Weak auction sales

Aug 26, 2019 9:36 PM - 294 Views

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Weak auction sales at this year’s Monterey Car Week is just the latest example of how spending at the top of the economic pyramid is shrinking. The total value of cars hammered last week came in at a paltry $245 million, a third less than last year, as many of the highest-priced cars went unsold. From high-end New York real estate, to fine art, to now, classic cars, the ultra-wealthy have curbed their profligate spending in a big way this year, sending asset prices tumbling across the board.

Every year in August, the Monterey Peninsula in northern California plays host to the largest gathering of classic car aficionados on the planet. The days are filled with high-end car shows and exclusive auctions, while the nights are reserved for private mansion parties and charity balls sponsored by top car brands like Bentley, Infinity, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Mercedes-Benz. Car crazed celebrities like Jay Leno and Ralph Lauren are regulars at the event, adding a bit of star power to an already exclusive mix of millionaires and billionaires from around the globe.

The week is built around the granddaddy of all car shows, The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, now in its 69th year. While open to the general public, the $425 ticket price successfully excludes the hoi polloi from the gates of the famed golf resort. The outdoor event is part English garden party and part New England clam bake, with women in period dresses and flamboyant hats flanked by men in blazers and brightly colored pants. Champagne flows liberally as loudspeakers pump out classical music, adding an air of sophistication to an already high-brow affair.

While the event makes for some great people watching, the real stars of the show are the classic cars assembled at the 18thhole of the golf course near the lodge. This year, attendees saw 214 cars from all across the automotive spectrum competing for a flurry of awards. Those that win their particular class go on to compete for the coveted “Best of Show” award, presented with great fanfare at the end of the day. This year, that honor went to a beautifully restored 1931 Bentley Gurney Nutting Tourer owned by Hong Kong billionaire, Sir Michael David Kadoorie, chairman of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels conglomerate, which includes the famed Peninsula hotel brand.

Showing a car at Pebble Beach has always been difficult but it has become almost impossible in recent years amid rising standards and skyrocketing values. Not only does the car have to be rare and unique, it needs to look and drive as well, if not better, than it did when it first rolled off the production line. Restoring a car to meet the show’s ever-rising standards can take thousands of man hours, costing its owners anywhere from six to seven figures.

Gregory Haak, who showed off his deep purple 1935 Packard 1204 Super Eight Roadster spent a total of 2200 hours restoring his car with the help of an 88-year-old Packard expert.

“I applied three times to be here, if you can believe it” Mr. Haak told Fortune. “They only took me serious after the car took the top prize at another show last year. After that, they sent me an application.”

The car won the Zenith Prize last year, which is given by the Antique Automobile Club of America for best-restored collector car of the year. At Pebble Beach, though, the near flawless car didn’t even win its division, which was made up of just six other open top Packards.

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