Classic cars are pulling in the bids again

The exotic car market appears to be taking off again, says James Nicholls, of Theodore Bruce, who will be holding an auction on Saturday evening as part of Melbourne's RACV Motorclassica car show.

The exotic car market appears to be taking off again, says James Nicholls, of Theodore Bruce, who will be holding an auction on Saturday evening as part of Melbourne's RACV Motorclassica car show.

It certainly helps if the car was made by the likes of Ferrari, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce or Bentley or, in the most dramatic recent example, a 1954 Mercedes-Benz once driven by Juan Manuel Fangio.

That car, a W196 model that scored a couple of Grand Prix victories, sold for more than £19.6 million ($31.9 million) at Bonham's UK Goodwood Festival auction in July.

That's the highest price ever paid for a car at auction. The previous record was more than £10 million for a Ferrari in 2011.

A Reuters UK report claims that classic cars at this highest level have risen in value by 28 per cent in the year to June 2013, taking over from gold, fine art and luxury property in terms of investment potential.

Largely responsible is an emerging Asian market that wants to invest in tangible objects they can enjoy. You can't drive around in a Picasso.

Things haven't happened so spectacularly in Australia, where classic car prices have been in neutral, if not in reverse, since the global financial crisis. A recent sign of optimism was the $291,000 paid for a 1974 Ferrari Dino 246 GTS through Shannons in September.

Nicholls hopes things will go up from there. He has organised an eclectic mix of exotica for the Motorclassica auction, ranging from a 1980 MG Midget (estimates $6000 to $10,000) to a 1913 Alphonso XIII Hispano-Suiza ($200,000 to $250,000).

"It's all about trying to find interesting things in a variety of price points," he says.

"I ring people up or they may ring me."

That century-old Hispano-Suiza has a typically fascinating history. Regarded as a Spanish car, it was designed by a Swiss and built in a factory in Paris.

It began its long journey to Australia in 1914, but didn't arrive until 1919 because of World War I.

It is thought that it was used by the Victorian Fire Brigade before being found derelict in Tasmania and restored by two Melbourne enthusiasts. It still drives well and can cruise at 80km/h.

Another rarity is a 1952 Tatra Tatraplan, made in Czechoslovakia (estimates $150,000 to $200,000).

Then there are one-offs like the Project 500 Jet Car, built in 1972 to challenge the Australian land speed record held by Donald Campbell's Bluebird. Nicholls believes the jet engine is still capable of firing up, but hasn't personally tested this theory. He suspects it will end up as a static museum piece (estimates $30,000 to $40,000).

This style of auction, where a 1992 Aston Martin Virage sits comfortably next to a 1929 Rolls-Royce, has become a global phenomenon, with a roving clientele following the circuit. Perhaps the most famous auction is held at Pebble Beach in California.

Although Peter Briggs' million-dollar Holden prototype is the most expensive lot for sale, the most exotic award goes to the Lamborghini P400 Miura, which was originally exhibited at the Sydney Motor Show in 1968.

It's a rare right-hand-drive version, with only 88,000 kilometres on the clock. The current Australian owner has had it for 25 years and has recently driven it on a tour of Europe. Nicholls suggests the estimates of $700,000 to $775,000 should attract international (and hopefully Asian) interest.

These cars became instant classics when an orange Miura appeared in the opening sequence to the 1969 film The Italian Job, driven up the Grand St Bernard pass by actor Rossano Brazzi, wearing a pair of Renauld sunglasses, according to the websites that have treated this sequence to forensic analysis.

Nicholls has no doubt the film has added to its appeal and value. The same applies to the series of James Bond's Aston Martins.

The extreme diversity in the auction reflects a growing definition of what is considered desirable. "It's whatever you had on your bedroom wall as a kid," says Nicholls. A rare, restored Holden Torana A9X, one of only 33 built by GM-H with special lightweight Bathurst bodywork, should also attract plenty of attention.

Estimates of $200,000 to $250,000 are typical for blue-chip Australian muscle cars, although prices have dropped in the past five years. The 2007-2008 period was hot. Ford Falcon GTHO Phase Threes were selling then for more than $600,000. They are now struggling to sell for half that amount.

Nicholls says the internationally recognised brands like Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini have retained their values.

The Theodore Bruce auction of classic cars is this Saturday, starting at 6.30pm as part of RACV Motorclassica at Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building. For catalogue details, see the Theodore Bruce website.

For a picture gallery of items from the car auction go to

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