How Car Collecting Powered Through the Pandemic

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An eight-day Mecum auction in July in Indianapolis — previously postponed by the pandemic — notched record sales of $74 million. That figure included a highest-ever price of $3.85 million for a Mustang. The auctioneer billed the car, a 1965 Shelby prototype once driven by Ken Miles of “Ford v. Ferrari” fame, as “the most important in the history of the marque.”

Perhaps the most singularly impressive results came on Sept. 5, at another of the year’s few live auctions. The event, at the historic Hampton Court in London, featured 15 superlative classics in Gooding & Company’s first international sale. The auction had been canceled in April, but “we saw a window of opportunity and seized it,” said David Gooding, the company’s president.

As it turned out, proceeds topped $44 million, with a 93 percent sell-through rate. Records were reported for a highest average price per car, $3.1 million, and for the highest auction amount yet for a Bugatti — $12.7 million for a 1934 Type 59 sports car. The Bugatti also drew the highest price for a publicly sold collector car in 2020, Gooding & Company said.

Even so, “2020 was rough — the whole live auction industry was down,” Mr. Gooding said. His firm, based in Santa Monica, Calif., grossed some $125 million, well below its best years, he said, “but we feel grateful for what we still managed to accomplish and for what we learned.” For example, the pandemic prompted the company to hasten its introduction of Geared Online, a web platform featuring both vintage cars and automotive memorabilia.

Hagerty, a firm in Traverse City, Mich., that insures collector cars and specialty vehicles and tracks market data, believes the volume of collectible automobiles that changed hands in 2020 rose as much as 14 percent, with most sales online and in personal “private treaty” transactions.

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