Market trends: first part of 2011

An overall view of the first half of 2011: Rolls-Royce and Derby Bentley motor cars, a valuable investment

Vintage Rolls-Royce and Derby Bentley motor cars are an interesting phenomenon in the classic car business: they conjure up images of wealth and old British craftsmanship, carry the weight of history and tradition, combine the most advanced engineering and safety specifications of their time, yet have none of the ‘bling’ factor which may blight other famous classics of the modern age.

Bonhams, one of the most prestigious auction houses in Europe, dedicates Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars a yearly auction; an honour which is bestowed only to another famous British marque, Aston Martin (at its hometown in Newport Pagnell).

Bonhams’ Rolls-Royce and Bentley auction took place at Rockingham Castle, in conjunction with the RREC’s Rally, this spring. On occasions such as this, buyers are reminded both of how affordable Rolls-Royce ownership may be, as well as the fact that distinguished pre-war masterpieces deserve museum-quality integrity – to be achieved by sustained and careful maintenance if one is to protect and enhance their value: a 1931 Rolls-Royce 40/50 Phantom II Saloon Limousine (coachwork by Barker & Co) fetched almost £120k.

Two weeks later, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Bonhams hosted another auction where a 1937 Phantom III Sedanca de Ville sold for £139k, and a 1928 Phantom I 40/50 Sportsman Saloon went for £125k. Among the top five cars sold at Goodwood, was a 1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Sports Saloon (£298k), up there with the DB2/4, DB6 Volante and Bugatti Type 35B.

Both Rolls-Royce and Bentley routinely feature in the top ten highest prices fetched at auctions around the world.

Interestingly, the overall market index (which tracks a combination of valuable automotive collectibles over a long period of time) shows a year-on-year growth in value of some 7.83% so far this year.

Not all models will sport the same growth, of course; however, the key is provenance, with genuine classic credentials. In general, it seems that rising restoration costs and waiting times for specialist restorers push up demand for well-maintained classics, though further up the value ladder restoration costs are less relevant: in the rarefied world of valuable Rolls-Royces and Bentleys (like in the case of Porsches and Ferraris, whose progress the overall market index also tracks) spotless maintenance protects and enhances the vehicles as financial assets.

Certainly, the overall collectable car market shows a trend towards a perception of classic cars as tangible assets. In June, two Bentleys - a 1929 Bentley Speed Six ‘Les Mans’-style Tourer and a 1955 Bentley R Type Continental fastback – fetched £470k and £358k respectively at RM Auctions, Salon Prive’, London. Despite being less than immaculate, a 1926 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Experimental Sports Coupé sold for £392k, at the same auction. The Bentleys were in immaculate condition, and all rank among the top ten best world-wide sellers that month.

It seems that, whilst Aston Martins of old stimulate the Airfix syndrome, i.e. a desire to tinkle with unmolested examples and manage restoration as a challenging project, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys may indeed benefit from an attitude of steady maintenance and/or regular overhauls to top the listings.