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The state of the market after Rétromobile auctions 2024

WORDS: JOHN MAYHEAD | PHOTOS: RÉTROMOBILE

Rétromobile 2024 is over. The European season-opening show and the three major auctions that orbit around the event have finished, and the results are in. Things, it seems, are changing.

The show itself was spectacular. Romain Grabowski has been director of Rétromobile for less than 18 months, but his fresh approach has already made an impact, with a wonderful 100th anniversary celebration of MG that included bringing two record cars – Stirling Moss/Phil Hill EX181, and Goldie Gardner’s EX135 (very close to my own heart) – out of the British Motor Museum and across the channel for the first time in many decades. The trade stands were just as impressive, with Girardo & Co. and Kidston SA both displaying a Ferrari 250GTO – Kidston’s the ex-Roy Salvadori/Graham Hill/Jack Sears 3729GT, and Girardo’s the 1963 4675GT once owned by British DJ Chris Evans, the latter (and the nine other classic Ferraris surrounding it) attracting the attention of the Scuderia’s Charles Leclerc. 

With the two GTOs, and a third on offer by Tom Hartley Junior, another top British dealer, the start of 2024 seemed to promise a great deal. The auction catalogues followed the same theme, with a healthy selection of €1million-plus lots including a host of more modern hypercars.

However, the auctions struggled to live up to the glitz of the main event. RM Sotheby’s was first, and despite the large number of no-reserve lots, bidding was slow. Even its headline lot, the ex-Chinetti/Grossman 1960 Ferrari 250 SWB Competizione, took so long to sell that auctioneer Sholto Gilbertson felt obliged to apologise to the room. Towards the end he broke down to a two-way battle rising in increments of €25,000, until the hammer finally fell at €9,025,000 (€10,158,125 including costs).

As it turned out, that was the top sale of the three auctions, with Artcurial’s star, a 1958 long-wheelbase, covered-headlamp Ferrari 250 California Spyder, failing to reach its low estimate of €8.5million. Meanwhile, Bonhams’ top lot, a 2004 Ferrari Enzo, managed €3.91 million – a shade under the Hagerty Price Guide’s ‘excellent’ value.

The same story was repeated across the board: cheaper cars sold very well, but the more expensive ones generally struggled. There were some big misses, with nine of the 15 cars valued at over €1million (low estimate or bid) failing to sell. This included some modern hypercars of the type that have sold well in recent months: a 2018 Lamborghini Centenario, a 2017 Bugatti Chiron, a LaFerrari and an Enzo. Some expensive Porsches – seemingly immune to the fluctuations of the market in recent years – also had difficulty in reaching reserve, with a 2014 918 Weissach Spyder, a 1991 962C and a 1996 (993) GT2 all failing to sell. The delta between the average price of the cars that did sell, and the average high bid of the cars that didn’t reach reserve, was massive.

Compare this to the sub-€500,000 lots across all auctions – a total of 89 percent of all cars offered – which had an 86 percent sell-through rate. This is an exact reversal of the state of the market last summer. Then, it seemed that those purchasing at the top of the market were still doing so freely, and that the mid-market was starting to stagnate, affected by interest-rate rises. Now, with rates either static or even slightly falling, combined with the realisation that it’s suddenly a buyers’ market, it seems that things are coming alive.