This week the center of the car universe is Carmel, Calif.
Monterey Car Week and its crown jewel, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, mixes executives from the top brands (Bugatti, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, say) with that special breed of car collector who doesn’t hesitate to drop a cool million on a pretty Sunday driver. There’s also the Quail Motorsports Gathering, the $600-per-ticket lawn party on Friday that sold out weeks ago to fans undoubtedly anticipating its famously lavish provisions of fresh oysters, champagne, and wood-boxed cigars. All the better for ogling the curves of those vintage European sportsters dotting the grass, my dear.
Sunday’s Concours will see 200 six- and seven-figure cars parked on the 18th fairway of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. The most eager attendees will hit the lawn at 5 a.m., fighting fog and dew to view vintage cars of the Packard, Jaguar, Maserati, and Duesenberg caliber, plus a row of the world’s top dozen or so racing Ferraris, each worth tens of millions. Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Caitlyn Jenner are frequent, effusive attendees. Tickets cost $375.
And then there are the auctions.
“Monterey is the place to watch the market,” said McKeel Hagerty, the chief executive officer of Hagerty Insurance. “It is a fundamentality different animal from Scottsdale or anywhere else. It’s where all the high-end cars sell in numbers. It’s where you get to see the unicorns come out to play.”
Hagerty expects the total cull to reach $370 million. All told, six major auction houses will dominate headlines, and Gooding & Co., RM Sotheby’s, and Bonhams will sell the bulk of the blue-chip models.
Gooding will offer 160 cars, 36 of which exceed $1 million in estimated value. Top estimates include the 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Spider Competizione at $20 million, and the 1960 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta Competizione at $18 million.
- When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20; 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21
- Where: 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach Resort
- Tickets: $40 for entry for one; $100 for auction catalogue, which admits two
This auction will sell perhaps the preeminent Jaguar in the world, a 1955 Jaguar D-Type that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is expected to fetch $25 million. RM Sotheby's will also sell a 1964 Shelby 289 “Competition” Cobra CSX 2473 and a 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Lungo Spider, which are expected to elicit $2 million and $25 million from the lucky top bidders.
- When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19; 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20
- Where: Portola Hotel & Spa, Pebble Beach, Calif.
- Tickets: $40 for entry for one; $300 for bidder registration
- When: 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 19
- Where: Quail Lodge & Golf Club; Carmel, Calif.
- Tickets: $150 for two, which includes auction catalogue
Even with the big numbers expected, auctioneers are careful this year with how they are framing expectations. Some might even say tentative.
“We are hearing cautious language out of both dealers and auction companies,” Hagerty said. “They are spending more time explaining why they may not hit the same numbers they hit in a previous year.”
Indeed, total sales estimates for 2016 are down 7 percent from last year’s $396 million and down even more from the $400 million mark in 2014. Thought there is always some level of market uncertainty during election years, Brexit and the fluctuating euro may have made some naturally reticent buyers even less inclined to pull the trigger on buying a new toy. But Hagerty called it a case of slower growth, not decline.
“It’s not the sky falling, at all,” he said. “The market is very very strong for the best cars.”
In fact, the high-end car auction market has remained solid while others for jewelry and art have suffered. This year more vehicles will be offered in the $10 million-plus range than last year, even with a 5 percent reduction in the number of vehicles offered. It’s also worth noting that with blue-chip values such as these, even a $20 million dip in sales totals one year to the next could reflect the absence of just one car.
It’s more telling for the casual observer to look at what types of cars are selling. Or not selling.
This year at Pebble expect to see fewer examples from the 1950s and '60s. The number of 1950s vehicles on offer has fallen since 2009, when it peaked at 29 percent of cars sold there. At this year’s sales, only 16 percent of vehicles are from the 1950s. The 1960s segment peaked at 34 percent in 2014; this year only 27 percent of offerings are from that era.
Instead, look for increasing groups of modern classics such as rare Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes from the '90s and early 2000s, which continue to be a part of the biggest growth segment for the overall market. Models from 1980 or later represent 24 percent of cars on offer in Monterey. What’s more, models made in 2010 or later (cars shockingly recent enough to be considered that dirty word, “used,” by the, ahem, less enlightened) make up 4 percent of all the cars offered during the Monterey auctions this year. That’s more than twice as many as the preceding two years. Hagerty said that percentage will reach double digits in the next couple years.
“What the market is saying is that these are slightly younger buyers, and they’re not listening to the old guard saying things like, ‘That’s not a real Ferrari because it was made after Enzo died,’” Hagerty said.
Not that the racing Ferraris will lose their hold on top any time soon. Of the top 10 expected sales this year at Pebble auctions, five are Ferrari 250s.