Enthusiasm for classic cars undimmed by COVID-19 challenges
Iolo Ap Dafydd in Hampton Court
Europe;United Kingdom

The manicured gardens of a former royal palace will be the temporary home of hundreds of old, but fabulously expensive cars.

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Britain last March, there is a live car auction. The auctioneer David Gooding is an American, and this was his company's first UK car auction.

"The cars you see in Hampton Court, that's something we are very proud to be presenting," he said.

He was especially looking forward to the bidding for an Aston Martin car, a DB4 GT Zagato.

"It's certainly an exciting car. It's an absolutely stunning car, and very original... this car has just the right shape. That gorgeous unique wild Zagato bodywork that is just so spectacular."

The bidding could lead to a price tag of between $9 million to $12 million dollars for the Zagato.

Aston Martins are linked to another British brand: James Bond. /CGTN

Aston Martins are linked to another British brand: James Bond. /CGTN

This exhibition is certainly an indication that some things are returning to how they were before the pandemic.

The 2020 Concours of Elegance is also an opportunity for classic car owners to showboat.

Dr Cici Muldoon works in the wine industry, but also collects vintage cars. Her pre-World War II MG was imported into Britain in August.

"Classic cars to me are a passport to experiences. They're all about the memories you make with them, the places you drive them, the concourse where you share them with other owners."

Others with a pedigree in racing cars in the past, like Gregor Fisken, chairman of Fiskens Fine Historic Automobiles, has 25 years experience in buying and selling collectable cars.

"We've seen some tumultuous events in the world, but we haven't seen anything quite like Covid. I would say our business has been inconvenienced, in the way people haven't been able to travel, to come and see us in the way they used to, in London."

A Lamborghini on display at the London car show. /CGTN

A Lamborghini on display at the London car show. /CGTN

But, he said, his business has, like many other sectors, learned to work online - and found a surprising side-effect to the 10-week lockdown in the UK.

"We've discovered in COVID-19, that our customers' appetite for these cars has actually increased. The more time people spend looking at their computer screens, looking at cars, missing the shows, missing the concours, missing the joy of the open road and rallying, the more they want to get into old cars."

Dressed in a driving cap and a jazzy suit, he's upbeat about the impacts of coronavirus.

"We're coping with a lot of pent-up demand at the moment and business is doing just fine."

Gooding, who founded and is president of the Gooding and Company car auction house in Santa Monica, California agrees.

"Online sales performance-wise during the pandemic has actually been similar to what we anticipate the live auction will be," he says.

"In other words, the top end of the online market, the cars we are selling online really top out at around $3 million in the US. Here the cars we are selling are of a much higher value."

Bugatti is a sought-after brand at classic car shows. /CGTN

Bugatti is a sought-after brand at classic car shows. /CGTN

Sotheby's is the world's largest auction house for what's called 'investment-quality automobiles.' Kenneth Ahn is based in Canada and is president of RM Sotheby's. When we chatted on Zoom he said collecting rare cars was about feeding a passion.

"I think there are two different buyers and sellers. There are what I would call true enthusiasts who, irrespective of the market conditions, are first and foremost car guys, there are a second group, they are  speculators. Cars have become so valuable over the years, they have effectively become an asset."

Sales of new cars in the UK have fallen by 80,000 this May compared with 2019, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.  There are pressures of coping with COVID-19, economic uncertainty and fears about job losses this winter in many families across Britain.

None of that seems evident in Henry VIII's old palace by the River Thames in south west London. These high-end cars are a world away from the ordinary cars most of us drive.

Enthusiasm has been undimmed despite COVID-19 challenges. /CGTN

Enthusiasm has been undimmed despite COVID-19 challenges. /CGTN

As powerful engines roared, wafts of high octane petrol lay over the palace gardens.  As the wealthy and the well-dressed sipped wine, Gregor Fisken acknowledged that attitudes towards pollution and protecting the environment were changing.

"We know that the world is divided. We're aware... I've got young children, we're aware of pollution. I think that the time will come where the use of petrol cars in inner cities will be restricted. Bit it's a big world, and there's lots of open roads."

Cici Muldoon in her newly bought MG agrees, "there is definitely a move to be more environmentally friendly, to electric cars. I think there will always be a place for historical objects like classic cars, because they tell a story and it's the evolution of the car. Even so, of course, we are moving towards a world where we might have driverless cars, electric cars, more public transport."

Despite these Covid times, the value of many of the best classic cars keep increasing. The auction in Hampton Court was expected to reach $66 million.

"Certainly we're not immune from the effects of the pandemic," says David Gooding.

"But interestingly, especially at the very top end of the market which is what we specialise in, the market seems to be quite active and alive and well.”