Any time a classic car auction sale hits the major news networks, you can bet we’re in for some conversations about the state of the collector car market. Last month’s $143m sale of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe was a major waypoint in a market that’s been growing. The art market has been on fire as of late as well — another major news network talking point — with the $195m sale of Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” at Christie’s taking place the same month as the SLR and setting a new all-time record price for an American artist at auction.
We’re now in early June, and for those of us who follow the market closely, that means Monterey Car Week is just around the corner. Monterey is the traditional climax of the American auction year, at least in terms of cars, and this year is shaping up to be one of the biggest in recent memory.
Now, if you’ve read my Market Focus column in Linkage #007, you’ve already seen that there has been a bit of a disconnect between segments of the collector car market throughout 2022. Every time I turn around, Mecum and Barrett-Jackson are setting records for top-level muscle and sports cars — but the rate of enthusiastic spending hasn’t been a constant across the entire marketplace. Up until the SLR sold, blue-chip cars weren’t seeing the same percentage boosts as less expensive lots. They’re still doing quite well in a hot market, but the rates just aren’t the same. As I point out in #007, there are a bunch of reasons for that, including demographics and market experience. But is the SLR sale a sign of something else on the horizon? Will Monterey results show otherwise?
One sale doesn’t mean much for a market, but keep in mind that a sale is more than just one buyer paying big money for one lot. In the case of the SLR, there were at least two bidders on it past $100m. The same thing is true for the Warhol. How many blue-chip buyers have just been waiting for the right moment, with the right lot offered at the right time and place?
Monterey in August is one of those moments. At the very least, it’s the right place. And it should be clear by now that the right cars will be there, thanks to sellers who understand how the drive for hard assets in the market right now is driving buyers to pay stronger prices than in 2021. It’s a perfect storm for record pricing.
If you didn’t already plan on heading to Monterey to see how that all shakes out, now’s a good time to change that plan.
If the SLR sale has any impact on the rest of the collector car market, I think we’ll see it show on the peninsula — particularly in values of other special examples or derivatives such as the production 300SL and 190SL. Realistically, though, I think the SLR sale is a reflection of the market more than it is a driver of change.
The real key falls in cars that cross over the boundary between art and auto. Those with the best history, the best design and the most exclusivity. The SLR had all that. What else might?
When the market tells us this August, you can be sure the major news networks will pick it up. But you can read about it here first.