Classic-car collectors have always prized automobiles as works of art that can be taken for a drive. As a leading private collection is offered by RM Sotheby’s, Simon de Burton looks at the rise in this dynamic market.
FORT WORTH, TX - As automobiles take on a status similar to artworks, the demand for classic cars is rising. Anyone with memories of the crash in the classic-car market at the end of the 1980s might be inclined to shy away from collecting old automobiles. But the surging market today is very different from 25 years ago, with many desirable models now regarded as blue-chip investments on par with conventional works of art in terms of history, value and craftsmanship – and with the added bonus of being a great deal of fun to own.
Seven-figure sums have become routine at classic-car auctions. The highest prices achieved to date are $38 million in 2014 for an example of the fabled Ferrari 250 GTO and $29.6 million for a Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix car from 1954, which sold in 2013. And just this past February in Paris, a Ferrari 250 GT short wheelbase California fetched €16.2 million, despite not having turned a wheel for decades and requiring considerable restoration work.
The undeniable leader in the market is Canada’s RM Auctions, which has recently partnered with Sotheby’s. Last year the firm, which will now be known as RM Sotheby’s, achieved classic-car sales totalling nearly $375 million. A single flagship event in Monterey, California realised $143 million of that total for just 118 automobiles, a new record for the highest grossing collector car auction of all time.
The popularity of owning tangible assets rather than stockpiling cash has much to do with the upward trend in classic-car ownership, but there is more to it than that. Many people who coveted particular cars in their youth can now afford to own them, creating a demand that frequently outstrips supply.
Additionally, the significance of certain cars in terms of rarity, design and achievement is now more widely recognised than ever before. Importantly, a burgeoning number of events ranging from adrenaline-fuelled historic race meetings to genteel concours d’elegance gatherings gives owners every reason to bring veteran (from pre-1918), vintage (dating from 1919 to 1930) or classic automobiles (relatively newer) into the open rather than leaving them mothballed.
Above all, it tends to be pure passion that emerges as the common denominator across the international car-collector community. Few enthusiasts have displayed that passion as deeply as the father and son collecting duo Paul and Chris Andrews, who have spent the past decade building up a remarkable stable of more than 100 cars ranging from a 1910 Pierce-Arrow to 1930s hot rods and modern-day Ferraris and Porsches.
Now the Andrews have decided to pare down their collection and, next month, will offer 75 cars through RM Sotheby’s in what could prove to be one of the most valuable single-owner classic car auctions ever staged. No fewer than sixteen of the lots carry seven-figure estimates, with the rarest offerings being a brace of 1960s Ferrari 400s. There are, however, more than 20 cars with estimates below $100,000, including a 1953 Mercury pick-up; a 1965 Toyota FJ45 Land Cruiser; a 1955 MG TF-1500; and a 1989 Ferrari 328 GTS.
Why sell these beauties? The Andrews are the type of collectors who believe the best thing to do with a classic car is to drive it. They particularly enjoy doing so in prestigious rallies, such as the Copperstate 1000, in Arizona, and the Colorado Grand, but with so many vehicles in their fleet, they find it impossible to “exercise” them all on a regular basis.
“I never thought we would end up with as many cars as we did, but we just found ourselves becoming interested in all different types from all different eras,” explains 71-year-old Paul, who restored his first car, a Chevrolet Corvair convertible, in the 1970s. He then began building a highly successful electronics components business, which left him with little time to indulge his love for classics until he returned to the hobby with a vengeance in the early 2000s.
“When Chris and I began collecting, we were mainly buying American cars from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but then shifted towards British and European sports cars and – although I never expected to be interested in them – discovered the artistic beauty and innovation of the automobiles of the 1930s.
“We have always been particular that every car in the collection is in excellent running order, and it eventually became quite a responsibility to store and look after them to the right standard. It is for that reason that we have decided to sell the majority and keep fifteen or so to use regularly.”
The Andrews sale catalogue reads like an enthusiast’s wish list of ultimate classics, encompassing iconic models such as a 1955 Bentley R-Type Continental, a 1935 Duesenburg Model SJ, a 1959 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster and a 1962 Shelby 289 Competition Cobra – which, unlike previous examples, is the first racing Cobra to be sold to a member of the public (and a piece from the collection with which Chris is especially loathe to part).
“The impression that comes across about the Andrews Collection is that it is owned by two people who really understand their cars, know what they have and know how to preserve them correctly,” says RM Sotheby’s vice president Alain Squindo, who has seen the collection displayed in all its glory in the Andrews’s purpose-built facility, where the sale will take place, in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I would confidently describe it as the most significant private car collection ever to be offered at a single-vendor sale.” As for the one car Squindo would love to own from the sale, I was surprised to discover that, at an estimated $300,000, it is far from being the most expensive. “That would definitely be the 1932 Ford Khougaz Lakes Roadster,” he says. “I’m a hot rod fan, and if there’s one car that’s on every hot-rodder’s short list, this is it.”
London-based writer Simon de Burton covers old and new cars for the Financial Times, Country Life, EVO and Octane. This summer he begins a regular column on collecting vintage cars for Sotheby’s magazine.
The Andrews Collection will be on view in Fort Worth, Texas from 30 April–1 May. Auction 2 May. Enquiries +1 519 352 4575.
LEAD IMAGE: A 1959 MERCEDES-BENZ 300 SL ROADSTER. PHOTOGRAPH BY DARIN SCHNABEL. © 2014 COURTESY OF RM SOTHEBY'S.