Bulls Pump Up Pebble Beach Auto Auctions to $469 Million Record
The impressive cars and unprecedented sums seen at the world’s most prestigious collectible car show
An obscure pre-war roadster took top honors at the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The 1932 Duesenberg J Figoni Sports Torpedo owned by Lee Anderson beat 40 of the world’s most expensive and beautiful cars to win the Best of Show Sunday on the lawn of the Pebble Beach Golf Links near Carmel, Calif. It was the first time an American car had won since 2013.
“It marries American might with European style,” Sandra Button, the chairman of the annual concours, said in a statement about the car, which had undergone a complete restoration after the chassis and body had been separated for years prior. “The story of its resurrection is one of pure passion.”
An attendee takes a photograph of a 1948 Ferrari 166 MM Touring Barchetta. Among the most important Ferrari models of all time, this little car is one of 25 built in the years following World War II. The first one debuted at the Turin Salon in Sept. 1948. Others finished participated and did well in such prestigious races the Mille Miglia and Le Mans, which set the tone for Ferrari racing for years ahead. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
This year’s frontrunners parked on the 18th fairway of the storied golf course consisted primarily of ultra-rare pre-war and immediately post-war vehicles with long and complicated names, like a 1937 Talbot-Lago T150C-SS Figoni & Falaschi Teardrop Coupe, a 1930 Duesenberg J Graber Cabriolet, and a 1951 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Stabilimenti Farina Cabriolet.
Adorned with intricate hood ornaments in the shape of such things like large birds, women, and even divers, the heavy, large coaches evoke images of glorious pasts where mysterious saloons would sweep along the road in what must have seemed like otherworldly style, speed, and grace. Such vehicles were owned by only the richest and most powerful people of the day, like Indian maharaja and Hollywood stars.
The champion Duesenberg, for instance, had been ordered new in Paris by one Antonio Chopitea, a Peruvian sugar baron. The two-tone blue stunner with intricate French coachwork inside its cabin had then been shipped to the US, according to Hemmings, and subsequently dismantled in the 1960s. Its body and chassis were separated and sold to different owners before being reunited decades later in the three-year, prize-winning restoration undertaken by the current owners.
Held annually since 1950, the concours is the climax of Monterey Car Week, a five-day-long Super Bowl of sorts for car-lovers. Early events included specialty car shows highlighting offerings from the likes of Porsche and Ferrari, vintage car races, and dozens of new-car debuts. So many, in fact, that many automotive executives are calling Monterey Car Week the “new auto show.”
But the biggest draw for many comers were the auctions, which realized record sales this year.
The 1931 Bentley Eight Liter Sports Tourer is pushed off the auction ramp after not reaching its reserve. Gooding & Co., the official auction house of the concours, realized more than $105 million in sales and an 82% sell-through rate, down from $106 million and 87% in 2021. This powerful open-top tourer is one of only 100 such cars produced by W.O. Bentley, the founder of Bentley. Only 80 are thought to survive. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Totals after the final auction Aug. 21 hit $456.1 million, beating by 15.6% the previous high of $394.48 million set in 2015 in Monterey, according to data from automotive insurance provider, Hagerty. “The week put an exclamation point on what has been an unprecedented year for the collector car market and allayed concerns that economic volatility will cool buyers’ enthusiasm,” Hagerty analyst John Wiley said in an email.
Often auction houses will report that their totals creep higher as the week progresses, since many cars that went unsold at public auction are then sold privately in the days directly after. By the morning of Aug. 22, after-sales had increased the week’s haul to $469 million, up 18.9% over 2015’s record, Wiley said.
“Although that worth considering that the record sales total comes amidst a time of high inflation,” Wiley said, noting that in today’s dollars 2015 sales figure amounts to $490 million. “Although classic cars are appreciating fast, the dollar is depreciating ever faster.”
The astounding number of high-value cars came as no surprise to industry insiders and market experts, who had predicted that recent stock market volatilities, the war in Ukraine, and exchange rate between US dollar and euros would not affect the world’s biggest spenders.
“There is no sign of a (potential) recession in sight,” said Juan Diego Calle, the CEO of Classic.com, in an e-mail. “It was huge sales and vibrant crowds.”
Many ticket-holders arrived to the concours wearing big hats, flowery dresses, and outfits that wouldn’t be out of place at the Kentucky Derby. Ticket sales afford entry, but coffee, cocktails, and victuals are extra. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
The interior of a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. Mercedes produced the famous two-seat sports car as a gullwinged coupe from 1954–1957 and as a roadster from 1957–1963. Built in West Germany at the time, it was once the fastest and most powerful car in the world. You’d be hard-pressed to find any surviving ones for less than $1 million. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
RM Sotheby’s saw the top-seller for the weekend, a 1955 Ferrari 410 Sport that went for $22 million. It also sold several significant pre-war cars like a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sindelfingen Roadster that took $9.9 million and the 1924 Hispano-Suiza H6C Transformable Torpedo that realized $9.245 million. Top sales for the family-operated house reached $221.7 million with a 90% sell-through rate, up considerably over 2021’s $147 million total with the same sell-through rate. This year, the average price of a car sold at RM Sotheby’s was more than $1.3 million.
Not everyone saw such gangbuster results.
Gooding & Co., the official auction house of the concours, realized more than $105 million in sales and an 82% sell-through rate, down from $106 million and 87% in 2021. Its top sellers included the 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante that sold for $10.34 million, the 1990 Ferrari F40 that sold for $3.965 million, and the 1994 Bugatti EB110 Super Sport that sold for $3.167 million.
An attendee looks at a 1956 Porsche 356 A Speedster during the Gooding & Co. auction. The lightweight predecessor to the Porsche 911, the 356 is a nimble-handling, rear-engine, rear-wheel drive vehicle that lacks much driving power but has plenty of appeal for those who love its rounded, Beetle-like hardtop coupé and open-top configurations. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Mecum sold $50.8 million worth of cars at a 64% sell-through rate, down from $53.8 million and 77% sell-through in 2021. Its top lot was a 1958 Ferrari 250 GT ‘Tour de France’ Alloy Coupe that garnered $2.86 million, but its average sale price was a far-lower $174,016.
Elsewhere, Bonhams saw $27.8 million in cumulative sales over the week, with an 88% sell-through rate. That was down as well from 2021’s $35.9 million in sales with the same sell-through.
All told, Gooding & Co. and RM Sotheby’s posted all of the top 10 sales between them, leaving Bonhams, Mecum, and Hagerty-owned Broad Arrow to fight for the scraps. Six of the top 10 sellers were Ferraris, which still set the blue-chip standard for collectible cars in the modern era. Their values have risen reliably for decades.
“RM Sotheby’s stole the show,” said Classic.com’s Calle, although predicted that “BroadArrow will be a force to be reckoned with.”
“Although pre-war cars were hot,” he went on, “cars from the ’80s and ’90s continued to show the most appreciation and interest. They are part of a generational shift and new buyer profile.”
The 1932 Duesenberg J Figoni Sports Torpedo, the winner of the Best in Show at the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The obscure car—once with a chassis separated from its own body and now fully restored—is owned by Lee and Penny Anderson of Naples, Fla. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
The 72nd Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance will be held Aug. 20, 2023. Tickets are available here.