Keno Brothers, Starlight Clarkson Square, New York City, November 19, 2015
The collector car auction business is tough.
It is populated by people who have been doing it for decades, who have Rolodexes with thousands of entries, personal databases of collectors organized by bankroll, interest and inclination, networks of specialists, dealers, agents and experts to call on a moment’s notice.
From the outside it may seem like a simple formula. Put together an attractive docket, find an affluent location, create some generous promotion. The money is out there. The fruit is generous commissions both ways. Create some flowers and bidders will flock to the pollen like bees.
It’s not that easy.
The latest to try are Leslie and Leigh Keno. Their profile from ‘Antiques Roadshow’ is high and although lesser known for their collector car expertise both the brothers have a long history of collecting cars and historic racing. Their preservationist approach has earned them further recognition, including a long-winded chapter in Dr. Fred Simeone’s ‘The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles’.
Their entre into the collector car auction world was ‘Rolling Sculpture’, a one-day auction of 40 lots in New York City’s Starlight Clarkson Square commercial exhibition space in SoHo. The consignment spanned much of car collecting’s spectrum from classic barn finds (Stutz DV32 and BMW 327) through early Ferraris (212 Inter PF Coupe) to a whole wall of late model supercars heavy on Lamborghinis.
Five-figure cars were few and far between, but this is ‘The City’, just blocks from Wall Street, and the cost of the high style presentation, lavish accoutrements and generous open bar wasn’t going to be defrayed with Toyota Land Cruisers and ’69 Camaros. In fact there were only two American built cars in the auction, the Stutz and a shopworn Duesenberg.
The presentation was notably refined, with forty cars placed throughout the exhibition space with plenty of room between them for appropriate consideration of their style and design. The Wednesday preview featured a seminar hosted by the Kenos, ‘At the Crossroads of Art, Engineering and Technology’ but while some of the presenters dealt with art, engineering and technology there was a heavy emphasis on investment returns.
That emphasis was echoed in the descriptions which heavily featured statement describing meteoric value escalations. Examples: DB5: ‘We feel that this trend is likely to continue, and we think that they will be trading at North of $2 million in the next few years.’ DB4: ‘One can collect and drive any number of “lesser” vintage GT cars, but if you’re a gentleman with superb, discerning taste and a tendency towards quiet exhibitions of serious maleness, one needs a DB4.’ 365 GTC/4: ‘The Ferrari 365 GTC/4 is the last remaining vintage V-12 Ferrari that you can buy for less than the price of a house.’ In a short time that statement may no longer be true, however, as they continue to experience rapid appreciation.’ And so it was throughout the presentation.
Every registered bidder got a tablet computer with the cars’ descriptions. RFID spots by each car brought up the descriptions and videos of the cars in action (those that ran, anyway.) It was a tech-savvy presentation backed up by Proxibid’s systems but one that was not reflected in the printed catalog that had descriptions of only three headline lots (Miura, March-Porsche 83G and Competition Daytona). The remaining 37 lots got only brief bullet lists in print.
None of the cars had federally required warranty stickers. Pre-sale estimate ranges were extravagantly wide, in several cases having high estimates double or more the low estimates.
At the auction on Thursday evening the room was less than full. Auctioneer Simon Hope had to contend with lengthy video introductions that slowed the sale to a snail’s pace and interest was, as the numbers show, limited with only 17 of 40 lots selling on the block and three more selling post-block for a 50% sell-through. 45% of the lots sold closed on hammer bids less than the low estimate; none sold over their high pre-sale estimates.
That’s the ‘bad’. The good is that this was an honest, sincere attempt by dedicated car enthusiasts to create a successful collector car auction in New York City, a venue that has daunted every collector car organization for the last generation. It was a first-time sale with all the well-recognized challenges such an endeavor presents and it was, in the end, remarkably successful both in its quality presentation and in its final result.
Give Leigh and Leslie Keno credit for pulling out the stops to do it right, for putting together a quality crew to support them and for establishing a fresh beachhead in the forbidding New York City environment.