Wheels: Sotheby’s Tries Selling New York as a Car Auction Destination

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Such attractions brought a crowd of bidders and spectators to York Avenue that seemed interchangeable with any others during the luxury sale series. And the air of refinement in the room ranked a notch or more above warm-weather sales that typically accompany high-society concours events.

That Sotheby’s would be in the auto trade, a position it committed to with the purchase of a 25 percent interest in RM Auctions in 2015 to form RM Sotheby’s, is hardly surprising. It’s a huge business, with two big events in the United States — Scottsdale, Ariz., and Monterey, Calif., each with a handful of auction houses participating — totaling more than $500 million in sales alone. (RM Sotheby’s sold $526 million worth of cars globally in 2017.) Not only does the customer base overlap with Sotheby’s other offerings in fine art and jewelry, but so do the competitors, including Bonhams and Paris-based Artcurial.

Though there are prominent collectors who call New York home — even if their garages may be outside the city — proximity is not a decisive factor for siting a sale, Mr. Auerbach said. Discerning buyers have access to the full biography of significant cars, including online photos and documents. Bidders represented 18 countries; of bidders from the United States, one-third were from within the state, Sotheby’s said.

In an auction season of record-breakers — when a flawed da Vinci painting brought $450 million at Christie’s and a Paul Newman Rolex wristwatch went for nearly $18 million at Phillips — the RM Sotheby’s combine presented design icons from various eras that included a 1973 De Tomaso Pantera ($146,000) and a 1958 Austin-Healey 100-Six ($179,000). Among the cars offered with the intent of drawing crossover interest from culturally savvy collectors was a 2000 BMW Z8 roadster formerly owned by Steve Jobs, which included Mr. Jobs’s BMW-branded Motorola StarTAC flip phone ($329,000).

Cars of historical significance are the prime attraction for auctions, of course, and the sale of a 1948 Cadillac with flamboyant coachwork by Saoutchik ($857,000) and the 1952 Chrysler D’Elegance design study by Virgil Exner ($885,000) delivered. But in New York, nearly new models can earn a spot, too: A 2018 Bugatti Chiron, the first in the United States, brought $3.8 million.

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