The results achieved at major auctions regularly throw up riddles as to the value of an object. An elite global auction is where the marketplace hands down it's verdict on that worth in a single number encompassing all the attributes that influence the global desirability of that object including historic and cultural importance. The latest reality warp drama will play out later this week when a 1957 Jaguar XKSS goes to auction with Gooding & Co in Amelia Island, Florida.
Only 16 XKSS models were made in 1957, and mainly because the publicly-offered car was directly based on Jaguar's three-time Le-Mans winning D-Type racing car, the original 16 cars are among the most coveted of all automobiles.
The last XKSS to sell publicly fetched $1,925,000 at Pebble Beach in 2005, selling with a spectacular provenance that included many successful in-period race starts in the hands of Dr Dick Thompson, "the flying dentist." The cylinder head of this car was at some point replaced with a D-Type unit, perhaps reminding us how close the XKSS is to a D-Type, and Thompson certainly got amongst the D-Types whenever he encountered them on the track. Lovingly restored and carefully driven over a 25 year period, it was the 16th most valuable car sold in the world that year.
Nine cars under production were lost in a factory fire in 1957 and those cars are being recreated by hand to the exact specification of the original by Jaguar Classic. They are instant, fully bonafide classics. Or are they?
I'd argue that the nine completely original cars built by the same company should be viewed as the same as the originals. It would be hard to argue that they are not genuine, and not produced to higher standards, but how the real-world marketplace perceives them is still to be determined as the first one produced was seen just a few weeks ago for the first time in Paris (above).
Nine people have already put down the reported £1 million asked by Jaguar for each car, and depending on whether the contract was signed before or after Brexit, that translates to somewhere between US$1.3 and $1.5 million. That in itself has already been a story, but the next chapter will be watching how the marketplace values these instant classic cars.
The cars are most likely subject to legal agreements between Jaguar and the buyers stipulating they cannot be sold for an agreed period of time, but that type of agreement has been regularly broken in the past, so when we'll see the first one at auction is debatable. Jaguar apparently went to a lot of trouble getting the cars into the hands of drivers, not investors.
I posed this question to Rob Johnson of Sports & Classic Finance, one of the rare people who sees a lot of data points for the private and dealer sale of collectible cars, in addition to tracking the entire auction marketplace.
"They will certainly be worth more than the sticker price, just as happened with La Ferrari, and a rare few other new limited production cars where demand far exceeds supply", he said.
"Nine cars is a vast undersupply so they'll maybe be worth two or three times their buy price when they roll out the door, but I don't think the market will pay anywhere near the same amount as for one of the original 16 cars."
The Jaguar XKSS was the road-going D-Type
The Jaguar XKSS is one of the great sports cars in history, acclaimed by experts, three Le Mans 24-hour wins to the car it replicates and most illustratively, one which has spawned an industry of replicas.
In brief, the Jaguar D-Type finished second on debut at the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans (behind a Ferrari V12 375), then won the race in 1955, 1956 and 1957, the latter two wins by privateers after the factory withdrew from racing directly at the end of the 1956 season.
The D-Type is one of the most important Le Mans race cars ever built, and being at the heart of C-Type, D-Type and E-Type Coventry legend, the roadgoing XKSS is held dear by Jaguar enthusiasts.
The XKSS replicas out there range from fiberglass body kits, all the way through to atom-perfect replicas made by craftsmen, and at the elite end, some of them are excruciatingly accurate in every detail except for the engine numbers.
The best known XKSS re-creation specialist is Lynx, and an XKSS built by Lynx in 1967 sold for £384,540 (US$625,146) at Bonhams Goodwood Revival sale in 2014. The car (pictured above) had a spectacular provenance, being commissioned by well-known Jaguar collector Dick Skipworth in 1988 and built to a high specification, before being sold with a fully documented five-owner history that included actor Nicholas Cage, from 2008 to 2011.
Hence, the appearance at auction of one of the originals (pictured directly above) will benchmark the worth of the XKSS on the open market, and the pricing indications from Gooding & Co suggest US$16,000,000 to $18,000,000, more than ten times the price of the new "Continuation" car.
Even the cars upon which it was built are fetching similar prices at auction, with the world record price for a Jaguar D-Type set last August in Monterey. The above screen slip from the auction continued onwards, with the final price being $21,780,000.
It will be some time before one of Jaguar's nine continuation models hits the auction market. Given it's a decade since the last one-of-16 originals sold, it's unlikely we'll get any answers on the market valuation at auction this side of 2030.
On face value though, it looks likely that if one of the buyers who has not yet taken delivery decided to flip their new toy when it arrives, it could be worth at least double what they paid for it, and maybe a lot more.
The Gooding & Company auction will be streamed live from Florida at 11am on March 10 and I find such occasions compelling, particularly when Gooding & Company's master auctioneer Charlie Ross is in full flight.