Bonhams, MPH and the grass on the other side…

  • 02 August 2020
  • 2 min read
  • 4 images
Bonhams, MPH and the grass on the other side… image

If we also take into consideration Brooks, Bonhams is the oldest European auction house for historic cars. The Brooks auction house was founded in 1989 following the impulse of Robert Brooks, the famous auctioneer at Christie’s who, in 1987, sold the Bugatti Royale Kellner for £5.5 million, a price that broke all previous records for a historic car (remaining undefeated until 2007). Robert Brooks, along with super-collector Evert Louwman, bought Bonhams in 2000 and from that moment became chairman of the entire auction house while his company transformed into the Motor Cars department of Bonhams. This was until 2018 when the two partners sold their respective shares to the Epiris investment fund and Brooks withdrew from business, not before selling his final lot... obviously a car!

It is therefore easy to understand how, among the leading players, Bonhams has always been the one with the most classic approach, a London auctioneer who grew up in the early ’80s with “only” Bentley Blowers and Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts on his mind. To this day, it still has this underlying characteristic, suffice it to say that in all the non-virtual auctions held this year the top lot was a pre-war car.

The new owners, however, have tried to remove some dust from this brand by introducing some innovations that should entice younger collectors to their sales. In the case of the historic car department, in particular, the idea was presented under the acronym MPH: cheap cars (under £50,000) that were principally modern. Of course this target is also the easiest to intercept should the auction be carried out online.

On 25th July, they organized their most recent offering under their “youngtimer” division.  How did it go? A classic case of the glass being half full or half empty. On the one hand, they can lay claim to their best result to date, taking home £2,041,038 in sales. On the other hand, this number is somewhat distant from their standard results (for example at Amelia Island the Bugatti 55 alone was sold for over $7 million (or £5 million)) and, with a total offer of £4,229,000, it achieved sales of 48.2% (again, quite poor in comparison with Amelia, which sold 71 cars out of 111 on offer, equivalent to a respectful 64%).

Bentley-3-Litre 1927 Bentley 3-Litre Speed Model Sports Roadster sold for £225,000 This is the first time that a top lot at an online car auction was a pre-war model (and with this, 4 out of 5 Bonhams auction top lots have been pre-war models): a 1927 Bentley 3-Litre Speed Model. The car originated as a Weymann Saloon with bodywork by Gurney Nutting but immediately after the end of World War II the car was re-bodied with its current style. Over the following years, the new owner, prepared to do anything to leave a mark on the track, managed to destroy the engine which was replaced with an earlier one dating back to 1923, and which is currently mounted on the car. So non-original engine, “fantasy” bodywork and enough owners to fill a phone book. But in reality, almost all pre-war Bentleys show up in these conditions and therefore the final price does not vary much compared to the quotations. Estimated at £200-250,000, it was sold for £225,000.

Porsche-Turbo 1993 Porsche 911 Turbo 3.6-Litre 964 Coupé sold for £164,250 The 1993 Porsche 964 3.6 Turbo Coupé went really well. The brief description in the catalogue highlighted the low mileage (58,000 miles from new), the long current ownership (dating back to 2001) and the presence of the original brochure, the service booklets and an unspecified “data sheet”). Dark grey with ice grey interior, it was sold by new by AFN, the British importer of Porsches (curiosity: do you know what AFN means? Archibald “Archie” Frazer-Nash. That’s right. Him, the founder of Frazer-Nash!). The estimate of £100-130,000 seemed to me more than correct but it went for £164,250, thus obtaining a very good second place.

Range-Rover 1995 Land Rover Range Rover 4.6 HSE sold for £5,850 Another car that achieved a result worthy of our attention was the 1995 Range Rover 4.6 HSE, commonly called the P38. Here, too, the sparse description of the catalogue didn’t help the offers, but it was pointed out that the air suspension had been replaced in February and that the car had low mileage (even if, with 83,800 miles since new, I wouldn’t exactly call that low). On the other hand, the classic Epsom Green (dark metallic green) with Saddle Tan leather interior (beige) gave it a very elegant demeanour. The estimate of £3-5,000 euros was shattered when it was sold for £5,850. Now, in principle with such a low and “wide” estimate, a result slightly above the maximum estimate should not ring any bells, but in recent years the prices of the first Range Rovers (the rare two-door versions, later also the classic four-door versions) have risen very quickly and have quadrupled in some cases. So the question is a valid one: has the time come for the revaluation of the P38 series? Let’s wait and see.

Lotus 1978 Lotus Esprit S1 Coupé sold for £30,375 I will end with the “jolly” lot, the one I would have done anything to take home. Ever since I saw James Bond driving underwater as a child, I’ve been fascinated by the Lotus Esprit S1. Unfortunately, the 1978 example offered by Bonhams was red with cream interior – the one from the 1977 film “The Spy Who Loved Me” was white with a black interior – but it was in good overall condition with the opportunity to improve it and the most hard-to-find details were all present. Estimated at £30-35,000 it was sold for £30,375, a very good deal. But maybe it’s the child in me who’s judging now...