Bentley Fetches Top Price at $1.5 Million Classic-Car Auction

A 1950s Bentley was the top lot in a U.K. auction of classic cars last night that raised a total of 1 million pounds ($1.5 million). Bidders were encouraged by vehicles with low estimates and avoided some with higher prices.

The 1956 S1 Continental Sports Saloon made 166,500 pounds, against an estimate of 150,000 pounds to 180,000 pounds. The 120 mph car had wind-tunnel-developed fastback coachwork by H.J. Mulliner and was bought by a U.K. collector bidding by phone, said auction house Bonhams, which held the sale in Oxford.

“All the cars that had estimates that we were happy with did well,” James Knight, the company’s London-based head of motoring sales, said in an interview. “It was a bit of a struggle when sellers wanted more. If you can offer cars with come-on estimates they generate much more interest.”

Cars proved more resilient than other areas of the auction market during the economic slump, said dealers. Still, prices have fallen by an average of 20 percent since the end of 2007. Bonhams’s first U.K.-based car auction of 2010 had a total with fees in line with its low estimate. Eighty-seven percent of the 52 offered cars found buyers, Bonhams said.

Apart from the Bentley, no lot sold for more than 100,000 pounds at an auction that tested the middle range of the classic-car market.

The day’s other big sale was a 1989 Ford RS200 rally car with only 6,804 miles on the clock. The 350 bhp four-wheel-drive coupe -- part of the “Group B” classification of rally cars -- sold for 87,300 pounds to another U.K.-based buyer, said Bonhams. It was valued at 85,000 pounds to 95,000 pounds.

The short-lived World Rally Championship for powerful “Group B” cars was held from 1982 until 1986, when the class was abandoned after a series of fatal crashes.

A 1974 Porsche 911S 2.7-liter coupe, estimated at 24,000 pounds to 28,000 pounds, was among seven lots that failed to sell.

Last year, the event achieved a mid-estimate 968,493 pounds, with all but one of the 40 offered cars finding buyers.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at sreyburn@hotmail.com.

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