The year 2023 has been a remarkable one for the world of classic cars, where enthusiasts and collectors continued to display their unwavering passion for the most coveted automobiles on the planet, even amid financial turbulence and fluctuating market values. In this vintage automotive symphony, Bugatti, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz emerged as the star performers, setting new records and captivating the imagination of car aficionados.

On the 13th of November, a sensational moment unfolded at an RM Sotheby’s auction in New York City when a 1962 Ferrari 330 LM/250 GTO by Scaglietti roared to life, commanding a jaw-dropping $51.7 million. This sale not only etched this classic Ferrari into the annals of automotive history as the priciest Ferrari ever to grace an auction block but also secured its position as the most expensive publicly sold car of 2023. This triumph eclipsed several other noteworthy sales, including a 1967 Ferrari 412P Berlinetta, which shifted gears for an impressive $30.2 million at Bonhams on August 17. Moreover, an $18.8 million Formula 1 Mercedes found its way to a new home courtesy of RM Sotheby’s on November 17, while a $18 million 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider gracefully crossed the auction finish line, courtesy of Gooding & Co. on March 2. Adding to this elite club was a 1964 Ferrari 250 LM, which fetched a substantial €15.7 million ($17 million) at an Artcurial auction on July 5, securing its place as the fifth most expensive car to be sold in 2023.

2022 Bugatti Chiron Profilée
 ©2023 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

One of the standout moments of this classic car extravaganza was the sale of a Formula 1 Mercedes car, the very machine that propelled Lewis Hamilton to his maiden victory. It roared to a staggering $20 million in an RM Sotheby’s auction held in Las Vegas on November 17. This remarkable transaction represented the highest sum ever publicly paid for a modern Formula 1 racer, underlining the enduring appeal of vintage racing history.

Nonetheless, as the year progressed, subtle shifts in the collector car landscape began to emerge. Several auctions experienced somewhat tepid results, potentially influenced by broader global macroeconomic events, including geopolitical conflicts. These factors have prompted collectors to pause and contemplate the potential impact of these global occurrences on their beloved automotive investments.

In 2023, the classic car market presented a scenario where familiarity reigned supreme. Among the ten cars that commanded the highest prices in public auctions, seven proudly bore the iconic Ferrari emblem, showcasing the enduring allure of the Prancing Horse. Notable among them was the 1972 Ferrari 312 PB, which found a new home for €12 million at RM Sotheby’s on May 19. However, the other marques that secured coveted positions on this prestigious list were no strangers to seasoned collectors. A 1957 Jaguar XKSS dazzled, fetching $13.2 million at RM Sotheby’s on August 18, while a 2022 Bugatti Chiron Profilée turned heads by commanding €9.7 million at RM Sotheby’s on January 31.

Courtesy of Bonhams

One particularly intriguing inclusion in this elite club was a modern road car – the 2022 Bugatti Chiron Profilée. It stands out because it is among the last Bugattis expected to be solely powered by traditional combustion engines. Bugatti is poised to unveil a new hybrid model in the near future, which is expected to elevate the value of existing combustion-powered Bugattis, making them even more coveted by collectors.

Notwithstanding the eye-popping prices, 2023 brought its own set of challenges. The $51.7 million sale of the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, for instance, fell short of RM Sotheby’s initial internal estimate, which had valued it at “in excess of $60 million.” However, this slight deviation from expectations did little to dampen the festive atmosphere during the auction, hosted by the ebullient comedian James Cordon, where cheers and spirited bidding echoed throughout the Wynn Las Vegas.

October marked the first month in 2023 that recorded a decline in dollar volumes of public sales compared to the previous year, experiencing a 23.4% drop. As of November 27, this year saw a 3.7% decrease in sales compared to the same period in the previous year, with total sales amounting to $3.9 billion versus $4 billion in 2022. The recent RM Sotheby’s auction in Las Vegas further exemplified this trend, with 80% of the lots selling below their low estimates, as reported by K500, a trusted consumer guide for the classic car market. Notably, a pair of Ferrari LaFerraris, typically valued at over $4 million each, and a 1990 Ferrari F40 GT, failed to find new owners.

Monterey Car Week auctions in August, often considered a barometer for the collector car market, had already hinted at vulnerabilities. For instance, a 1967 Ferrari 412 P, initially expected to fetch up to $40 million, eventually sold for $30.2 million at Bonhams. Similarly, a 1964 Ferrari 250 LM garnered a high bid of $17 million at RM Sotheby’s but failed to meet its reserve price and remained unsold during the auction. By the end of that week, total sales reached approximately $400 million across five auction houses, down from $473 million in 2022. The average sale price also witnessed a decline, dropping from $591,768 in the previous year to $477,981.

Nevertheless, brands like Bugatti, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz showcased their resilience in the market. A 2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR Roadster roared to life, fetching $10.2 million in a November 17 auction by RM Sotheby’s. Meanwhile, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta found a new home thanks to Gooding & Co., commanding $9.5 million on August 18, securing their positions among the top 10 car sales of 2023.

In summary, 2023 has proven to be a year where the classic car world witnessed the unwavering dedication of collectors, with Bugatti, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz leading the charge. While the market experienced moments of cooling and uncertainty, these iconic brands maintained their allure. Collectors have unequivocally communicated their message: they may be acquiring fewer cars, but they are steadfast in their loyalty to the revered names in the industry. The symphony of classic cars continues, with Bugatti, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz in the driver’s seat.