Monterey Car Week 2023: Auction Action Like Never Before

Every year, hype for Monterey Car Week starts building well before summer weather hits coastal California. As the world's entire automotive industry seemingly descends on Monterey, all the swanky soirées, vintage racing, manufacturer debuts, and drive experiences can often overshadow the massive amount of money changing hands over the course of a few days at auction houses all over the peninsula.

Of course, the auctions provide a snapshot of the current enthusiast and collectible automotive market based only on publicly sold vehicles, while the private market remains much more of a mystery. Yet, after I joined a supercar rally to blast up to Monterey in a Lucid Air this year, at nearly every event I attended, everyone kept whispering in hushed tones about how high this year’s auction totals might run.

Here's a speedy, stunning look at some of the most attention-grabbing auction material on four tires (or, in one case, without them) at Monterey Car Week, before our thorough rundown of the entire event.

Most Exciting Auctions at Monterey 2023

Record-Setting Auctions at Monterey Car Week

Bonhams, RM Sotheby’s, Broad Arrow, Gooding and Co, and Mecum Auctions undoubtedly brought the heat this year. Early estimates predicted that over 1,200 cars might land somewhere in the range of $392 to 457 million, though whether the total might reach last year’s record of $473 million seemed in doubt well in advance of Monterey Car Week.

By Sunday, those estimates seemed quite accurate, as a sell-through rate of 68 percent led to a total figure of $400.1 million in sales. To better wrap my head around the state of the auctions as they unfolded in real time, I once again spoke with Hagerty’s vice president of automotive intelligence, Brian Rabold.

“The upper-most edges of the collector car market have slowed a bit, with totals down 15 percent from 2022,” Rabold said. “But the numbers also show just how much the market has grown since 2020. If anything, this week showed the market is in a more rational state of mind, and that recent unabated growth seems to be giving way to steadier sales.”

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The fact that Rabold can say the higher end slowed down this year, given that over 150 cars sold for $1 million or more, only paints a picture of last year’s unbelievable results. But specific examples proved his point early, especially as a few Ferraris suggested a more significant slump might be underway.

A 1967 Ferrari 412P listed by Bonhams, for example, sold for $30.2 million—or the fifth highest value of any publicly auctioned car ever—but still well below the $40 million or so most experts expected. But a 1964 Ferrari 250 LM failed to meet reserve at “only” $17 million.

That's not to mention an entire batch of barn-find Ferraris which included a tireless, burnt hulk of metal formerly known as a 1954 500 Mondial Spider Series I by Pinin Farina that sold for an astounding $1.8 million at RM Sotheby's.

Collector Cars Still Showing Strong

On the Sunday lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, prewar cars always take home the top prizes, so the high figures that a number of that era’s auctions fetched should perhaps have come as no surprise as collectors attempt to get their hands on cars that might well one day win the illustrious Concours. A 1909 Lorraine-Dietrich with Grand Prix history hit $1.27 million, or far above the pre-auction estimate of $800,000 at Bonhams. At Gooding and Co, a 1914 Mercer Type 35-J Raceabout sold at $4.8 million, a new record for the model.

Of course, any prewar Bugatti will make for a good investment, and RM’s 1937 Bugatti Type 57 SC Tourer that reached just shy of $5.4 million continued to prove the point. A 1957 Jaguar XKSS Roadster—a one-of-16 sibling of Steve McQueen’s personal car that is my personal favorite car ever—also reached $13.2 million.

Radwood & JDM Cars Cause Confusion

Prewar cars on the lawn at Pebble always deserve a second glance, but my own predilections trend more towards the 1980s and '90s cars that fall under the “Rad” era umbrella for burgeoning millennial collectors these days. I asked Rabold if any peculiar auctions caught his eye, since he knows my tastes well.

“Special examples of ’80s and ’90s dream cars performed well,” he replied, “including a 1995 Ferrari F50 which sold for $4.24 million, a 1995 Honda NSX-R which sold for $632,000, and a 1986 Alpina B6 which sold for $89,600. All of those were at Broad Arrow Auctions.”

A Ferrari that fits into that category, a 2003 Enzo, sold for almost $4.1 million at RM. But that NSX-R especially blew my mind, since my Monterey experience also included a chance to drive Ford factory racing and development driver Billy Johnson’s personal U.S.-market NSX—which he’s built up into a 2002 NSX-R tribute with all the carbon fiber and suspension goodies expected. His own personal touches include a custom dry-sump oiling system, a drive-by-wire throttle body, and custom tuning via an Motec controller.

Other legendary JDM cars caused some confusion at Monterey. Two examples of Subaru’s Impreza 22b rally cars hit the block, including the original prototype that didn’t meet reserve at $365,000. A Tommykaira edition of the R33-generation Nissan Skyline GT-R reached only $134,400. Meanwhile, one of the best examples of an Autozam’s AZ-1 only sold for $22,400—or about a quarter below pre-auction estimates.

Rallying to Monterey Among Supercars

The auctions always make for a big story, but truly comprehending the current state of the collectible and enthusiast industry requires attending Monterey Car Week as a whole. The festivities begin earlier each year, this time for me on Tuesday as I joined the Luxury Rally Club and chased McLarens, Aston Martins, and a trio of incredible Porsches—a Singer, a 911 Dakar, and a Sport Classic—up the coast in my Lucid Air Pure.

Not many EVs other than Lucids can even hope to join a supercar rally, though my range anxiety still hit a bit every now and then. And as an indication of how collectors and enthusiasts view electric cars, once the group saw me keeping up not just on straightaways but in some spectacular canyons along the way, interest in the Pure definitely piqued.

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Lucid and the Luxury Rally Club also invited me to a semi-secret concours at the Santa Lucia Preserve, a gated community in the hills south of The Quail. Only title sponsors of the event and residents of the community can show Santa Lucia, though I rode up on a Ducati Streetfighter V2, ripping the clean canyon roads at top speed. (Pro tip: A motorcycle is truly the only way to do Monterey Car Week properly, since the entire peninsula’s infrastructure gets entirely overwhelmed once the hordes arrive.)

Super Coopers on 17 Mile Drive

Even though I spent six days blasting around on the bike, the entirety of Monterey included less driving than expected this year. As I pondered why fewer manufacturers offered driving experiences, a theme developed in my mind about new car debuts typically splitting either into electric commuters (not quite exciting enough to unveil at Monterey) or high-powered internal-combustion specials destined only for exclusive track use.

The single highlight of the week arrived in the form of two diminutive Mini Coopers built by Gildred Racing: a 502-horsepower mid-engine swapped, rear-wheel-drive screamer and a fully electric converted front-wheel-drive version debuting for the first time this year. Dubbed “Super Coopers” because of the massive power upgrades, the gas-powered S version received a supercharged V6 and six-speed manual in a car that weighs only 2,100 pounds—and when two customer builds currently underway wrap up, will cost somewhere around $240,000.

The 300-horsepower Tesla drive unit has way too much torque for a front-wheel-drive Mini on 10-inch wheels, so Gildred installs a button to keep output at 50 percent—which honestly still might overwhelm average drivers with torque steer. But the red and blue hatches provided entirely unexpected levels of room on the inside, build quality in the conversions, and, of course, fun when pushed to full throttle on the winding beachfront roads of Monterey’s famous 17 Mile Drive.

Preserving the Pure Pleasure of Just Driving for Its Own Sake

BAC also invited me to a private debut of the new Mono sports car, though not an opportunity to drive. The Mono takes driving to a radical extreme in road-legal form and is destined for American deliveries. BAC co-founder and design director Ian Briggs noticed the trend I was cogitating about Monterey too.

“I think cars will develop to become better and better at transport,” Briggs predicted. “You know, they might become electric, self-driving, or just simply arrive when you call them on an app. Then what do we do—those of us who love driving as a hobby or sport? We need a car that's not focused in any way on transportation, but on driving as an activity or pure pleasure.”

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The new Mono updates suspension, aero, and safety in addition to power, coming as close to a motorcycle on four wheels as possible. At The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering the next day, a couple of track-only special editions from Maserati and Lotus stole the show, especially when Lotus fired up the new-old Type 66 and revved that IMSA-inspired V8 up to redline for the gathering crowds.

Quality Time at the Track

Lamborghini also drew a massive audience for the official unveil of a fourth model added to the company’s lineup, which bridges the gap between commuter EV and supercar with a lifted skateboard chassis, futuristic tech, and seating for four made possible by compact electric drivetrain components. As much as gaping at some of the world’s best cars parked (or revving their engines) takes up much of Monterey Car Week, I always need to clear my head by heading up to Weathertech Laguna Seca to watch some historic racing.

Out on track, classics ranging from Trans Am-era muscle cars to Formula Fords and even ragtime racers run nearly all day. As my eardrums screamed in protest, my entire mind and body relaxed noticeably basking in the fact that some of the world’s wealthiest enthusiasts do take collecting far beyond park-and-show concours events.

Porsches, Pegasos, and a Valorous Aston Martin

At Pebble Beach proper, though, the park-and-show concours reaches another level of art form. From one of only 14 early Porsche 914-6 Rs to a whole line of spectacular art deco coupes called Pegaso (a brand I’ve never heard of), the historicity at Pebble always impresses. Modern cars also stand out. Catching up with Aston Martin director of product & market strategy Alex Long, I discuss the British firm’s reintroduction of a manual transmission, possibly for the last time, on the new Valour.

“This is a car that is just engaging and fun,” Long told me, “You're changing gears and you've got a 5.2 liter V12 in your hand and every gear you land is monstrous. And when you're not driving on and pushing on, the engine's burbling and kinda got a life of its own—this soul and personality.”

The Valour (pronounced “valor” not “velour”) probably caught my eye as my favorite concept this year. Turns out, Aston plans to build 110 of them, and they’re entirely sold out. Long attributes the semi muscle-car style, twin-turbo V12, and stick shift to the kinds of driver fun that many of us worry may soon start fading in the future.

“It's an open gated manual, so you do feel this heat coming up through it as the car warms up,” Long said. “You've got this feeling that the car's alive around you. It's truly engaging, a very visceral, alive experience.”

A Rocket Ride in the Rimac

The bittersweet knowledge that Aston will likely never produce another manual transmission after the Valour fits perfectly into the extremities of OCD as the world’s most famous concours judging takes place at Pebble among the most gorgeous cars ever built. At least every car at the show needs to drive onto the grass under its own power, so the owners must keep these creations running for at least one day every year.

As the enthusiast and collector community bristle for a fight to keep the internal-combustion era alive, though, I wrapped up my Car Week with a quick romp in the undeniable future: the world’s fastest accelerating production car, the Rimac Nevera. Priced at $2.2 million to start, the Nevera’s ungodly ability to leap forward in time, rendering all conceptions of horsepower and torque irrelevant as triple-digit speeds arrive in the blink of an eye, left my neck aching the next morning.

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More importantly, hustling up and down the Laurales Grade out of Carmel Valley, Rimac test driver Goran Dr'ndak wanted me to focus on how the Nevera prioritizes the kind of engaging drive that everybody worries can vanish in an EV. Without a doubt, the Nevera masks its weight well with a low-slung battery layout and excellent torque vectoring that allows for a bit of lean before the outside wheels push out of every curve, launching us into the stratosphere.

I might have made Dr’ndak grip the door and center console a bit while playing around in the Nevera’s drift mode on public roads, but at least Rimac allows customers to have that kind of fun—not to mention entirely untrustworthy members of the media driving the second-most expensive car they’ve ever gotten their grubby little hands on.

Rimac’s immense potential in the industry clearly proves that the future is upon us, even as auctions prove just how much history plays into the collective automotive mindset. The balance between driving dynamics and ungodly power tilt towards fun, even if EVs reduce acceleration stats to mere numbers on paper.

Given the willingness of wealthy collectors and enthusiasts to spend at auction, buy new special editions, or risk life and limb on the track enjoying their ICE classics, I rested each night at Monterey Car Week well assured that the end of the internal-combustion era still sits far beyond view.