I originally wrote this article for the March / April 2015 issue of the SL Market Letter to reflect on the wide range of Mercedes 280SL W113 Pagoda Values after learning about two, fully restored examples that sold at the same Gooding & Company auction in Amelia Island, Florida. Both cars were restored by respected marque experts to a very high level, but the prices the different cars brought were quite different when the auction dust settled. Adding to the drama, these 280SL Pagodas acted as bookends for the sale… the red car was the first lot of this one day auction, the dark olive green one was the last car.
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Here’s the article in its original form from the printed SL Market Letter – Volume 29, Number 3 – March / April 20115:
Gooding and Company offered two 1970 280SLs at their Amelia Island sale on March 13, 2015. One was the first car to cross the auction block, the other was the 87th and last car offered. Both were restored by recognized marque experts, well known to the SL Market Letter, to very high standards. One sold for $143,000, the other for $220,000. Why the disparity on two just restored cars? That’s the question I posed to the two men who oversaw their restorations, David Latham of Bud’s Benz in Douglasville, GA and Tony LaBella of Tony LaBella Classic Cars in Cherry Hill, NJ.
The first car to cross the block reached a high bid of $130,000 against an auction estimate of $125,000 – $175,0000, so it sold at the lower end of the estimate. Including the buyer’s premium the new owner’s into the car for $143,000 before transporting it home. With the 10% seller’s premium, the seller nets $117,000. Factor in transport costs and travel expenses to attend the auction and he probably walked away with about $115,000.
I called David Latham, owner of Bud’s Benz and restorer of this car, to see how his client felt about the result. “My client was sick about it” said Latham. “maybe with different placement in the auction or at the auction down the street, it could have brought more money, it was a really nice car.”
While I didn’t attend the events at Amelia Island I did watch the Gooding and Co. auction live on their website. As the first lot arrived on stage David Gooding announced that it “received a 99.7 point score at a recent Mercedes Benz Club of America Concours event.” Now, I don’t know exactly which event that was, but that score would lead me to believe that it was a very high quality piece and one would hope that MBCA judges at a national event know what they’re doing when it comes to judging. The $130,000 hammer price seemed a bit low to me at the time.
My next call was to Tony LaBella to see what he thought of the auction and the sale prices of these two cars. He admitted that he was “a little bit concerned” knowing his car was going to be the last to cross the block, would anybody be left in the room to bid? Tony estimated that there was about 10% of the crowd left when his car came up. “When the bidding started it didn’t really slow down until the very end, there were about 20 bidders, and of course, I was happy with the way it turned out.” Whenever a car sells for more than 20% over the high estimate, it’s a good day indeed.
The dark olive car hammered sold for $200,000, add 10% buyer’s premium and the final total is $220,000, the auction estimate was $140,000 – $180,000. After Gooding and Co.’s cut, the seller nets $180,000 before calculating other expenses.
“I don’t think I left the car for two days during the preview,” added LaBella, “I talked to some very sophisticated buyers, they had good questions.” I pressed for specifics, “Well, one guy noticed the washer fluid bag under the hood. The originals have brass grommets around the two holes in the top, the replacements you get today, even from the classic center, don’t. We fabricate and add them before we install it. Someone noticed that and pointed it out. It’s nice when people notice the little things we do to make these cars correct.” It seems like just a couple of years ago when ‘fender notches’ and ‘spot welds’ were the only details anyone cared about, not anymore. When playing on the six figure Pagoda SL field, all those little details matter and they can be worth tens of thousands of dollars to a seller.
The auction company and owners put their heads together to establish auction estimates, so there must have been some recognizable differences between these cars to explain the estimates and sale price differences. Factors beyond the consignor’s control certainly play a role, placement in the auction, who’s in the audience, even the weather. In this case, you had two very nice cars, one consignor was pleased with his result, the other was not.