Coronavirus hits Classic Car Auction Sales

RM Sotheby’s has announced that its second auction at the annual Techno Classica Essen car show (which was to be held at the end of March) will be postponed to June 2020 due to the coronavirus scare.

“RM Sotheby’s today announces that its forthcoming Essen auction (scheduled 26-27 March) is postponed until the second half of June. RM Sotheby’s, along with all participants of The Techno-Classica Essen show, are working in consultation with the organisers of the event in order to establish a fixed new date. The decision to not proceed with original dates comes in light of the global COVID-19 outbreak and the need to secure the safety of the exhibitors, staff, auction and event visitors, and all decisions are being made in consultation with the health department of the German government.

“It is both our and the Techno-Classica organisation’s primary goal to ensure the good health of our customers, auction visitors and staff, while all parties are committed to reorganizing this incredible annual event as quickly as possible in 2020. RM Sotheby’s will do all it can to ensure the transition to a new date is as smooth as possible for all involved. We will be in touch with news of the new date as soon as it is settled.”

Techno Classica is a yearly ritual for me, so, assuming the fair goes ahead, I am heading for Essen. Having an auction on site is a handy addition and I will miss the opportunity to sit amongst bidders.

Last year’s auction – the first at Techno Classica – was held in a basement close to one of the furthest entrances from the centre. In previous years, this space had been filled by a mixed bag of enthusiast stands and trade sellers, none of whom one would place in the top tier of cars being shown. One had to leave the main arena to access this hall and, for those coming in from the main entrance, it was possible to miss it entirely.

Footfall consequently felt fairly low, with many people skipping the hall through no fault of their own. One UK trade seller I spoke to at length who had consigned a Porsche 911 Turbo to the sale was disappointed with the bidding, but that might have been caused by a high asking price and a general lethargy around the model he was offering.

Sotheby’s press release after the event painted an upbeat picture. “RM Sotheby’s wrapped up the company’s first-ever German auction, reaching total sales of €18.7 million with 86 percent of all 229 lots on offer finding new homes. The two-day sale represents one of the most successful and significant collector car auctions ever held in Germany in terms of both total value and number of cars sold. The auction took place in a packed room on both days and drew bidders from 46 countries, with more than 40 percent of participants being first-time RM Sotheby’s clientele.”

This certainly sounds like an exciting result, but auctions rely on generating some fever and it felt a bit like the fever was going on elsewhere. A better spot for the auction might have been in one of the spaces between halls, where the buzz is constant and the sound of an auction in progress would build on that excitement. Sotheby’s always put on a characterful show and it felt wasted downstairs in the basement.

Porsche Auction Sales Mix

The catalogue for this year’s Techno Classica sale included several Porsches. The online catalogue shows 217 lots in total, with 203 being vehicles and sixteen being Porsches: two water cooled 911s in the shape of a 2005 996 Turbo S Coupe and a 2014 991 Turbo S Coupe, a 1992 928 GTS manual, no less than eight 356 models of various types and five air-cooled 911s, including a 1977 Carrera 3.0 Coupe with little early history but offered without reserve (below).

The 2020 Essen Porsche auction mix is quite different to last year’s sale, which comprised 229 lots, 212 of which were vehicles. Seventeen of these were Porsche vehicles, including two tractors, one water-cooled 911 – a 2011 997 GT3 RS – three 928s and several air-cooled 911s. Everything sold except for two cars: both of which were air-cooled Turbos, which have been sinking from their overinflated prices in recent years.

While there is still decent demand for quality air-cooled cars sold by private owners and my Porsche valuation service including Porsche pre-purchase price checks has been busy all year, supply of the best examples through the used trade and auction market does seem a bit squeezed and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I recently contributed to a piece in Classic Cars magazine on the 993 RS being offered at Sotheby’s Retromobile Paris sale on February 5th: a nice street optioned car with decent history, which failed to sell despite an apparently sensible estimate.

Auction Results for Sotheby’s Paris Porsche sale

The Paris sale was quite a low volume event. Just 97 lots were shown on the catalogue and only 78 of those were vehicles, with five of those offerings carrying Porsche badges. Two of the five failed to sell: one being the 993 RS and the other a black and gold Carrera GT modified from new by Gemballa for a footballer. The sellers were a 904 Carrera GTS at €1.9 million, a super low mileage 996 GT3 RS Club Sport that found a home at €250,000 and an ex-Porsche 924 Carrera GTS, which sold for over €200,000. Clearly there was money in the room for the right car, so it seems that the RS was not that example.

Postponing the TechnoClassica sale seems like a sensible option, both for sellers who don’t want their car to fail to sell in public due to low footfall and the auctioneers who don’t want a flop on their hands so early in the life of an annual event. Of course coronavirus is also a concern, but timing is everything in Porsche sales and June may give these eight 356s a much better chance.

One has to wonder what will come of the TechnoClassica if Germany follows the lead of other countries and prohibits events gathering of more than 5,000 people at a time. My hotel is non-refundable, so there’s a good lesson to start with!

Photos by Dirk de Jager ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s


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