Buying well at a classic car auction takes skill and knowledge – and that starts with being able to decipher the auction houses description of the lot. We take a tongue in cheek look at some of the best phrases you might see in an auction catalogue.
Auction descriptions are often reasonably “creative” as they are not restrained by considerations such as warranties or the Sale of Goods Act (which auctions can get round), so you can learn as much about the car by reading between the lines as you can from the actual buyers description. Over the years auction catalogue descriptions have become longer and longer (from around 250-500 words in 1994 to 1,250-2,500 in 2014), so much of the text is padding and we sometimes see descriptions that are clearly copied directly from Wikipedia. It’s worth remembering that auction houses generally don’t warrant their descriptions – as evidenced here in Coys of Kensington’s terms and conditions:
No warranty is given by Coys as to the accuracy of the description of any Lot in any Catalogue or as to the age, authenticity, suitability, provenance, attribution,origin, condition, fitness for purpose, merchantable or satisfactory quality of any Lot or roadworthiness of any Motor Vehicle…
In bidding for any Lot, the Buyer acknowledges that he does not rely on any representation made to him by Coys, its employees or agents unless such representation has been confirmed by Coys in writing prior to the Auction.
So – Here are some of our favourite descriptive phrases from auction catalogues. One way or another we’ve seen them all over the years.
- “Undoubtedly one of the finest…” – e.g “Undoubtedly, this is one of the finest examples of an E-Type roadster for sale today.” RM Auctions were good enough to add the following footnote to that description – “The term “best in the world,” is used far too often when describing vintage cars, however, it is quite possibly applicable here”. We’d agree. Translation – “It’s nice.”
- “One of just [insert low number here]” – As in “this GT is simply in another league of rarity, as it is one of just two….”. In this case, one of just over 4000 Ford GT’s produced, 75 of which were finished in the obviously-not-particularly popular colour of Speed Yellow. Two of those owners opted not to follow the crowd and had them built with the free “stripe delete” option. That certainly tells a story. Translation: “Undesirable spec, unless you like that sort of thing….”
- “Extensive history file” – As in “the history extends back to the year of manufacture which was a very long time ago. Unfortunately much of the paperwork has been lost….” Translation – “Please check the service history documentation yourself – it might not be nearly as good as you think. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”
- “Total mechanical and body restoration and re-paint by marque specialists” – So specialist, in fact, that you’ll have trouble checking their credentials…. Translation – Option 1: “Over enthusiastic and decidedly average ‘restoration’ by [insert name of restorer you’ve never heard] of but are assured with a knowing look are very low key and are so good they don’t need to advertise – “haven’t you heard of them?”‘”. Option 2: “Crash repair and an oil change by [insert well know marque specialist here].”
- “Barn find” – e.g “Now presenting as an older, charming barn-find, this car is an ideal candidate for a full restoration.” Translation – “Basket case. Someone threw some dirt at it to make it look a bit better. It might even enhance the value.” Although that doesn’t appear to be the case if this is the same Jaguar XK120 which sold at Auctions America a few months prior described as “The car has layers of dust and dirt intact, but the car has been gone through mechanically and it runs and drives. The Jaguar is ready for a new home and the glory that can return to this magnificent car.”
- “Wonderful patina” – As in “the car has a wonderful patina inside and out”. Translation – “Dog-eared. Needs plenty of work inside and out but patina sounds more charming, right?” See above.
- “Matching numbers” Translation – “We haven’t actually checked but the registration document looks about right….“
- “Eligible for the Mille Miglia” – If it’s on this list, you might just get in but don’t hold your breath. Translation – “In the same way that you are eligible to run for the presidency. Good luck with that.“
- ” Factory correct” As in “finished in factory correct [insert colour]. Translation – “They did that colour at the time. They just didn’t paint that particular car in it“
- “Believed only xxx original miles” – Translation – “It’s anyone’s guess. Who is going to argue?“
- “Period competition history and campaigned by noted privateer [insert name]” Translation – “Crashed on several occasions by playboy trust-funder [insert name]. Grainy black and white photos of a similar car parked on the track at Goodwood available“.
Obviously we encourage anyone buying at auction to take this all with a pinch of salt, just as we would recommend doing the same with some of the descriptions they may happen upon. If you would like to arrange a credit line to buy at one of the many sales then please get in touch and we can talk you through the intricacies of buying a classic car at auction. Remember – with the right knowledge it is possible to get a great buy.