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Can Bonhams auction house break free of its recent ‘awkward’ era?

Words: Nathan Chadwick | Photography: Bonhams

It’s been a tricky time for Bonhams of late. Several key people have left, centrepiece lots from key sales have been withdrawn at the last moment and some pretty disappointing results means that the UK-headquarted auctioneer hasn’t had it easy.

Not all of it is down to Bonhams itself; the European market is still chilly at the highest level, with big-ticket Enzo-era Ferraris struggling at all auctioneers. Anecdotal evidence points to a generational shift going on, while others are wondering which way the political discourse is going to play out over the rest of the year – one filled with general elections in a time of turbulence.

However, mistakes have been made. For instance, some cars that deserved much more in the way of pre-sale promotion were announced with only scant details. The Drogo-bodied Ferrari 250 GT from the Monaco sale (pictured above) was a good case in point – it was announced in March for a mid-May sale, initially leaving journalists to scrabble for details off the internet, when really it was a car that could, and should, have taken a more prominent role in the media run-up. Then there’s the Aston Martin problem – a huge collection from the Middle East has been put through Bonhams over the past two years, deflating values through over-supply. Recent sales have seen DB4/5/6 era cars start to rebound, however.

The good news is that Bonhams has started to react, with a raft of new sales, initiatives and on-trend lots. Let’s take a look at what the next few months have in store…

New audiences

The first bit of good news is that Bonhams is embracing both online auctions and emerging consumer tastes. At the time of writing, the first of two pre-merger AMG sales was taking place. The market has been warming up to AMGs over the past four years, and with the efforts of content creators such as Big Boy Benzes and The Patina Collection, the appreciation has grown still further. However, there are AMGs and proper AMGs, and Bonhams has done well to snare the collection of Barry Taylor, which features the kind of ultra-rare oddballs that appeal to a younger demographic. The 1979 500 TE seen above is a case in point; it’s one of only a handful made with the 5.2-litre AMG Hammer engine, the M117; this rarity, paired with a generational shift to German marques, means plenty of interest pre-sale. The question is, however, how much of that social media hype translates into bids?

Further bolstering its appeal to the next generation of enthusiasts, Bonhams has also teamed up with the F1 Paddock Club for its official sales; with interest in Formula 1 booming in the US thanks to Netflix’s Drive To Survive, this should augur well.

Bonmont sale

Bonhams has also got a quick flow of automotive sales over the next few weeks. Bonmont in Switzerland is just days away on June 30, led by big-ticket hypercars from Lamborghini, Ferrari and McLaren, including one of 20 Lamborghini Centenario Roadsters (pictured above). It’s estimated at between £2.2m and £2.7m.

This will be an interesting sale – the crypto market that feeds this sector of the market has largely been positive over the past year (at the time of writing, Bitcoin was up 102 percent over the past 12 months), but there have been some fairly dramatic dips of late, and the recent halving – whereby the number of bitcoins that can be mined is halved – hasn’t resulted in the jump in value such new-found scarcity has previously shown. However, the general trend is still positive.

It isn’t all hypercars, though – take this ex-Bernie Ecclestone 1939 Lancia Astura Series IV Convertible. Originally delivered to Italy, its first owner was reputed to be Benito Mussolini. Rescued from off-the-road condition by Giancarlo Cappa of KCS Restorations, it was displayed at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and the Monza round for the Formula 1 world championship. Ecclestone saw the car and brought it to the UK in 2019, whereupon it was extensively restored by Jonathan Wood Vintage & Thoroughbred Restorations Ltd. It’s estimated at between £250k and £360k.

Goodwood Festival of Speed

Bonhams’ next sale is the Goodwood Festival of Speed auction, held on July 12. It’s led by the above 1928 Mercedes-Benz 36/220 S-Type Four-Seated Sports Tourer, which comes from the Tom Scott collection. A stalwart of several leading UK collections, it was an original UK car and has been in the same ownership since 1991. It’s believed to be the only surviving example of this particular bodystyle, and is estimated at between £1.6m and £2.5m.

Other Mercedes-Benz highlights from the Tom Scott collection include: a 1955 300 SL Gullwing (est: £950k-£1.1m); a 1962 300 SL Roadster (est: £1m-£1.2m); a 1955 300Sc Cabriolet A (est: £350k-£450k); and a 1971 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet (est: £180k-£260k).

However, of great interest will be another 2008 SLR McLaren Crown Edition – previous Bonhams sales of such cars have gone way past estimate, and we’d not bet against it happening again. One of ten built, this is the ninth and has just 60km on the clock, and is estimated at between £200k and £300k.

The other brand leading the way in the demographic change is Porsche, and although the new and nearly new market isn’t quite delivering the results in the way flippers have previously come to expect, the classic market still draws great enthusiasm, particularly in the UK. The above 1995 993 GT(2) leads the way in estimates; one of 17 street versions originally delivered to Japan, it was imported to the UK in 2020 and is freshly serviced. It carries an estimate of between £1.1m and £1.5m.

Other Porsche highlights include: a 930 3.3-litre Turbo Martini special edition (only ten built), which starred at the 1978 Earls Court Motor Show (est: £200k-£250k); another 930 3.3-litre Turbo Martini special edition – but the only black one (est: £240k-£280k); and a 1973 Carrera RS 2.7 Touring is now in Lightweight specification (est: £300k-£400k).

Quail, A Motorsports Gathering sale

The next destination is Bonhams’ Quail, A Motorsports Gathering auction, which is still accepting consignments. The auction takes place on August 16, and among the early announced lots is this 1964 Ferrari 250 GT/L, chassis 4497 GT. Formerly owned by Chic Vandagriff of Hollywood Sport Cars, no estimate – or much else – is available at this time.

For more information on Bonhams’ auctions, head here.

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