Few takers for classic cars at HK auction

Rain dampens Neo Classics vintage car sale with most cars not even fetching the minimum price

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 June, 2016, 4:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 3:43pm

Local auctioneers RL Neo Classics sold seven of 26 collectibles at its inaugural sale at The Repulse Bay on June 11. More deals were done after the event, which drew scores of rich to lots of largely 1970s and 1980s cars. The venue was perfect, with primary colour classic Ferraris, and silver and white Mercedes-Benzes and Aston Martins parked alongside a delightfully retro 1992 Porsche 964 RS in purple. A maroon 1974 Jensen Interceptor and a matching 1973 Mark III V12 E-Type Jaguar were also presented behind velvet curtains, under the watch of tough-looking security suits.

But it rained and rained; Repulse Bay seemed greyer than Boxing Day in Bridlington. Long dresses and blazers huddled under dripping umbrellas, and the gleam of rain-globuled classics seemed dulled by the damp. And how sad to see a 1957 Austin Healey 100/6 so expertly restored locally to concours condition, but with its open top wrapped against the rain in plastic, like a whiskered tomato at Wellcome.

Some visitors might have wondered whether the weather dampened the event’s bidding. Or was the wine too strong or too weak? The selection included a gavel-friendly Savart L’Ouverture Champagne, a Coonawarra red, and a Marlborough, New Zealand white. And someone noted the planet Mars was in retrograde until June 29. For whatever reason, rather a lot of classics were passed or refused to meet their minimum prices by the close of sale.

The event started well, however. A yellow 1997 F355 Challenge Race Car by Pininfarina fetched HK$1.6 million in competitive bidding, helped along by British auctioneer Gary Loveridge, a classic car expert and author. He has auctioned cars all over the world, and read The Repulse Bay salesroom like a book.

“Can I ask you to be clear, Sir,” the former chairman of Britain’s Guild of Motoring Writers boomed, as a millionaire fiddled with his bidding paddle. “I can tell you are thinking, Sir, the cogs are going round. What’s another look between friends? No pressure.”

Bidders in checked shirts, casual Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren burst into laughter, and the V8 changed hands, but at the low end of the catalogue’s price estimates, “from HK$1.6 million to HK$2 million”. A 1965 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL “Pagoda” went for HK$650,000, but only after Loveridge dropped the bidding to HK$550,000, and then took “small bids” of HK$50,000 to its eventual sale, HK$20,000 above the low estimate.

The “Teutonic jewel” of a 1960 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster was snapped up at the catalogue minimum of HK$900,000, but the sale was subsequently cancelled, and the model “is currently still represented by RL Neo Classics”, an auction publicist said this week. However, a 1994 Chevrolet Corvette converted by Pininfarina exchanged owners at HK$300,000, its published minimum.

Maybe the bidders were distracted. Constant chatter at the back of the saleroom gave the auction a provincial bingo-hall quality. Roaming photographers flashed their cameras at senior people mulling HK$100,000 bids.

Yet there were surprises. Collectors passed on a 2003 Ferrari 575 M F1 that was initially offered for HK$750,000 but needed HK$200,000 more to shift. A stunning 1981 Ferrari 308 GTB was offered for HK$830,000.

“Have a think, what a glorious car,” Loveridge told bidders. But no. Many in the salesroom already had Ferraris, thank you.

There were head-slapping “near misses”, such as of a beautiful 1977 Maserati Khamsin 4.9 by Bertone – one of only 95 right-hand-drives in existence and a potential concourse winner, but it passed at HK$1.7 million, HK$100,000 short of its catalogue-published minimum.

A young investor expressed an interest in a 1993 Honda NSX Type R NA1, one of only 483 made, at HK$900,0000. Bids rose to HK$1 million, but not to the catalogue minimum of HK$1.4 million.

Observers might have wondered whether RL Neo Classics was asking for too much, or if the predominantly Hong Kong audience had just dropped in for a drink. Then came the shock of the night. A 1996 Aston Martin DB7 was snapped up after three-way bidding, for HK$390,000. Jaws dropped. What is it about Astons at the moment?

“Astons are on fire; they are on the way up,” Loveridge said after the sale. “It still has that James Bond connection.”

Other in-demand classics are Rolls-Royces, “Ghosts, Phantoms, and pre-war models”, the auctioneer said, also nodding to the big Bentleys such as the grand Continentals.

Loveridge presented the lots well, but the bidding often seemed to hesitate and jerk on the brake pedal, like a taxi on Cotton Tree Drive. One drawback was that some of the locally registered cars were known in the local classic car community as “such and such’s car”, and “collectors want to be identified with their own”, Loveridge explained.

Local collectors gave further reasons. One expressed his reluctance to buy a classic that would entail Hong Kong’s hefty first-registration costs, and urged the government to stop taxing classic cars. Another said mainland import restrictions on used cars might have dampened demand for classics. However, the sale of 1972 Maserati Indy America 4.7 by Vignale raises Hong Kong’s hopes of becoming an international auction hub. Having snapped up the classic for HK$550,000, or HK$50,000 above minimum, the new owner said he would ship it to Britain. “It is a rare car at a good price,” he said on the night. It looked it.

The auctioneers revealed two more sales: a “[1974 Ferrari] 365 GT4 2+2 that was sold pre-auction at HK$1.18 million” and a 1993 Porsche 968 CS Club Sport that “was sold post-auction to Germany” for an unspecified sum. The left-hand-drive three-litre manual collectible’s catalogued price range was HK$270,000 to HK$400,000”, however. The 1977 Maserati Khamsin 4.9 by Bertone was also “under offer from four foreign buyers”, a sale publicist said this week.

The 1981 Ferrari 308 GTB was available too, the auctioneer said, adding that it was “still representing the seller and open to offers”.

RL Neo Classics talks of a second sale in October, when the weather should be better, and the bidding more focused, perhaps. This sale was a fine event, and reminded Asian collectors that they needn’t source classics in the West any more. RL Neo Classics’ auction infrastructure is in place in Hong Kong; now it needs more overseas bidders.