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since this is kind of a topic of conversation lately;

from an article in the NY Times

FANS of classic cars often like to think of them as time machines. But the notion has recently taken on an unintended meaning, as prices in some sectors of the collectible-car market have turned the clock back to levels not seen since 2004-5.

All things considered, however, the market showed resilience in the string of auctions in and around Scottsdale, Ariz., this month. The long-predicted free fall in prices did not occur.

And there were some genuine surprises among the individual sales as more than $100 million worth of cars changed hands.

Perhaps the most unexpected results came at the Gooding & Company auction, which flew in the face of expectations and surrounding circumstances by a considerable measure. With $32.4 million in sales, compared with $21 million at last year’s sale, it seemed more like the summer of 2008 than the winter of 2009.

Gooding had the top-dollar sale of the final weekend with a 1960 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider, a late consignment that brought $4.95 million. And while seven-figure lots had become commonplace across Arizona over the last several years, this year there were just seven such sales and all were confined to Gooding, the last of the major auctions to get under way.
With the no-sales of some big-ticket cars at the RM Auctions sale and the still unfurling economic crisis on the minds of attendees, the mood at the beginning of the Gooding auction was tense — think back to the first “Saturday Night Live” broadcast after 9/11.

The $1.4 million sale of a 1929 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton, just nine lots in, had the same ice-breaking effect as when Lorne Michaels, the show’s producer, asked Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani if it was all right to be funny.

Mayor Giuliani’s impeccably timed response: “Why start now?”

David Gooding, chief executive of Gooding & Company, said there was still a strong market for good quality cars that were priced fairly and truly for sale. He did allow, however, that prices were down somewhat in the $250,000-$850,000 midrange of postwar European cars, although he sensed no similar weakness in prewar American cars in that range.

At the moment, vintage cars seem to be showing more strength in the market than other collectibles. Leigh Keno, a host of “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS, said that in general, presale estimates for American decorative arts sold at auction this season have been as much as 50 percent lower than they would have been two years ago. Mr. Keno said, “There is a sense that the market will reward more conservative estimates.”

At RM, the star car, a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport — one of just five examples of a Corvette racecar whose incredible potential was cut short by General Motors’ decision to stop supporting racing — didn’t sell during the auction. Nevertheless, RM sold a very respectable 83 percent of its lots for a total of approximately $18 million.

According to Ian Kelleher, RM’s chief operating officer, the sale attracted a record number of bidder registrations for the event, and a number of cars that could be considered “sensitive” in the marketplace sold quite well. An example of the latter was a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 Berlinetta that brought $918,500. While this was a bit less than some sales before October 2008, the price was a healthy increase over the $816,750 that RM got for a similar car at a May 2007 auction in Italy.

Given the economic circumstances, there was great interest in cars priced under $100,000 that would also serve as summer weekend drivers. Cars that are easy to find parts for, and eligible for events like vintage rallies and tours, did well.

RM, for example, sold a 1967 Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider — similar to the car driven by Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” — for $46,200. Gooding sold a 1954 Nash Metropolitan hardtop for $19,800, Barrett-Jackson garnered an astonishing $59,400 for a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and Russo & Steele managed $49,000 for a 1961 Triumph TR3A. All were at the least strong results, and perhaps records.

Robert Pass of St. Louis was the consigner of the 1961 Triumph. Mr. Pass has been collecting cars since the late 1950s and said he was not aware of a TR3 ever approaching $50,000 at either a public auction or in a private sale. Mr. Pass credited Russo & Steele’s arena-style format, and the enthusiasm of Drew Alcazar, the company’s owner, for pushing the car over the top.
According to Craig Jackson, chief executive of the Barrett-Jackson auction house, his company anticipated the demand for more accessible cars and purposely adjusted its offerings to favor cars in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. This was reflected in the overall sale figure of $63 million, down some $20 million from last year, but a bit higher than the company’s 2005 results of $61 million.

Mr. Jackson said that his company worked hard with consigners to ensure that there was a “meeting of the minds” where sale expectations were concerned. Nevertheless, there were notable high sales, including the second 1957 Chevrolet produced, a two-door from the entry-level 150 series with just 46,133 miles, that brought $165,000. Barrett-Jackson also continues to be the sale known for drawing new people into the hobby, with 70 percent of registered bidders being first-timers.

One of the notable aspects of the Barrett-Jackson sale was the sale of 214 cars from the General Motors Heritage Collection. Most were prototypes or concept cars and included the striking 1996 Buick Blackhawk. Built to celebrate Buick’s 100th anniversary in 2003, it recalled the granddaddy of all design studies, the striking 1938 Buick Y-Job; the Blackhawk sold for $522,500.

Nearly all the cars in the G.M. offering were sold on either a bill of sale or a scrap title, according to Barrett-Jackson. The former, Mr. Jackson said, can never be legally registered for road use. Fortunately, the Blackhawk was sold on a scrap title so it can be registered and driven on public roads. It would be a shame for it to spend its life behind a velvet rope.

Aside from the Buick Blackhawk sold by Barrett-Jackson, few concept cars were offered in Arizona. An exception was the 1954 Dodge Firearrow III sold by RM for $880,000. While some 1950s dream cars look as if they took too much styling inspiration from the Air Force’s latest interceptor, the Firearrow was exquisite in every way.

Perhaps the best buy of the G.M. collection was a 1989 Corvette ZR2, a one-of-a-kind prototype with a big-block V-8 that sold for $71,500. Tom DuPont, a Florida collector, discounted those who tried to tie the timing of the G.M. sale with the company’s dire financial condition. Mr. DuPont said he thought G.M. was simply managing its collection as many private collectors manage theirs, eliminating some cars to make for a more orderly display of the remainder.

There is certainly some common ground between the perceptions of Mr. Gooding and Mr. Jackson in the collector car market, and Mr. Keno in the antiques world. Mr. Keno said he believed that the midrange of the American decorative arts market was the softest now, as is the case with the collector car market. “However,” he said, “the great things will always do well.”
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