Interview: Peter Wallman, RM Auctions car specialist - 'Buy because you love it!'

In 2007, Peter Wallman joined RM Auctions as a car specialist - a company which can claim to have sold five of the 10 most valuable cars ever auctioned.

Since then, Peter's highlights have included consigning 20 Italian classics to RM's successful inaugural Automobiles of London sale, and driving the €9.02m 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa - aka the most expensive auctioned car in the world.

Last week, he kindly took time out to chat exclusively to Paul Fraser Collectibles about the future of car collecting, being the proud owner of a 1961 Jaguar E-Type, and what it's like to drive a Ferrari 250 GTO...

How did your background lead you to this field?

"I have always had a passion for classic cars and have restored and driven them on an almost daily basis since I obtained my driving license. 

"I moved to Milan and became fluent in Italian in 2003, and decided I wanted a change of direction. Realising there was a gap in the market for an Italian-based specialist sourcing high quality cars for auction, [I became] a consultant for a UK-based auction house.

"Italy is one of the most passionate and prestigious markets for collectors' cars, with great marques such as Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, and great coachbuilders or carrozzerie such as Touring, Pinfarina, Scaglietti and Zagato being housed there."

What have been the highlights for you since starting at RM Auctions?

"I consigned a superb private collection of 20 high quality cars from a client of mine in Italy to RM's very first European sale, Automobiles of London. 

"This was also the sale that we sold almost 50 cars on behalf of [millionaire sports entrepreneur] Bernie Ecclestone. 

"To be honest, every auction has its great moments and I've had the privilege of meeting some very interesting people along the way."

RM sold the €7.04m Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder - the world's
second most valuable auctioned classic car - in 2008

Can you tell us about RM Auctions' plans for growth and development?

"In 2010, we are holding our Sporting Classics of Monaco auction during the Monaco historic Grand Prix, in May.

"RM Auctions has just opened a new office in Germany to focus on that very important marketplace. [It's] headed-up by my colleague, Annette Abaci, one of the very few women working as a consignment specialist in the classic car world.

"We will continue to grow, but be very careful to keep our focus on the top-end of the market."

What makes RM Auctions an industry world leader?

"Our track record speaks for itself. We have sold some of the best cars in the world with outstanding provenance, history and value.

"In fact, RM auctions has sold five of the top 10 most valuable cars ever sold by any auction house.

"Our consignment terms are some of the most competitive in the industry. Lower premiums at our auctions also make your cars more attractive to potential buyers.

"RM Auctions are incredibly pro-active when it comes to selling your car [and] RM catalogues are undoubtedly the best in the automobile auction industry. Beautiful photography, coupled with thorough research and full descriptions ensure your car is portrayed in the best way possible.

"We provide a 360 degree service, entailing pre-auction preparation and full after-sales services."

How does RM Auctions stand apart from its competitors?

"We are truly international and have excellent in-house language ability. 

"I have found it particularly interesting to see that, although we have our head office in North America - who have their own busy schedule of auctions - and a European division in London, that when we host a sale the entire company pulls together to stimulate success. It really is a truly international effort.

"We are the market leaders and we specialise by only selling motor cars. We also have a very successful and high-end in-house restoration business, which means that we really know cars inside-out."

How has the recession had an impact on your business?

"Undoubtedly there has been a correction in values throughout the entire price range, but nothing overly dramatic - and certainly far from a crash. 

"It could also be said that values had risen so sharply for the four or five years prior to the recession that a correction was coming anyway. 

"Prices seem to have stabilised and interest in this now mature hobby-slash-marketplace has shown no signs of waning."

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

"Meeting highly successful and sometimes famous people who love nothing more than to talk with you, with incredible enthusiasm, about their passion, which is collecting cars.  

"Every day is completely different with lots of international travel and something new to learn. Occasionally getting to drive a multi-million pound Ferrari has its moments too!"

What is the most demanding part of your job?

"Clients sometimes treat their cars a little bit like their children - ie, their one is always the best in the world.

"We as an auction house love nothing better than achieving excellent results for the sale of our clients' cars. But, occasionally, it can be challenging managing expectations which, every now and then, are a little ambitious."

RM Auctions has seen several world records sales over the last few years. Do you predict any for the year ahead?

"We have some very significant and valuable cars entered to our Monaco auction in May, but that's all I can say for the moment."

It must be a very exciting and busy time at the moment with two premier events approaching (Amelia Island on March 13 and Monaco on May 1).

Can you give any inside information on the lead up to these events?

"There are two distinct phases in preparing a successful auction. One is to get great cars consigned at the right prices to stimulate serious interest. And two is to sell them. 

"For RM, selling cars at auction does not just mean putting together a great catalogue and sending it out to the right people. Our team of specialists get on the telephone to their contacts and pro-actively sell each and every car to potential buyers.

"This is a very important part of a successful auction. The auctioneer's knowledge of who is in the room is also a highly important ingredient of achieving strong results."

Peter has been the proud owner of a 1961 E-Type Jaguar Coupe
for 20 years

Are you seeing a growth in the number of collectors? Are they from any particular countries or nations?

"We have sold a number of important cars to Russia in the last year, but the main market is still in North America, the UK and continental Europe. 

"However, the level of interest in collectors' cars in general is growing around the world. 

"The number of events - between race meetings, rallies, Concours d'Elegance and trade shows - fill the summer calendar every year. The gate at events such as the Goodwood Revival last September was the biggest ever, and this was during the recession.

"Many event organisers are spreading their wings and travelling further afield to places like China and India. And, as this continues to happen, I feel confident that the number of potential buyers from these markets will increase."

Has there been an item that sold surprisingly well and took you by surprise?

"We were all surprised by the figure we achieved for the sale of the 250 SWB California Spider, in 2008.

"This car had excellent provenance, having been owned by Hollywood legend James Coburn for over 25 years, and we were expecting lots of interest. In the end, the car sold for over $10m - a figure more than twice its pre-sale auction estimate.

"I also consigned the ex-Park Lane showroom McLaren F1, with no miles on the clock, to our London auction in 2008, and we were expecting it to make around £1m.

"There was frenzied bidding in the room with the eventual, very determined high-bidder bidding over £2.5m from the salesroom floor."

What is the most memorable item you have seen sold at auction?

"The Ferrari 250 California Spyder that we sold in 2008 to [BBC Radio DJ] Chris Evans, as I was on the telephone with the under-bidder and the tension in the salesroom was very exciting."

And the most expensive?

"The Ferrari 250 Testarossa that we sold at our Ferrari factory auction in Maranello, in May, last year.

"This stunning sports-racer broke the all-time record price for a car sold at auction at over $12.5m. Another highlight was driving this car earlier that year."

What is your most interesting story from your years in this business?

"My most memorable day was looking after a press feature that we were organising around our very first Ferrari auction. 

"We were shooting and testing the star car - a 1961 Le Mans winning Ferrari 330TRI LM, a seriously powerful sports racing car - on a private test track.

"Apart from the fantastic experience of driving this car, a client of ours brought along his Ferrari 250 GTO, the most important and valuable of all Ferraris, and invited me to do a few laps.

"I was speechless, but of course jumped right into to driving seat!"

What car do you drive?

"A 1961 E-Type Jaguar Coupe in gunmetal grey, a car that I really can remember loving as a boy and subsequently lusted after.

"I purchased my car over 20 years ago and have used it practically as an everyday driver ever since. I still believe that this is among the most beautiful motor cars ever designed."

In your opinion, what is the greatest car ever created?

"I can only say that one of my personal all-time favourites is the Jaguar D-Type.

"The race-bread predecessor to the E-Type and a car that had enormous racing successes in its day, and still today looks incredibly poised and beautiful on the race-track.

"[It's] not only immensely beautiful, but D-Types could reach speeds of almost 190mph on the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans in the mid 1950s."

What is your hot tip for 2010? Which market will excel? Is there anything in particular to look out for?

"I don't think the existing rules will change that much in the next year... Buy the very best you can afford, do your research diligently and buy because you love it. 

"In today's mature market, collectors are tending to buy cars with a specific purpose in mind - whether that is a race-car, a show car or a weekend fun car.

"The important thing is to enjoy classic cars."

Peter Wallman joined RM Auctions in 2007 following a consultancy period. He brought with him 18 years of experience in international advertising, having worked for several well known agencies including Ogilvy & Mather, DMB&B and J Walter Thompson. He has also been the Managing Director of a boutique advertising services company.

Peter has lived and worked in London, New York and Milan, where he started his new career selling fine collectible motor cars and learned to speak fluent Italian.

Peter works from RM Auctions' London office as a car specialist, and was responsible for consigning a superb single owner collection of 20 motor cars from Italy to the inaugural Automobiles of London auction. He also takes care of maintaining and nurturing RM's excellent business relationship with Sotheby's.

Links to other web pages included in this article do not reflect Peter Wallman's interview responses or opinions. 

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