Things are pretty crook out there in motor land. Luxury car (or what we here call working persons’ transport) sales are down, passenger vehicle sales are down 12 per cent and SUV sales are down by 5 per cent in what Chamber of Automotive Industries boss Tony Weber called a “cautious start to the year”.
I would call it the canary in the coal mine, the darkness at the end of the tunnel or shooting the albatross. Remember the GFC? In the US new car sales went down like a lead balloon or like the past five PMs of this great country and sales of used cars went through the roof. Australian’s don’t buy the “full employment nothing to see here’’ line. They know the economy is in trouble, they know we’ll be changing PM yet again and they know “productivity benefits’’ will see a couple of hundred thousand lads and lassies kicked out on the street. Short new car dealers, buy old car dealers.
No wonder Tony’s website features 2017 when “the Australian new vehicle market reached 1.189 million, up 0.9 per cent on the industry’s previous record year of 2016’’ rather than 2018. Although, I have to say, things in the working person’s capital, Paris, last weekend, weren’t much better. We had three auctions, some good results, plenty of bad ones and some seriously shonky cars.
As you’d expect I went to this column’s spiritual leader, the Sultan of Stepney Street, the King of Kenso, the man I proudly introduce as my grandfather, the winner of next year’s Doug Moran Nude National Portrait Prize, Michael McMichael, for some words of advice for the global motoring industry.
As you can imagine the Michster has been super busy preparing The Weekend Australian Motoring Team’s 1998 BMW 3 series for the rigours of our glorious return to the Targa Tasmania. Not that there’s much to do. We need a new clutch due to the fact he says I dropped it too suddenly at the start of every section of last year’s Classic Adelaide.
As you know, 15 readers and friends, this is fake news. Then there’s the brakes, which seemed to stop working at particularly nasty times and the King of Kenso’s (don’t forget it’s Open Uke Night on the first Wednesday of the month and owners Peter and Jenny Hurley say mention this column for a free lend of a uke) report that he thinks he heard Brownie the snake somewhere under the bonnet again.
Anyway, he mentioned we’d been sent a press release. I don’t have to tell you no one in the global motoring industry sends us press releases or phones us or sends us a fax or telex, so it was quite a shock and honour to receive a carefully worded missive from Fenny Christy of the Westin Hotel chain.
So, Christy said that in honour of International Women’s Day, Heavenly Spa by Westin will present classes of Trataka Meditation next month. Michael tells me Trataka, also known as third eye meditation, is the practice of looking with an unwavering gaze at a small point until tears are shed.
Anyway, Swami McMichael suggested Weber could get all his car industry members into a darkened room using the flame of a candle as a focal point. “This simple technique has a purifying effect on the mind and improves concentration, paving the way for a deeper meditative state. It also enhances the power of memory, strengthens eye muscles and helps develop greater spiritual awareness, leading to increased sales of new cars, overpriced spares, and really expensive finance with trailing commissions,” Swami Mac ommmmed.
En tout cas, rentrer a Paris la ville de la lumiere et des vieilles voitures. Artcurial, Bonhams and RM auctioned $130 million of metal. The three sold 265 classics and like we saw at Scottsdale a serious number, 107, didn’t sell and most sales went below estimate.
I bet you guessed most money went to a Ferrari but no, it was a burgundy 1939 Alfa 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta, sold by Artcurial to a Yank buyer for $30m. And it was a steal. This was a five-owner, one of five built by bodybuilder Touring and I believe even more beautiful than the Bugatti Atlantic. Two years ago I saw an equally sex-ridden black B Touring go for $28m at RM’s Monterey auction. The history on the Monterey car was nowhere as transparent as the Acturial Alfa. This is a car in very original condition, the body never taken off the chassis. Some work and it’s worth $35m in the next upswing.
Then there was a Ferrari. A 1987 F40 LM RM sold for $7.6m. And the bronze medal goes to a 1966 Serenissima Spyder, Artcurial sold for $6.5m. Wondering? Well, Giovanni Volpi was in the rich father business. Dad, Count Giuseppe Volpi, brought electricity to Venice and the Balkans, was a politician and founded the Venice Festival. As you and I would, Giovanni said: “Work is for the poor, let’s start a racing team, Scuderia Serenissima, and let’s become Enzo Ferrari’s biggest customer.’’
In November 1961, there was a palace revolution at the Feezer factory and three top execs walked out to start their own business funded by Giovanni. Enzo said money for them, no soup for you and hence the Serenissima. Only two were built. One remains and Giovanni, now 80, was the seller. A Le Mans car, still in the original racing colours direct from the original owner. This was the steal of the year (so far).