Auctions

2017 RM Sotheby’s Santa Monica Sale: Big-Buck Buys and Small-Dollar Bargains

Warming up for Pebble Beach

The greater Southern California area is a hotbed of car culture, but classic car auctions have historically struggled in the area. Maybe it’s the wealth of classic cars already available locally or the number of specialty shops in the area, but turning out a successful Southern California sale isn’t as easy as you’d think.

After canceling its Motor City sale in Detroit this year, RM Sotheby’s announced that it would host the fifth annual Santa Monica, CA sale, which is normally chartered by RM’s sister company, Auctions America. Typically, Auctions America offers a slightly less exclusive (read: more affordable) mix of cars in its sales, with more emphasis on classic American metal. With RM at the helm, there were still plenty of affordable options for those looking to get into the classic car game, but several big-buck machines were also up for grabs. In the end, RM Sotheby’s sold 111 of 175 cars for a 63-perecent sell-through rate and $9,180,835 in vehicle sales – not an extraordinary result by any means, but considering Monterey is right around the corner, not entirely surprising.

The event’s top seller was a 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster, which didn’t meet reserve on the block, but sold shortly thereafter for $1,100,000 – right on the money for a strong Roadster. These cars perform well and tend to be fairly reliable for the vintage. As such they are very popular on some of the country’s best vintage tours and rallies.

A 1992 Ferrari F40 from the last year of production was the runner up, bringing $957,000. This 16,000-mile example was fresh from a recent service but its sale price was down perhaps 10-15 percent from what it might have brought a year ago. There seem to be no real shortage of F40s on the market at any given time – roughly 1,300 were built in total. This result seems to echo the greater market correction we’re seeing, with values slightly softening for all but the rarest of cars or those in the best condition.

A further example of this softening was found in a 1996 Porsche 911 Turbo with just 25,000 miles from new. The car was bid to just $137,500 and not sold against a low reserve of $165,000 – the latter amount would likely have been paid just 12 short months ago, but nearly every long-term 993 owner is looking to cash in on their car’s appreciation, which has led to a flooded market and no shortage of buying opportunities.

Still, there were a few bargains to be had and at prices that that even enthusiasts of less lofty means could afford. A 1967 MGB GT – the Pininfarina designed coupe based on the popular roadster model – sold for just $6,050. GTs are not only fun to drive, but also practical with their hatchback body style and both inexpensive and relatively straightforward to maintain thanks to healthy parts supply. This example was from the last year of the desirable metal dashboard production, with later cars receiving less-appealing, padded vinyl dashboards to meet period safety standards.

We were also fond of the last lot of the sale, a 1932 Riley Special. Built with custom roadster bodywork over a Riley Plus Ultra chassis, the little sports car would have made an excellent, affordable pre-war entry for many vintage events at just $9,900 – far shy of what a Riley sports car with original bodywork would have brought.

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