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Selling cars with a French twist at the Artcurial auction

Sun, 06 Feb 2011

If you are one of those people who have trouble following the auctioneer when you are at an auction, I have news for you: Try following it in French. When you don't speak the language.

The Artcurial auction, held on Friday night at Retromobile, has now happily concluded. I say happily, because it started at 7 p.m. and had more than 100 cars go across the block.

At one point, 20 cars into the sale, a rough estimate of the auction would finish came to just past 2:10 a.m.

Spotters keep watch for new bids.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of late dinner and have been known to close a bar or two, but I can't remember attending an auction when even Wendy's late-night pick-up window was closed. Thankfully, the pace quickened after the first two hours, and the final car crossed the block at an almost civilized 11:45 p.m.

Artcurial had a good night, although official results have not been posted. A back-of-the-envelope guesstimate puts sales rates at about 75 to 80 percent.

And that auction-in-French thing? Thankfully, there was an occasional English phrase or two thrown in to keep the international crowd happy. Although the language was less than perceptible (to me), the motions are similar. Unlike the typical British style of auctioneering where the cars on offer are nowhere to be seen, Artcurial drove each one of the lots that were driveable across the auction block. The auctioneer was in control, and two or more spotters kept an eye out for fresh bids. There are other differences, but the results were the same--moving the metal was the name of the game.

After the hammer drops, don't forget to figure in fees and taxes.

The sales hall, a largely undecorated and fully unheated event space, had no food service, and access to the restrooms appeared to stop at about 10 p.m. Artcurial did provide lemonade drinks and bagged potato chips to those sitting in the bidder area. The intrepid among us found alternative WCs, and for those who had euro coins handy, a Coke from a vending machine was only 2.20 Euro, or about $3. Per can!

Since the tawdry subject of money came up, please remind yourself to never grumble at U.S. auction fees again. Artcurial has a sliding fee structure, however, the first 15,000 euros has a 15 percent fee attached to it, and many are subject to a further Value Added Tax. Roughly speaking, that $20,000 purchase might just cost you close to $30,000 before you even think about shipping it home. In fairness, most lots for American buyers would be VAT-free, but shipping and duty fees still await.

And the best eye-popping moment of the sale? Lot 234, a very nice Ferrari 250 GTE. Nicely presented, and restored to original colors, it sold for more than $250,000 after auction commissions are added.

That Coke at three bucks a can seems damn reasonable right about now.

By Dave Kinney