars brought $124.4 million in total.
    • The auction companies’ pre-sale estimates were almost all modest and were pummeled by the final bids:
      • In 2021 only 39.5% of the sold lots had hammer bids under the pre-sale low estimates
        • In 2019 that number was 76.2%
      • In 2021 23.3% of the sold lots had hammer bids over the pre-sale high estimates
        • In 2019 that number was 5.2%.

What the latter numbers comparing successful hammer bids with pre-sale estimates say is that the auction companies – and their consignors – were keying off recent soft results in setting estimates. Bidders, loaded with cash and frustrated from almost two years separation from the cars on sale, had largely different ideas of values.

“Quality cars”? The median successful bid across the five 2021 auctions was $106,400, 24.9% more than the median in 2019 of $79,750.

Based upon these numbers it’s realistic to conclude that the doldrums of 2019 and the hiatus of 2020 have been erased from car collectors’ rear view mirrors.

Monterey is, however, a special place. The auctions roll out their big guns and put everything that their considerable disposure permits into consignments, promotion and bidder turnout. What happens in Monterey may not be repeated.

The individual auction reports are coming, albeit delayed while I’ve been dealing with my wife’s health following my return from Monterey. I thought about not going, but Ellen insisted, and I’m pleased (you have no idea how much) that she’s doing well … and also that she encouraged me to go to Monterey.

“Stay safe” still applies.

The headline car? It’s the late Peter Giddings’ 1927 Delage 15-8-S, a car that redefined technology.

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