Some things we learned during Arizona Auction Week

One of several truckloads of Pratte vehicles as they arrived at Barrett-Jackson | Larry Edsall photos
One of several truckloads of Pratte vehicles as they arrived at Barrett-Jackson | Larry Edsall photos

Barrett-Jackson has joined the group of auction houses that can pull off the sale of a significant private car collection. And the Barrett-Jackson twist is that it held that sale as part of its annual Scottsdale auction, not as a stand-alone event in some remote location.

Typically, the sale via auction of a big collection such as Ron Pratte’s takes place in the facility where the collector stores his or her vehicles. Yes, Barrett-Jackson benefited from the fact that Pratte’s car-filled aircraft hangar in Chandler, Arizona, was just a few miles down the freeway from WestWorld of Scottsdale, where Barrett-Jackson stages its annual January auction.

But there were those who wondered if holding the sale there would work, especially holding it mid-week, on a Tuesday yet. Wouldn’t that limit the number of bidders and the prices they were offering?

Many of us — me included — believed Pratte had overpaid for many of the cars in his collection and that in many, many cases, those buying the cars in Scottsdale would pay less — maybe much less — than Pratte had spent. And, yes, one reason Pratte had overpaid for several of his cars was that they were being sold to benefit a charity, and he was a generous benefactor when it came to supporting those charities.

Well, we the doubters were wrong, at least in many cases. Pratte did not get back as much as he spent on vehicles such as the Shelby Super Snake, the GM Futurliner or the Bonneville Motorama concept car. OK, maybe the Futurliner doesn’t really count since it was sold to benefit charity. Maybe the ex-Howard Hughes Buick is a much better case in point. Nonetheless, many of Pratte’s prominent pieces did sell for more — much more — than he had paid.

Rick Carey, auctions expert for Sports Car Digest, keeps extensive records on classic car auction sales. Of the 110 Pratte cars sold last Tuesday at Barrett-Jackson, Carey was able to track what Pratte paid and got for 60 of them. In less than a decade in Pratte’s ownership, their collective value had increased by 22 percent.

And consider this: Barrett-Jackson announced that Pratte’s collection of cars and automobilia realized $40.44 million last week. That number exceeds the $9.1 million for the Microcar Museum collection, the $9.88 million for the Dingman collection, the $10.24 million for the Littlefield Military collection, the $11.5 million figures posted at the Sam Pack Five Star collection and John Staluppi Cars of Dreams museum sales, the $21.2 million for the Don Davis collection, or even the $36 million paid for the Otis Chandler collection or the $38.3 million for the Milhous collection.

Gone but not forgotten: The Pratte hangar
Together no longer, the Pratte collection in the hangar

Don’t be surprised if Barrett-Jackson does another big private collection sale in Scottsdale on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.

(A couple of months ago, I finally got to tour Pratte’s collection in its hangar. It was a spectacular display of cars and signs and gas globes and such, and would have been a true world-class car museum had it been open to the public. I remarked at the time that I wish someone would just offer $50 million for everything — the collection and the building that houses it — and then leave it as is and make it a museum. I still feel that way. Yes, the auctioning of the collection was a wonderful show and the sale of the Futurliner generated several million for charity, but to see the collection as it was is something I wish all car enthusiasts had an opportunity to experience.)

A Ferrari California Spyder
Ferrari California Spyder

Ferraris continue to pace the classic car price race. If you look at the top-10 sales during Arizona Auction Week 2015, and if you eliminate Pratte’s Super Snake, Futurliner and Bonneville, the list is monopolized by Ferraris.

Only three cars sold last week for $7 million or more. Each of them was an Enzo-era Ferrari — a 1964 250 LM coupe for $9.625 million at RM, a 1966 275 GTB Compitizione coupe for $9.405 million at Bonhams, and a 1959 250 GT Cal Spyder for $7.7 million at Gooding & Company.

Last year, four of the top-5 sales in Arizona were Ferraris, with a 1958 250 GT Cal Spyder topping the list at $8.8 million.

The 300SL Gullwing sold for $1.485 million
This 300SL Gullwing sold for $1.485 million

Have 300SLs encountered a speed bump? Bob Golfen is doing a story about how Porsche prices are escalating, and he mentioned that while looking through the auction results, it appears prices being paid for Mercedes-Benz 300SLs may have flattened like a tire hitting a Midwestern-winter pot hole.

Gullwings did bring as much as $1.5 million and a roadster sold for nearly $1.6 million, but another went for $900K.

Could it be that demand for 300SLs, the long-time gold standard for claiming that your’s is a world-class car collection, has softened a bit? Or could it be that collectors who saw 300SL prices edging toward — and even beyond — $2 million last summer are overvaluing their cars this winter?

And it’s not only 300SL owners who may be overvaluing their cars. Auction executives have told me how difficult it’s getting car owners to set realistic reserves on their vehicles, and how competitive it’s getting between the auctions to maintain the quality of their dockets.

I heard much the same thing last week from collector-car dealers who attended a breakfast hosted by ClassicCars.com. After reading about or watching televised auctions featuring the very best examples of the various makes and models, the dealers say classic car owners have inflated opinions about their own examples and want more for their vehicles than the dealers or their customers are likely, willing or even able to pay.

Several dealers said they were in town to take the pulse of the marketplace, but worry that auction prices may make car owners think their cars are worth more than they really are.

The Keno Brothers are coming. We reported last week that Antiques Roadshow stars Leigh and Leslie Keno have formed their own classic car auction house that will focus on online sales via Proxibid. I spent an hour during Arizona Auction Week with the brothers and their team and will share what I learned in a story very soon.larry-sig

7 thoughts on “Some things we learned during Arizona Auction Week”

  1. Larry, thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts and always great photos, as well. In addition to the trends mentioned in Ferraris, 300SLs and Porsches, any observations on trends re American Muscle cars?

  2. Very good news report on the 2015 auction scene. This may set the pace for this year. I am intrigued by the news of the Keno brothers entering the classic car scene. If they have the same success in this space as they have had in the antique market, then we will see some new and fresh ideas and inventive opportunities coming from them. This is just what this business needs at this point as it has been the same old stuff for the last few years. The same cars coming back several times in the last 10 years for the owners to double their investment. Not too exciting. Wonder if the Kenos will do restorations?

  3. As an arm-chair market observer, I do not find it difficult to believe that auction companies are having a difficult time with consignors placing an accurate valuation on their vehicles. I don’t think that anyone would argue that highly publicized events like BJ, Mecum, Russo and others are obviously going to highlight the cream of the crop-thus all the media attention. The “working man” offerings, of which there are plenty at most venues, do not grab the headlines or TV coverage. As a result, the expanded coverage and interest in the hobby seems to have created a double edged sword for the auction houses. All of the sudden the guy with a clapped out ’68 Camaro in his barn says “Well one just like it sold at XXX auction for $80,000, mine should be worth at least half that”.

  4. I would like to see more Mom and Pop priced cars that re being auctioned off. My take on buying a car is buy a car you love and restore it FOR YOURSELF and not for flipping it.

  5. I don’t know if you can help me out but, What should be the average price of a willys jeep in good condition.
    Mark Gaynor
    Ireland

  6. YA ! Well the truth of the matter is simply mathematical 20% Seller/Buyer fees on $10,000 or 1.200 million plus. Now you too can do the math Mr. Jackson has. So who really likes the prices where there at right now? The Class Sick Car Enthusiast is only Flashing Cash/Credit and the Car in only the medium to provide an Exhibition. Therefore the Highlights of the Auction were $$$$$$$ and the pride of ownership,workmanship to achieve the outrageous prices was literally waxed off.Ron Pratte just experienced the hugest barn find in the shortest amount of time in history and this is being billed as Charitable Fund Raiser? Give me a 1000.00% X the actual value of my Classic and I’ll play too!!. Oh but yes you just reminded me the the value of my is to high. What a farse

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