If you’re looking to buy a classic car, there are several options. You can trawl websites and car magazines to find private sales and specialist garages with stock lists that will make you drool. Or you could enjoy the thrill of bidding at UK classic car auctions.
But how do you find the best classic car auctions in the UK? Many are attached to major classic car events, like Race Retro and Goodwood. Others take place regularly alongside ordinary car auctions. Here we share details of some of the top UK auctions, to make it easier to buy your next classic car.
Find the classic car of your dreams with Bonhams Motoring
Bonhams Motoring is the largest classic car and memorabilia auction house, and it holds prestigious sales around the world. The auctions attract some of the best examples of classic cars you’re likely to see, and lots can fetch eye-watering amounts. For example, the Alfa Romeo Tipo B Grand Prix, which fetched over £4.5million.
This renowned auction house is responsible for some of the best classic car auctions in the UK, including a trio held at Goodwood. This has been the venue for some of the most heart-stopping moments — for example, the sale of a Juan Manuel Fangio 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196R, which sold for £19.6m. And, in 2018, the Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato went for £10.1m, making it the most expensive British motor car sold at a European auction.
1) The Goodwood Festival of Speed Sale
Where: Goodwood Festival of Speed, Chichester
When: June or July
Why go: Only the crème de la crème of classic cars make it into this auction. If you are looking for a vehicle with a pristine history, excellent pedigree, or jewel-like rarity, you’ll find it here. Many of the cars have six-figure estimates, but you don’t have to have a bottomless wallet. There are also prestige marques going under the hammer with estimates at a much more modest level.
2) Goodwood Revival Sale
Where: Goodwood Revival, Chichester
Why go: There’s a definite focus on top quality classics from yesteryear. You could pick up a barn find and embark on the pleasure of restoring it to its former glory. Buy a fully-restored beauty and get straight out onto the road or track. And if your budget doesn’t quite stretch to your dream original car, you can discover quality replicas too.
3) Goodwood Member’s Meeting Sale
Where: Goodwood, Chichester
Why go: Motoring enthusiasts head to Goodwood in droves to catch demonstrations from some of the finest historic racing cars from the 1950s and 1960s. You’ll find cars dating from the turn of the 20th century right up to the 1990s at the Bonhams auction held at this event. So whatever classic car you’re looking for, you might discover it here.
4) The Beaulieu Sale
Where: Beaulieu National Motor Museum, New Forest, near Southampton
Why go: Find historic vehicles aplenty at the annual sale held at the UK’s National Motor Museum. Like all the Bonham’s sales, you can be reassured of the high quality of vintage cars being sold. The huge auto-jumble held alongside is also just the place to stock up on parts and extras too.
Our top pick of Silverstone Auctions to find your next vintage vehicle
Silverstone Auctions is another big name in the world of classic car auctions. Several sales are held throughout the year.
5) Race Retro Sale
Where: Stoneleigh Park, Coventry
Why go: Visitors flock to the Race Retro International Historic Motorsport Show to watch past icons from the world of motorsport. And the auction is the place to find a classic of your own. You don’t have to go to the meeting to attend the auction.
6) NEC Classic Motorshow Sale
Where: NEC Classic Motorshow, Birmingham
Why go: Find classics and future classics from all marques at this vast, two-day auction. From rare turn-of-the-century Rolls Royces to iconic vehicles from the 1980’, there’s something for every enthusiast.
7) The Porsche Sale
Where: Dallas Burston Polo Club, Coventry
Why go: Held in association with the Porsche Club GB, this is the ultimate sale if you want to pick up a porker. You’ll find classics and future classics from Stuttgart to tempt you as well as automobilia too.
8) The Silverstone Classic
Where: Silverstone, Northamptonshire
Why go: Held at the Silverstone Classic weekend, at this auction you’ll discover a wide range of quality vintage vehicles and supercars as well as motorbikes and watches.
Other UK classic car auctions
Where: Battersea Park, London
Why go: A highlight in the European car collectors’ calendar, the annual Sotheby’s sale in London showcases lots ranging from Edwardian run-arounds to modern-day supercars. Expect the very best cars to be waiting to tempt you. In 2018 a 2003 Ferrari Enzo went under the hammer fetching £1.97million.
Where: Poole, Dorset
When: Throughout the year
Why go: Over 700 classic car dealers, collectors and enthusiasts gather at the regular classic car auctions help by South Western Vehicle Auctions in Dorset. Find everything from classic English sports cars to future classics.
Where: Leominster, Hereford
When: Throughout the year
Why go: Established in 1846, Brightwells auction house holds regular specialist classic car sales. The saleroom attracts an eclectic mix of vehicles from all periods, attracting buyers from across the world. High sale rates make it a popular choice with sellers too, so you’re bound to find something that catches your eye.
12) H and H Auctions
When: Throughout the year
Why go: H and H Auctions holds several auctions throughout the year, including sales at the Imperial War Museum. Lots vary, with estimates on some vehicles below £10k, making this a great auction if you’re looking to get into classic car ownership but don’t have big bucks to spend.
Where: Various, South West
When: Throughout the year
Why go: Charterhouse hold classic car auctions throughout the year at the Royal Bath and West Showground. The summer show takes place at Sherbourne Castle. At the auctions expect a diverse choice of vintage vehicles ranging from pre-war tractors to future classics.
Where: Various, Surrey
When: Throughout the year
Why go: Historics Auctioneers hold events at Brooklands Motor Museum, Mercedes Benz World, and Ascot Racecourse. Auctions attract an assortment of lots, with everything from 1970s Fiats, Fords, and Ferraris to barn-find classics and track-day cars.
Ten tips that will help you to buy a classic car at auction
If you’re planning to buy a classic car at auction, here are our top tips:
- If possible, visit a couple of classic car auctions first before you intend to bid. That way, you can get a better idea of how they work.
- Take a look at the sale catalogue before the auction to see if there are any vehicles you’re interested in.
- If you’ve found a car you like coming up for auction, do as much research as you can before the day. That way you can be sure that it’s the right car for you. Check everything from the availability of spare parts to classic car insurance costs so you can be confident you can afford to run it once it is yours.
- Set a budget you’re prepared to pay and stick to it.
- Check the percentage rate of the buyer’s premium. And ask if there are any other extras to consider, such as VAT. That way you won’t get a nasty shock after you’ve won the lot.
- Most auction houses will let you bid in person, online, or on the phone, or you can leave a commission bid. If you can get to the auction in person, do. That way you can inspect the vehicle you’re interested in first to check for issues. In many cases, you can’t just turn up and bid. You’ll need tickets or to have purchased a sale catalogue first. Check with the auction house.
- Don’t forget, you’ll need to register before you can bid.
- Classic car auctions are as fast-paced as the sports cars they sell. Don’t pop out to go to the loo unless you’re sure you have enough time. Otherwise, you may miss your lot.
- Bids are final. If your bid is the winning bid, there’s no going back.
- If you’re successful, you’ll need to provide proof of your identity, so don’t forget your passport or driving licence. Some auctions may require two forms of ID, so check first to avoid being disappointed.
- Remember to bring cash or a credit card to pay. Most will insist that a deposit is paid immediately, with different terms on how long you have to pay in full. Some may insist on full payment within 24 hours.
- Plan how you will get the vehicle home once you’ve bought it. In many cases you’ll only have 24 hours to remove the vehicle otherwise you’ll face extra storage and towage costs. If you’ll need to organise a tow, get this sorted first.
A quick guide to what to look out for when you buy a classic car at auction
You may have found the car of your dreams with an auction estimate to match. But think carefully before taking the plunge. Most classic car auctions hold inspection days before the auction itself. You might not have time for a full check, but take a look at these essentials before you bid:
- Look for rust. Try and look underneath as well as a recent spray-job can cover a multitude of sins.
- If the auction house will allow it, take a magnet and use it to check the car bodywork for signs of filler.
- Take a look at the tyres. If they’re in good condition and are a decent make, it’s a good indication that the car has been well cared for.
- Listen carefully when the car engine starts up. Rattles could suggest an expensive water pump needs to be replaced, or it could simply be a case of needing to replace the fan belt.
- Does smoke belch out the back when the car is running? That may be a sign of a costly problem.
- Lift mats to check if there is any rust. The colour of the bodywork under the mats should also match the exterior – if it doesn’t, this could be a concern.
- Ask to see receipts and cross-check that mileage figures stack up.
For further reading, check out our article with nine things you should know before buying a classic car.
Discover if it is cheaper to buy a classic car at auction to get the best deal for your money
Traditionally, a used-car auction is an excellent place to get a value-for-money deal although there can be a higher risk as cars are sold as seen. Just like a used-car auction, a classic car auction comes with the risk that there is no comeback if something goes wrong with the vehicle after the purchase. And unlike a used-car auction, it’s not always the case that you’ll get a lower price for a vehicle than you would in a garage or private sale. That’s because some of the rarest vehicles go up for sale at a classic car auction. With few similar cars sold, the value of a car really does come down to how much someone is prepared to pay for it on the day. And if you get two enthusiasts who set their heart on the same car, the price can rocket skywards.
If you’re thinking about buying a classic car, an auction could be just the place to find your dream vehicle. At an auction you can bid on the cream of the crop, barn finds, future classics, and supercars. Our list of the top UK classic car auctions tells you when and where to go. So whether you’re looking to add another car to your collection or plan to hit the road or track in a piece of automotive history, you’ll find your perfect four-wheels.
If you’ve bought a classic car at auction, get in touch. With agreed value, your choice of garage for repairs, and options to suit all budgets, our classic car insurance is designed for the discerning classic car owner.