A 1995 McLaren F1 has just brought a record amount at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge auction in Monterey over the weekend, changing hands for a total of $15.62 million. The actual bid amount was $14.2 million, with the 10 percent buyer’s premium pushing the total transaction amount a bit further, enough to nudge the price just out of Earth’s orbit.
The F1 in question can be described both as a no-stories car, and one with some stories. For starters, this 1995 example is the first one that has been federalized for the U.S. market and then returned to its original European specification. Second, the car reportedly acquired half of its 9,600-mile odometer reading in one bite, when its very first owner took it on a tour of Europe straight from the factory. Third, this F1 has resided in the same east coast collection for the past 22 years in the care of its original owner, accumulating mileage in small increments along with regular services performed by BMW National Workshop-East.
The low mileage and one-owner history helps to explain the high bid achieved here but the trajectory of F1 values has been heading in this direction for some time, ever since F1 values started taking off about a decade ago. The best examples topped the $10 million mark only in 2014, with a handful of top examples traveling upward about a half million at a time since. In fact, a decade ago, the F1 could be bought for “merely” a million or so, with some well-used examples trading for well below that number.
Yes, this rate of growth translates into the best examples gaining more than a million dollars in value every year since 2006, and every year since we’ve seen supercar owners rolling their eyes amid predictions of F1 values topping out just about soon. But even the global recession of 2008 failed to put a brake on F1 values, even though it’s prudent to note that the collector car market had generally responded to the crash in a positive way (with classic cars effectively becoming blue-chip investments to the point that some investment funds have started collecting them for the express purpose of generating a profit).
After a tour of Europe straight from the factory, this F1 retired to an East Coast collection and had been driven sparingly since.
Predictions of F1 values topping out continued apace through 2013 when the real jump happened; values for top examples had been in the $5 million dollar range at the start of that year, but had reached almost $9 million by the end of the same year. The rate of growth had been gradual since, with cars adding $500,000 to $1.5 million per year, but even in the spring of 2016 Condition 3 examples had been trading in the $10 million range, while Condition 1 (concours-grade) examples were resting at $13 million. A little 12 months later values for F1s in all conditions have gained a little over $2 million in value, taking all condition ranges into account.
Is it time for another prediction of values topping out “any minute now?” The investment here has paid off handsomely for the original buyer, but we can’t help but think about where these cars will be trading a year from now when we’re back at the Monterey auctions again. As much as auction commentators may be tempted to say “well sold” in this instance, the gains made by this model just in the last four years alone — years that have been favorable to the collector car market — point to further room for growth, as the number of available F1s isn’t bound to change between now and then.
About 10 years ago, concours-grade F1s were trading “merely” in the $1 million range.
What’s driving this orbital launch? As a number of market analysts, collectors and owners had noted in the past few years, there is an emerging belief within the supercar community that the F1 has not really been surpassed in its ability, engineering or historical importance since its debut. This is a relatively recent view of the F1, as values had rested comfortably in the six-figure range until about eleven years ago.
Granted, in pure metrics alone the F1’s top speed has been improved upon several times by heavy German machinery, with the Bugatti Veyron requiring a vast amount of aerospace-grade ducting and several cars’ worth of engine to propel itself to high subsonic speeds, but in terms of engineering balance, simplicity and design the F1 has remained remarkably modern and unburdened by engineering compromises, embarrassingly outdated technology, or a recipe that is viewed as obsolete. The same cannot be said of many of its contemporaries or subsequent competitors that have taken a stab at being the most compelling supercar in the world. That field is narrow enough to be counted on the fingers of one hand, but even later efforts such as the Ferrari Enzo or the Carrera GT have not really been seen as having achieved a similar stature.
In summary, by 2020 we imagine that we’ll look back on this sale, shake our heads and say: “Oh wow, remember when you could get a McLaren F1 for just north of $15 million? Phew, those were the days!”