NCM Auctions: How not to buy a barn find

As anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram may know, yesterday I had the interesting experience of attending the NCM 135 lot ‘barn find’ classic car auction near Preston, which has received quite a lot of online attention in recent weeks. After a 4 hour plus journey, parking in a field so boggy it could only be in the North (if you think I’m kidding there were whole fields flooded under more than a foot of water less than 2 miles away), and having a little laugh at some other attendees who had pristine white trainers that were totally unsuitable for mud, we finally got to register for the auction and see if the cars were quite as bad as we thought they might be.

*In the midst of all this I will add that the NCM staff were absolutely great and very friendly. Based on the conversation we had with the gentleman overseeing the parking they are quite new to auctioning (of this type at least) and had had over 1M hits online for this auction. He also spotted us getting stuck in the field on the way out and used a tractor to pull us out, without us having to go looking for someone to help – which truly made a huge difference at the end of the day*

A few of the cars were inside a new built barn with a large amount of seating (listen up other auction houses who are so stingy with chairs!) and the rest of the cars were crammed out back, some with only a few inches between them – not really suitable for inspecting rusty old cars. Rather unsurprisingly, the photos made the cars appear a great deal more presentable than they actually were, with a large proportion of the cars only worth being broken for parts. We had a brief look around and concluded that very few of the cars we had hoped would be ok actually were, and that it was pretty unlikely that we would be bidding.

With a buyer’s premium of 20% plus VAT (and an extra 1% or 2% for online bidders I think), I was curious to see whether there would be little interest or if auction fever would take over. I don’t know the reason for such a high buyer’s premium, but two viable reasons could be that:

1/ The auction house didn’t think that the cars would make much money given their general condition

2/ The single vendor wasn’t paying any commission

The rumoured back story to this auction is that it was a single collection of cars owned by a man and his wife. There was a divorce (around 2010 I think), and the wife got the cars, and there has been legal wrangling since then. This could also explain the deteriorated condition of most of the cars and the fact that not a single one of them had any paperwork with it.

As you can see from my Twitter feed and other various sources online, the bidding went absolutely crazy in a way that is rare to see. At one point near the end of the auction I saw a man up on the rostrum (so I can only assume he was auction staff) laughing and shaking his head in disbelief at the price being achieved on one of the cars. I truly hope that the many online bidders who bought cars from this auction actually went and viewed them beforehand, as they will be in for a few shocks. I cannot see why the prices achieved went as high as they did for a good proportion of cars, but I believe it can be attributed to a few factors, which includes:

  • Inexperienced bidders
  • Online bidders who didn’t view the cars
  • Google experts (the ones who find the highest possible price for a particular car ever, so this must be a bargain)
  • General auction fever

Obviously I could very easily be wrong, and I completely missed what other people were seeing, but I very much doubt it. This auction is also not a sign that the market is on its way back up, it is absolutely an anomaly, and I would still never advise anyone to buy a car for investment purchases.

In relation to buying a barn find car, my simple advice is this…..don’t. Barn find cars are often seen as an easy and cheap way into classic car ownership.  They’re not. In this sort of bracket where a classic car is worth under £20k in good condition (and even far in excess of that figure), there is a very strong possibility you will lose a lot of money in restoring it. It is a time intensive process and nothing is truly cheap anymore, especially old car parts and specialist labour. For those people who enjoy working on their cars, there is still a chance to do that with a good condition example, as any old car will require upkeep. If you do decide to restore your own car then please research it as much as you possibly can. Speak to people who have restored their own cars, consider whether you have the time and skills to complete the sort of work needed, and if you don’t, consider if you have the time, money and patience for someone else to restore it for you. Inspecting a car prior to purchase is an incredibly valuable tool, and one that couldn’t be reasonably exercised at this auction.

Below is a short walk around video of the auction and a few of my photos with the prices the cars achieved.

A Jaguar XJ-S 3.6 with a Monaco bodykit. Sold for £500 plus 24% commission to an online bidder
A Daimler Double Six Vanden Plan with a fair amount of rot around the rear screen at least. Sold for £1,700 plus 24% commission to an online bidder.
A Jaguar XJ-C 4.2. A rare car but with a lot of rot. Sold for £3,400 plus 24% to a bidder in the room
A BMW 750 Hartge (or not, as it might turn out). Sold for £6,000 plus 24% commission to a bidder in the room
This E-Type coupe was a LHD auto
This Alfa Romeo could have been described as a Flintstones car. Still made over £6,000 plus 24% commission
Just a few of the lots on sale
I’m a big fan of the Mercedes SEC, especially in 560 flavour. I’ve got a feeling this car is hiding a few problems. Sold for £3,800 plus 24% commission
This 928 was described as able to start from a jump pack. Sold for £9,200 plus 24% commission to an online bidder. You could buy a running, driving, MOTd car with history for less.
From memory this Jensen (sans bonnet) made around £12,500 plus 24% commission
A funky little car, no idea what it made though
Loved this car, but didn’t stay right to the end to see what it sold for.
This 996 has no keys and has been off the road for over a decade. It sold for £7,800 plus 24% to a bidder in the room. Again, you can buy a good one with history and known running condition for similar money.
This Range Rover with Carmichael conversion (possibly) sold for £10,000 plus 24% commission
This Lancia Fulvia will either be used for parts or as a ringing kit. Sold for £1200 plus 24% commission to an online bidder.
This auto BMW 635 CSI sold for £5,200 plus commission
This Lancia was possibly one of the only good buys of the auction, and I’m still kicking myself for not bidding. No engine with it, but sold for £3,800 plus 24% commission. More solid than 95% of the other cars there!
This Trident sold for £3,800 plus 24% commission
This Range Rover 3dr sold for £13,500 plus 24%. Barmy!
This Opel Monza sold for £750 plus 24% commission to a bidder in the hall
This Daimler Sovereign Coupe 4.2 sold for £2,800 plus. 24% commission to an online bidder.

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