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Where the Chips Fell at RM Sotheby’s Palm Beach Online Auction

We hope you didn’t want to turn a profit on your McLaren Senna.

Rory JurneckaWriterRM Sotheby'sPhotographer

Last Friday and Saturday were the final two days of RM Sotheby's annual Palm Beach collector car auction, which was moved to a virtual online auction room following social distancing guidance from authorities. How were the auction results? All told, not at all horrible given the current economic uncertainty and the last-minute format change. RM Sotheby's sold 69 percent of its inventory, and while that's not a strong figure in a typical collector car auction, this sale was anything but typical.

Of interest, RM Sotheby's notes that it had nearly 900 registered bidders for the auction, which is claimed to be 23 percent more bidders than the average in-person registration for the past four RM Sotheby's Palm Beach auctions. Some 36 percent of those bidders were new to RM Sotheby's, which means this online sale helped reach out to buyers who don't frequent traditional live classic car auctions. We'd guess there were also a fair number of folks looking for bargains. Though many cars failed to meet even their low-end pre-sale estimates, it seems that classic mid-century American cars from the '40s, '50s and '60s, along with pre-war cars, were the hardest hit with many going unsold. We'll venture that buyers for those cars are fewer and fewer, and buying a car online just isn't for septa- and octogenarians. Here are seven cars that caught our eye and will help shape the 2020 collector car market going forward.

1993 Mazda RX-7 R1

Sold: $49,000

Estimate: $50,000-$60,000

Third-generation Mazda RX-7s are special cars, right down to their drilled aluminum pedals. With near-supercar-like performance courtesy of a rev-happy 2.6-liter twin-turbocharged rotary engine, five-speed manual transmission, lightweight chassis, and driver-focused interior, the RX-7 was about as pure a sports car as you could find by the early '90s. This car has the desirable R1 package with the included front strut-tower brace, sports suspension, and front spoiler with brake cooling ducts. Cars fitted with the R1 package also had cloth seats instead of slippery leather, a rear spoiler, and no sunroof. This was a one-year-only option package, deemed too extreme for most buyers; Mazda reeled it back in somewhat with the following model year's R2 package. This car was in exceptional condition with about 16,000 miles on it. That's enough miles, if spaced out through the years, to keep this car running well and out of the danger zone of neglect. It's also enough miles that the buyer should happily add another 500 per year without diminishing the car's value. A fair price that may look cheap a decade from now.

1999 Mercedes-Benz Brabus 73 S

Sold: $165,000

Estimate: $100,000-$150,000

On the face of this sale, someone paid well over the original list price of a brand-new, 2020 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Roadster (about $116,000) for a 21-year-old version hotted-up by a tuning firm. But what if that tuning firm was Brabus, and what if the naturally aspirated 7.3-liter V-12 up front made 592 hp, significantly more than the 449 hp available from the 2020 car's twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V-8? Then you'd have a sale result like this one. While many slightly used Mercedes-Benzes are out there with Brabus badges, wheels, and perhaps another mod or two, this was a full-fledged factory-built car, right down to the Brabus-branded gauges. This one rocketed over the high estimate to land at $165,000. Will exceptional German tuner cars be a new hot market segment for Gen-Xers with spare cash? We're keeping our eyes on this segment with interest.

1996 Porsche 911 GT2

Sold: $891,000

Estimate: $950,000-$1,100,000

In loftier times, 993-era Porsche 911s were hot, hot, hot. In fact, in 2017 a world record was set for a road-going 1995 Porsche 911 GT2 at RM Sotheby's London auction at $2,476,320. The buyer? A Silicon Valley entrepreneur, flush with cash from the recent sale of his company. Today, the reality is a bit different, and after positing that this 1996 911 GT2 could bring a hammer price over the million-dollar mark, the chips fell at $891,000. This car had some miles on it (nearly 19,000 doesn't seem like much, but such is the nature of these things), and had come from Japan a couple years back-GT2s didn't meet emissions or crash standards in the U.S. when they were new. This is one of just 194 road-going 993-era GT2s built, and may well be a million-dollar car again someday in the not-too-distant future.

1968 Alfa Romeo Gran Sport Quattroruote by Zagato

Sold: $99,000

Estimate: $90,000-$120,000

A strange 1960s mash-up, the Alfa Gran Sport came about as a project between Alfa Romeo and Zagato in Italy. Inspired by an article that ran in popular Italian automotive magazine Quattroruote (meaning four wheels), vintage-style bodies created by Zagato to evoke the great pre-war touring Alfas were placed on the then-contemporary Giulia chassis. Each car used a 1.6-liter Alfa twin-cam four-cylinder, and all the rest of the running gear was also standard Giulia, including a solid-axle rear end and five speed gear box. The result is something that looks a bit like a kit car, but with vastly better build quality. Just 92 were made, and they are rarely seen, making valuation tricky. We'll call this one a fair price as it looked to be one of the better examples out there. Just don't expect any appreciation in value.

1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra

Not sold: $44,000

Estimate: $50,000-$60,000

Fox-body Mustangs-that is, those built between 1979 and 1993-are among the modern classics that we've been keeping an eye on. Some things to remember: though values for these cars have trended upwards, that appreciation has generally only affected the better examples. Ford sold a ton of these cars, and most were run hard and put away wet. This SVT Cobra is among the more desirable examples (we saw a rare Cobra R version bring a world-record $132,000 recently), with a 302-cubic-inch V-8 packing GT40-style cylinder heads, big brakes, and a Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed manual gearbox. The high bid wasn't quite enough for RM Sotheby's seller and the car is still available for $53,000.

1983 Lamborghini Countach LP 5000S

Sold: $275,000

Estimate: $250,000-$300,000

Here's an excellent example of why not every Lamborghini Countach of a particular vintage is worth the same amount of money. This car was, simply put, a scruffy mess. RM Sotheby's own inspection notes shed light on a poor respray in black with sanding lines visible on the doors, an engine that looked neglected, and a dashboard re-trim attached by exposed Philips head screws. This was a strong winning bid, hopefully placed by a realist rather than a starry-eyed dreamer. Fresh paint and a refurbished interior to bring the car to even a strong driver standard will cost tens of thousands of dollars—and that's before you get into whatever mechanical freshening is needed. A needs-nothing 5000S Countach is a sub-$400,000 car, so there's not much meat left on this bull's bones.

2019 McLaren Senna

Sold: $847,000

Estimate: $950,000-$1,200,000

We're all well familiar with McLaren's race car for the road, the awe-inspiring Senna (if you're not, check out our first drive review here). We're also aware that the cost to buy one new was near the $1 million mark before options, and just 500 were ever going to be built, presumably to help market the car as a savvy investment rather than just a millionaires' (billionaires'?) play thing. The trouble with today's "limited edition" supercars is that there's always another one coming around the next chicane. Soon as it does, your million-dollar collectible is just yesterday's hotness. The hammer price on this Senna (the actual high bid amount before RM Sotheby's buyer's premium) was $770,000. The final amount the seller will receive is 10 percent less than that figure, because the seller also pays a premium to the auction house. That means the 200 miles the seller put on this Senna cost over $300,000, or roughly $1,500 per mile. Add in this car's pricey options ordered from new, insurance, sales tax… you get the picture. Ouch.

 

Top 10 2020 RM Sotheby's Palm Beach auction results

  1. Lot 435
1996 Porsche 911 GT2 (CHASSIS NO. WP0ZZZ99ZTS392164) $891,000
  1. Lot 455
2019 McLaren Senna (CHASSIS NO. SBM15ACA6KW800146) $847,000
  1. Lot 330
1963 Shelby 289 Cobra (CHASSIS NO. CSX 2095) $682,000
  1. Lot 345
1963 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III (IDENTIFICATION NO. SCX361) $434,500
  1. Lot 240
2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale (CHASSIS NO. ZFF75VFA0F0208869) $324,500
  1. Lot 460
1961 Jaguar E-Type Series 1 3.8-Litre Roadster (CHASSIS NO. 875195) $280,500
  1. Lot 315
1992 Lamborghini LM002 (CHASSIS NO. ZA9LU45A8LLA12287) $275,000
  1. Lot 365
1983 Lamborghini Countach LP 5000S (CHASSIS NO. ZA9C00500CLA12512) $275,000
  1. Lot 335
1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 Series II (CHASSIS NO. 8627) $260,000
  1. Lot 320
2006 Ford GT (CHASSIS NO. 1FAFP90S76Y400701) $242,000