RM Auctions at Sotheby’s ‘The Art of the Automobile’, New York, November 21, 2013
Report and photos by Rick Carey, Auction Editor
This auction report is going to be effusive. Be forewarned.
New York City has been a quicksand swamp for collector car auctions.
Consider the obstacles:
- Traffic in New York City is dominated by various forms of Yellow Taxis driven by ambitious immigrants. It is not a car-friendly environment and the native New Yorker, if he or she owns a car at all, retrieves it from its $500/month subterranean parking slot on holiday weekends for a semi-annual refresher course in driving. New York City commuters take the train.
- New Yorkers have an attention span measured in seconds. Only the biggest, baddest, flashiest occurrences manage even a sliver of their awareness, which is constantly divided among several competing simultaneous activities.
- Life moves faster in New York City than anywhere else in the world. Just walk a few blocks and observe how the New Yorkers walk faster.
- Logistically, New York City has become a nightmare for the kind of bulky transporters that carry high value automobiles. Permitted into The City only on special permits with limited hours in the middle of the night, Manhattan is harder to penetrate than CIA Langley.
A little history is in order.
The evolution of the collector car auction market began in New York City with the Parke-Bernet auction house (long ago absorbed into Sotheby’s) which had several collector car sales in The City in the 1960’s. They petered out in subsequent years in favor of auctions in more car-friendly and accessible venues, and as The City itself descended into decades of decline.
In the late 90’s Dennis Nicotra tried to bring back the glory that was New York’s with the New York Auto Salon & Auction, eventually passing that venue on to RM in 2000 through its final NYC sale in 2002. Christie’s vied for attention in 2002 and 2003 with a sale at Rockefeller Center. One later attempt, by Bradford Rand and David Workman in conjunction with Kruse, on Pier 94 in 2005 was, to put it mildly, an unmitigated disaster.
And there it ended, until Rob Myers audaciously determined to try again in 2013.
To say it was, merely, a success is too mild. It was brilliant, and succeeded in overcoming with style and flair (or at least coping with) its many obstacles.
The cars were displayed in Sotheby’s 10th Floor exhibition gallery, set up on raised white platforms in somewhat thematic cells separated by walls adorned with appropriate images ranging from an Alpine pass behind the 300SLs, E-type and 250 GT Cab II, to a giant reproduction of the Figoni & Falaschi concept drawing behind the Talbot-Lago Cabriolet.
The Delahaye Teardrop and Minerva got gorgeous Art Deco wallpaper backdrops while the 250 LM sat in singular isolation opposite a wall full of photographs from its history. (See RM New York Photo Gallery).
A total of 41 lots were offered: 33 automobiles, 1 child’s car, 1 ‘Park Drag’ coach by Brewster and six lots of automobilia. Sotheby’s displayed watches and jewelry for private treaty sale in one of the exhibit cells.
RM’s Erica Reaume designed the exhibition which continues the imaginative presentations begun early in 2013 at Arizona where RM made a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of an unwanted change of location at the Arizona Biltmore’s conference center.
It was nearly breathtaking, and suitably impressed even the jaded specialists at Sotheby’s.
And it had to be broken down to bare walls with all the cars removed to off-site storage by sunup on Friday, a process that began immediately after the exhibition closed at 2PM Thursday. Credit Reliable Carriers for an indispensable piece of that momentous logistical accomplishment.
RM captured New York’s attention which steadily grew as word of the quality of the cars and the exhibit spread. Banker-types wearing expensive overcoats and carrying discrete briefcases were commonplace, often getting their pictures taken in front of some of the more photogenic cars. RM’s Press office (Meghan McGrail) got feature coverage in Ralph Gardner, Jr.’s column in Monday’s Wall Street Journal’s ‘Greater New York’ section.
Max Girardo conducted the sale with introductions by Alain Squindo from the podium in Sotheby’s main 7th floor auction space. Entry was restricted to bidders and their guests but it was still crowded to standing room only. The cars, already cashing their return trip tickets in Sotheby’s freight elevator, were represented by framed Michael Furman photos on the same turntable where Old Masters and fine jewelry usually reside.
Despite generous estimates (or maybe because of them; this is, after all, New York where a decent dinner for one can easily end up in three figures) RM sold 32 of the 35 lots with wheels. 16 lots sold on hammer bids of $1 million or more, contributing to the $62,579,000 sale total and record-setting mean transaction of $1,955,594 (exceeding even the famed Christie’s Royal Albert Hall auction of 1987 with its signature $9,764,585 sale of the Bugatti Royale) and median of $1,265,000.
It must have been dauntingly expensive to produce, but the result in both presentation and transaction values more than rewarded Rob Myers’ investment and the Herculean efforts of RM’s staff.
The collector car world can only wait with anticipation the next New York City appearance for RM Auctions and Sotheby’s; RM’s staff may await that event with trepidation, but also satisfaction for a job done far better than merely well.