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Fast-moving assets to hit road: Classic Car Digital Live Bidding platform to appeal to international buyers at November sale in Hong Kong

Live platform will enable bidders to preregister, make a pre-event bid on any car and the system will do the rest for those who may not have a chance to come to Hong Kong on that day

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 12:18am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 12:17am

Classic car sales are down in California, but they are still buoyant in London, and Hong Kong could become Asia’s auction hub in November.

International auction reports suggest the classic car market has lost the froth of its peak, two years ago, when low interest rates revved investors’ interest in Ferraris and Porsches. After four days at August’s sector-defining Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, in California, auction houses told Bloomberg they had sold US$344.9 million worth of collectable vehicles, compared with about HK$400 million in 2014.

Investors and collectors are being more cautious, “since the fourth quarter of 2015”, explains Dietrich Hatlapa, founder of London-based specialist analysts Historic Automobile Group International. “Our clients are focusing on the highest quality assets and take their time to research the individual cars. Provenance and documentation can be as important as the cars themselves.”

Classic car supply has increased significantly over the past five years, as more dealers, auctions and restorations join the market, he adds. “Some prices have come down. There has also been a focus on performance cars or cars of the 1980s and 1990s.”

RM Sotheby’s raised ££21.65 million (HK$222.71 million) with 76 per cent of lots sold to bidders from 33 countries at its 10th anniversary London sale, at Battersea Evolution, on September 7. Such figures suggest there is still life left in the values of old Aston Martins, with a 1960 DB4GT making a record £2.408 million.

Prime condition Porsches look strong, too, with a record ££1.848 million for a 1995 911 GT2. The sale set a new mark, at £974,400, for a 964 series, 1993-vintage 911 Turbo S Lightweight. A 1993 Porsche 911 Carrera RS sold for££716,800, which the auctioneer describes as “a new auction benchmark for the model – close to half a million pounds more than the previous record”.

RM Sotheby’s 10th anniversary sale at Hershey, Pennsylvania, on October 6-7, and a late-autumn private-collection auction in Italy could highlight investor sentiment.

We sell cars to people who really want to own them. If they go up in value, which many do, we like to describe this as a bonus for the owners
Giles Crickmay, managing director, Frank Dale & Stepsons 

Meanwhile, Hong Kong specialist auctioneers RL Neo Classics is organising its second sale of a still-unknown range of cars, at Cyberport Arcade, from November 12-13. Its first show at The Repulse Bay in June was well-attended, but its bidding was dampened by rain, with seven sales of 26 lots, and three post-event transactions.

RL Neo Classics chairman Richard Lee sees opportunities for investors. “We have seen some slowing down [in buying], but the classic car market is still going strong,” says the former chairman and CEO of Ferrari and Maserati in China. “The RM Sotheby auction in London shows the value is still on an upward trend.”

RL Neo Classics has retuned its auction. Having secured venue sponsorship from Cyberport management, it plans to set up Hong Kong’s first Classic Car Digital Live Bidding platform, Lee says. “We will be expanding the scope to international buyers who may not have a chance to come to Hong Kong, that day, but can participate in bidding.”

The sale includes classics over 20 years old; “sought-after models”; and a few “no reserve” cars, which means everybody has a chance”, the auctioneer says. There are “some special non-registered cars targeting foreign buyers”, Lee says. “We are going for a lower upper price range, around HK$2 million, making the collection relatively accessible to new collectors.”

The auction house says it is making registration and bidding easier, “especially [for] those who can’t participate on-site”. The in-house Live Auction Bidding system enables a bidder to preregister, make a pre-event bid on any car “and the system will do the rest”, Lee says.

The auctioneer says many Asian bidders prefer to remain anonymous, and this now enables them to “use mobile devices to register and bid on-site without raising the physical paddle”.

Restorer Giles Crickmay agrees. “We sell cars to people who really want to own them,” says the London-based managing director of To Kwa Wan-based Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialists Frank Dale & Stepsons. “If they go up in value, which many do, we like to describe this as a bonus for the owners.” He reminds collectors that they can also “get a better product, prepared properly and backed” by specialist restorers.