Artcurial Paris Retromobile 2014 – Auction Report

Artcurial, Briest-Poulain-F. Tajan, Retromobile, Paris, February 7-8, 2014

The signature auction at Retromobile, February’s big car collecting show in Paris, has been traded around. From Christie’s to Bonhams to this year’s Artcurial, it arrived at its 2014 expression as a two-day auction of some 175 automobiles with diverse marques on Friday and a ‘Solo Alfa’ auction (of post-war cars) on Saturday.

Now, I have a self-admitted proclivity for the cars of Portello (and Arese). The ‘Solo Alfa’ sale contained examples never seen, nor probably heard about, in the States including diesels, turbos and the despicable Ondine, an Alfa-built Renault Dauphine. But there were GTAs, GTAms, Giulia and Giulietta Ti’s (apologies to my English teachers for that misplaced apostrophe but ‘Tis’ isn’t clear) that encompassed much of Alfa’s postwar history. Hard to resist? You bet!

Retromobile is worth visiting by itself, presenting displays from manufacturers highlighting their history right through the spectrum of exhibitors to fringe (by American standards) marque clubs representing obscure French fascinations like BNC [but think back to the V8-60 powered BNC presented at RM Amelia, not so fringe on that basis.] Vendors sell carburetors, chrome trim, mirrors, models, prohibitively expensive timepieces and everything in between. The book dealers alone could harm even a grandiose IRA.

Ellen, my wife, got a pair of open finger mittens with fur trim. Why were they at Retromobile? I have no idea, but we live in an old New England house and it gets cold in winter so they’ll be put to good use.

Collector car dealers displayed phalanxes of mega-Euro cars … more than we’d see on all the auction blocks of Monterey combined.

But, to the Artcurial Briest-Poulain-F.Tajan auction.

First, cramming 175 cars into a far corner of the vast, but still limited, Hall 1 of the Porte des Versailles exhibition space meant sucking in your tummy and minding your bum while wending through the spaces between cars. The close quarters also explain the many oddly-shot high angle photos in the auction report.

There were a number of American consignors, including the Ferrari 166 MM/53 with Oblin Barchetta coachwork that was, by a handy half million dollars plus, the auction’s highest sale.

Even accepting the site’s restrictions, however, the auction’s presentation was not friendly to anyone not conversant, or better yet, fluent, in French.

That’s not referring to being conducted in Euros – although the currency conversion display had a materially inflated conversion of the Euro bids into dollars.

It’s about the presentation.

The maitré, M. Hervé Poulain, was flanked by nine functionaries on the block, two of them with microphones. Another spotter, also with a microphone, roamed the bidders. All of them would chime in, frequently simultaneously in a cacophony of French — descriptions, calling bids independently, commenting and carrying on conversations — that was incomprehensible. ‘Calling bids’ means exactly that, announcing independently of the maitré the amount of the bid, sometimes even announcing successive bids from different bidders without being acknowledged by the auctioneer. It was like Dean Kruse and Phil Skinner talking simultaneously on the old Kruse Auburn auction block with Marty Hill and Brent Earlywine holding mics on the block and in the audience and calling bids. There was no idea where the bids were, who was in charge or what was going on.

The French-speaking bidders may have been able to sort it out; the rest were left cross-eyed and distracted. One of the mic-bearers would occasionally announce a bid in English, but that was the exception, not the rule.

Don’t get me wrong. This was a successful auction. It sold 152 lots of 175 offered (86.9%) for $39,146,936, 26.3% of them for over the high estimate (38.3% under the low estimate), racking up 99.2% of the estimates on the cars sold. The mean sale was $257,546, with a median of $71,520 (27.8% of the mean) which means a few cars were sold for Big Money but most were accessible, particularly the ‘Solo Alfa’ collection on Saturday.

But it was the most confusing, diffused, erratic auction I’ve attended at least since my last Artcurial Paris sale in 2003. Then they didn’t even have a currency conversion display and announced the bids in French.

Compared with Gooding’s Charlie Ross (the benchmark for clear, concise, defined auctioneering) or RM’s Max Girardo [who moves seamlessly from English to French to Italian and back to English depending upon his bidders] Artcurial’s multiple French language bid-calling cacophony is disorienting and does nothing to involve non-French speaking bidders who, is should be recalled, have much of the buying power in today’s collector car market.

Hervé Poulain and his Artcurial cohorts might take notice.

[Note: My calculations couldn’t accommodate Artcurial’s buyer’s fee structure. Hammer bids on cars over €1.4 million are inaccurate due to Artcurial’s buyer’s fee structure: 16% of the hammer bid up to €600,000, 12% of the next €800,000 and 10% of the bid over €1,400,000, by far the most expensive venue to buy a collector car in the world. Buying a car at Artcurial’s Retromobile auction is an experience (mixed though it might be), but bidders will have to decide for themselves if it is worth the 16% buyer’s commission on even expensive (€600,000 equaled $816,840 hammer on the day of the sale) cars?]

[Note 2: The pandemonium of multiple French-speaking auction staffers is exacerbated by the hazards of translation. A good example stood outside the Retromobile hall, this truck.

Its owner no doubt though the chosen name expressed a positive image of a dedicated hauler barreling down highways through to dark to get precious cargo delivered in the nick of time. An American, reading the name, could be forgiven for declining to entrust cargo to a ‘Fly by Nite’ company.]

Artcurial Paris Retromobile 2014 – Auction Report

1927 Minerva AF 32CV Sport Roadster, Body by d'Ieteren Freres
Lot # 316 1927 Minerva AF 32CV Sport Roadster, Body by d’Ieteren Freres; S/N 55979; Engine # 56047; Black, Burgundy accent/Brown leather; Black cloth top; Estimate $476,490 – $612,630; Unrestored original, 3- condition; Hammered Sold at $469,991 plus commission of 16.00%; Final Price $545,190 – RHD. Black wire wheels, blackwall tires, dual sidemounts with mirrors, rumble seat, Cicca Tenor horn, headlight and radiator stoneguard, Star spotlight. – Cracked old repaint, cracked and tom original upholstery. Decent brightwork. Sides used to be red. Orderly but aged largely original Minerva said to run and drive superbly. – A star car by any standard, sympathetically preserved and handsomely bodied on the short wheelbase chassis. Offered by Gooding in Pebble Beach in 2011 with a reported high bid of $450,000. Expensive, but a super-elegant and deliciously original example of a rare, high quality marque, this is what it deserves to bring.
1964 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2, Body by Pininfarina
Lot # 319 1964 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2, Body by Pininfarina; S/N 5831; Engine # 5831; Red/Black leather; Estimate $129,333 – $170,175; Visually maintained, largely original, 3- condition; Hammered Sold at $127,186 plus commission of 16.00%; Final Price $147,536 – Chrome spoke Borrani wire wheels, Michelin X tires. – Sound but erratically masked repaint over several layers of old paint visible in the touched up chip on the passenger’s door. Scuffed trim and bumper chrome, creased and worn old interior upholstery and trim. Old undercoat in wheelwells. Only just barely good enough to be an acceptable driver. – A tired and generally unattractive Ferrari, bought for a generous price for its condition.
1953 Ferrari 166 MM/53 Barchetta, Body by Oblin
Lot # 321 1953 Ferrari 166 MM/53 Barchetta, Body by Oblin; S/N 0300M; Engine # 0300; Matte Charcoal, Dark Red stripe/Black leather, White piping; Estimate $3,948,060 – $4,764,900; Competition restoration, 2+ condition; Post-block sale at $3,161,473 plus commission of 13.03%; Final Price $3,573,524 – RHD. Chrome spoke outside laced Borrani wire wheels, period style Michelin tires, full width windscreen, two seats, driver’s head fairing, Marchal headlights and grille mounted fog lights, outside fuel filler. Internal engine number 296. – Originally coupe bodied by Vignale, raced by first owner Jacques Herzet through 1953 including winning the Liege-Rome-Liege rally teamed with Lucien Bianchi. Rebodied for Herzet by Martial Oblin for 1954 with the present barchetta coachwork, displayed at Geneva show in 1955. Later owned for many years by Dr. Lou Selz in Florida including twice in the MM Storica. Meticulously and thoroughly freshly restored restored and better than new. Comes with copies of the original Ferrari build sheets, tools in the original wood box, full tool roll. Original chassis, engine, gearbox, rear axle. Beautiful and unique, with a solid racing history. – Came up short on the auction block but concluded during the auction with this result, a modest price for its history, performance, provenance, condition and the welcome entry it will be in any event.
1973 Citroen SM Coupe
Lot # 327 1973 Citroen SM Coupe; S/N SBSD00SD1562; Engine # 105651; Silver/Grey cloth; Estimate $54,456 – $108,912; Recent restoration, 2- condition; Hammered Sold at $29,147 plus commission of 16.00%; Final Price $33,810. No Reserve – Automatic, Citroen AM-FM. – Very good clearcoat paint, luxurious cloth upholstery, bright chrome, clean, orderly underbody. Evidences some use, but hardly more than enough to break it in. Everything an SM should be. – Everything, that is, except valued highly by the Retromobile bidders. Maybe it was the automatic, the very feature that makes it rare and unusual. It boiled down to a very good value for the new owner.
1969 Maserati Ghibli 4.9 Spider, Body by Bertone
Lot # 328 1969 Maserati Ghibli 4.9 Spider, Body by Bertone; S/N AM115S1005; Engine # AM115S1005; Yellow/Black leather; Black cloth top; Estimate $789,612 – $871,296; Recent restoration, 2- condition; Hammered Sold at $857,682 plus commission of 15.81%; Final Price $993,278 – Chrome spoke wire wheels, Michelin X blackwall tires, AM-FM-cassette stereo. – Good paint, chrome and interior. Underbody has been done right. Wheels and brakes are dirty. Wavy door bottoms. Restored to good standards, then driven. – An early 4.9 liter Ghibli presented in arresting colors and done to high standards. Even with the road grime the restoration’s care and attention to detail are evident. As an alternative to a Daytona Spider it represents great value, even at this price.
1956 Maserati 150S Sports Racer, Body by Fantuzzi
Lot # 329 1956 Maserati 150S Sports Racer, Body by Fantuzzi; S/N 1664; Engine # 1664; Red, Black nose band/Black leather; Estimate $1,905,960 – $2,450,520; Competition restoration, 2+ condition; Not sold at Hammer bid of $1,497,540 – RHD. Chrome spoke outside laced Borrani wire wheels, Dunlop Racing tires, full width windscreen, passenger’s seat hard tonneau cover. – Raced by first owner Louis Cornet including the 1956 Mille Miglia (accident) and Le Mans (engine). Eventually restored for Lord Brocket in the UK. Restored like new with better paint. Underbody shows a little use but also very good care. – As some remember a ‘Lord Brocket’ provenance is not exactly a positive attribute. Under the circumstances the reported high bid could (but not should) have been enough to see this delectible Maserati off to a new home to build a more positive provenance.
1961 Jaguar XKE SI flat floor Roadster
Lot # 332 1961 Jaguar XKE SI flat floor Roadster; S/N 875232; Engine # R1357-9; Opalescent Gunmetal/Black leather; Black cloth top; Estimate $190,596 – $245,052; Recent restoration, 2- condition; Hammered Sold at $183,789 plus commission of 16.00%; Final Price $213,195 – Flat floor, outside bound latch, welded louvers, 5-speed. Chrome wire wheels, Avon blackwall radial tires, modern Becker Mexico stereo. – Clearcoat repaint with some small flaws like small pimples on right door; applied over an extensively filled body. Good upholstery and interior trim. Engine and underbody show some road use and age. Equipped with the 5-speed gearbox designed by its long term owner in the U.S., Jack Bryan. – It’s a little hard to figure out how this early flat floor, welded louver, outside bonnet latch Jag settles down with the 5-speed and 4-piston aluminum caliper front brakes. The Retromobile bidders seem to have reached a compromise with the seller. Now the new owner will have to decide whether to enjoy it as it is or take it back to its original configuration and go win some prizes. Either way it is a sound value at this price in the current hot market for XKEs.
1963 Lagonda Rapide 4-Dr. Sedan, Body by Touring
Lot # 334 1963 Lagonda Rapide 4-Dr. Sedan, Body by Touring; S/N LR128L; Engine # 400/128; Dark Green/Biscuit leather; Estimate $190,596 – $299,508; Cosmetic restoration, 3+ condition; Hammered Sold at $220,547 plus commission of 16.00%; Final Price $255,834 – Lefthand drive, 4-speed, Motorola multiband radio, centerlock wheels with decorative wheel covers, A/C – Good older paint and chrome. Very good lightly creased upholstery. Underbody thoroughly covered in old, dirty underseal. A good cosmetic restoration of a sound and rare sedan. Known history from new – Extremely rare and highly desirable, one of only four survivors originally delivered in lefthand drive with 4-speed manual transmission. Sound and eminently usable as it, it brought a price that reflects its rarity, performance and luxury.

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Show Comments (9)

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  1. Dear Mr. Carey,

    Waouh! What an amazing article on a €30,000,000 sale, the best sale of classic cars ever in France!
    I’m really not sure you were present at our sale. I would like you to remember that all the presentation of each cars were done in English and French. My role in the sale was to present the cars and to repeat the bids in English. As soon there were an english speaker bidding on a car, I came to him repeating the bids slowly for him and announcing the next step.
    For a French speaker auction house, we sold 65% of the cars to English speakers collectors. They understood the sale I think!!!
    Concerning the buyers premium…Bonhams was at 15%+VAT without degressivity!!! I think it is more expensive than Artcurial Mr. Carey!
    Another thing…who are you Lord Carey to speak about “functionaries” who work on the block? Do you think they are only “functionaries” in France? Do you think we can reach such results being “functionaries”? My full team is in the action to reach the best results for all the cars consigned by our vendors. Such a sale is a huge job, a hard work which is synonymous of hundreds of travels in US and all Europe, trying to find the best cars for our customers at the same time you were sit in your confortable armchair next to the hot fire place drinking a cup of tea. When you was in holidays with your grand-children enjoying Christmas, eating and drinking, my full team of “functionaries” was working on the big Retromobile catalogue, forgetting Christmas and working hard to make our sale as a big event.
    Retromobile is a €1M. cost, before have sold any car. Did you risk any of your money Mr. Carey to organize such an event? No, you spend time to write articles to criticize the hard work of auction houses, sorry French auction houses! I have not read from you such an article about an English auction house…
    On another hand, you’re not chocked by Bonhams who organize their auction in France- Grand Palais with a €17M sale – using only the Shakespeare language? Did you think about the image of the Bonhams sale in France?!!!…

    Last thing, Hervé Poulain is auctioneer, starting its first auction of classic cars in 1973, and by the way, he ran 11 times the 24 Hours of Le Mans, creating the Art Cars for BMW. I think you have to speak about him with more respect. You have to speak about my team with more respect. Such a sale is a crazy challenge and this challenge, this year again, we won it, far ahead from RM and Bonhams results. When I work hard and I get good results, I want to read it. When I don’t work hard and I make big mistakes, I want to read it too. But this Retromobile sale was a huge success, the best sale ever in France and I would have expected, Mr. Carey, to read it.

    Matthieu Lamoure
    Managing Director
    Artcurial Motorcars

    1. Matthieu,
      Thanks for your comments. It’s rewarding to know the auction reports are being read.
      It was not, and is not, my intention to bash Artcurial or its staff, only to comment on things that were important at the auction, primarily in this case the confusing, distracting cacophony of two, three or four separate people talking simultaneously over the sound system. I was not alone in this opinion.
      Your comment about being ‘present at our sale’ is gratuitous and not worth my comment. Accepting your statement that ‘we sold 65% of the cars to English speakers collectors’ at face value I think most of them must have been somewhat familiar with Artcurial’s multi-bid-calling technique which left me, and many others, disoriented and unsure who was bidding, where or what.
      As to the commission, let me point out facts which I didn’t elaborate in the auction report but, since you brought it up:
      The median transaction at Artcurial was €59,000 including 16% commission (but not VAT.) The median transaction at Bonhams was €51,800 including 15% commission (excluding VAT.) That looks to me like a 1% saving in commission on the vast majority of transactions, all the way to a hammer bid of €600,000 and beyond, not to mention the 20% added hit of VAT on Artcurial’s higher commission. The hammer bid at Artcurial had to get to nearly €800,000 before the combined commission (not including VAT) resulted in an effective commission rate of under 15% excluding VAT.
      Your comments on how I spent my Christmas season are gratuitous and not called for. You were not present with me during the Christmas holidays, but were you to ask my wife you’d find that I was most definitely working.
      The cost of putting on your Rétromobile auction is likewise irrelevant but you should know that I paid my own way to Paris, and did so largely on the strength of the opportunity to experience Artcurial’s Rétromobile auction and its ‘Solo Alfa’ component. I risked my money – perhaps an inconsequential sum to you but significant to me – to come to Paris for a week.
      Other than you and the announcer who sometimes introduced a car (in French) I failed to see what contribution the phalanx of individuals flanking the auctioneer made, to me the definition of ‘functionaries’, i.e., persons shuffling paper without contributing to the economic output. You may wish to honor their contribution to the ‘big Retromobile catalogue’ by their presence on the block, but their contribution to the conduct of the auction was at best performance art.
      Next, I am fully aware of Hervé Poulain’s history and respectful of his accomplishments. I did not speak of him with disrespect, but remind you that it is not his 11 times at LeMans or creating BMW Art Cars at issue here but rather the disorienting, out-of-focus presentation with multiple people calling bids from all over the room. As the auctioneer I expect him to be in charge of the auction, but he was not. The responsibility was diffused among a variable cast of up to four people independently calling bids, in a pandemonium of conflicting aural inputs, made no less disorienting by occasionally adding an English component to the dissonance.
      Finally, it is apparent that you have not read many of my auction reports or you would know that I have criticized in no uncertain terms the conduct of a number of U.S. auctions.
      In closing I acknowledge the reasons for your pique. It was a successful auction. There were exceptional cars on offer. They moved smoothly across the block in a ridiculously confined space. But was it, as you state, ‘the best sale of classic cars ever in France’? No, it was not. It was the highest total sale in France [unless the Principality of Monaco in encompassed in the term ‘France’ in which case it was second-best] but with all due respect it was not ‘the best’ in its presentation.
      I hope that you will consider my observations as coming from one who has attended hundreds of collector car auctions over the last two decades. In that time I’ve experienced many auction styles both good and bad, effective and confused, straightforward and devious.
      I sincerely hope my observations on the Artcurial Rétromobile auction’s presentation will encourage you to consult other American contacts for their views. There is, after all, a sizable American car collecting community with substantial liquidity. Making the Artcurial Rétromobile auction friendly to their comprehension and participation will only make it more successful. It is my hope that will take place.

      Sincerely,
      Rick Carey

      1. Dear Rick,

        Thank you very much for your reply. I appreciate your comments here and I understand perfectly that 3 persons taking the bids in the same time is difficult to understand for foreign clients.
        What I didn’t like in your article was the ‘arrogant’ tone of writing and I reacted immediatly. Effectively, we have defaults but we are far from ‘functionaries’!!!
        We try to find solutions to improve our maner to auction to be more understandable by foreign clients. To be honest, you’re not the first to tell us that! The French auctions (in all Art specialities) are done in the same way. Effectively, it’s different than in US or England but it is as efficient to sell, sometimes even more!
        Thank you. And I will be happy to meet you in a future auction.

        With my best regards,

        Matthieu Lamoure
        Artcurial Motorcars

  2. I learn volumes from reading these remarks. It keeps this site from being a fanzine. Marvelous. Keep up the hard work, even if the snaps aren’t brilliantly clear at times–understandable, given the conditions.

  3. Thank you for the insights, and merci to Artcurial for the very honest and open response. I am a serious collector, and for me both sides of the story are very valuable.
    Henk de Vries, Amsterdam

  4. Such sensitivity from the people who trashed Muraroa Atoll and blew up a Greenpeace ship in Auckland Harbour, killing one of the crew. One can imagine his distress on finding a butted Gitane in his morning croissant!

  5. To be honest, I am not all that interested in auction reports. I read the ever increasing record results and shake my head in silent disbelief. Under normal circumstances I would have never made it down to the comments section had it not been for the editor’s remark in the latest newsletter. So it was with great interest that I started reading these lines top down and I must say It’s been an eye opener to me. It shows that, in the end, honest words written in respect can resolve what seemed an insurmountable dissent. These additional comments have turned an auction report into a true 3-dimensional experience for me, thank you very much to both, Rick and Matthieu!

  6. Great report and highly appreciated comments on both sides. I am grateful that we have such a strong voices in the Car Collector World, experts who does not hesitate to speak their mind on the importance of the car auctions community .