A 1979 Lada Niva estimated to sell for £75,000 goes for just £4K


Lada has long been the butt of motoring jokes, and there’s another one to add to the lengthy list of knee-slappers.

The latest rib-tickler comes in the form of a 1979 Lada Niva rally car that competed in the gruelling Paris to Dakar race and was put up for sale at one of the most prestigious UK auctions of the year.

RM Sotheby’s had estimated that the battered Russian bruiser would sell for between £50,000 and £75,000. But when the hammer did come down on Monday evening it changed hands for a far smaller figure than experts had predicted – just £4,600 – as it’s no reserve sale backfired.

And it wasn’t the only case of off-target estimations at the vintage car auction… 

Failure to launch: This 1979 Lada Niva that once competed in the Paris-Dakar Rally was estimated to sell for up to £75,000 - but it eventually went under the hammer for just £4,600 including auction costs

Failure to launch: This 1979 Lada Niva that once competed in the Paris-Dakar Rally was estimated to sell for up to £75,000 - but it eventually went under the hammer for just £4,600 including auction costs

Failure to launch: This 1979 Lada Niva that once competed in the Paris-Dakar Rally was estimated to sell for up to £75,000 – but it eventually went under the hammer for just £4,600 including auction costs

The Lada Niva was one of the 105 lots available at the auction house’s London sale in Battersea.

It’s one of the biggest classic car sales of the year in the UK.

Vehicles available for bidding included a 1961 Aston Martin DB4 GT that featured in The Wrong Arm of the Law starring Peter Sellars, Rod Stewart’s former 1971 Lamborghini Miura and a go-kart driven by the late Ayrton Senna in 1994 – the year he tragically died.

But despite the variety of high-value motors expected to be bought for seven-figure sums, it was the comical Lada that stole much of the pre-event headlines – mainly because of the extortionately high estimation figure. 

Unfortunately for the seller, the Lada wasn’t quite held in the same esteem by the deep-pocketed collectors in the auction room.

When the hammer dropped, the winning bid was a relatively meagre £4,600 including premium charges.

That’s £70,400 short of the higher estimate. Just six per cent of what experts believed it would sell for.

The 1979 Lada Niva was used to compete in the 1981 Paris-Dakar Rally, though it failed to finish the event

The 1979 Lada Niva was used to compete in the 1981 Paris-Dakar Rally, though it failed to finish the event

The 1979 Lada Niva was used to compete in the 1981 Paris-Dakar Rally, though it failed to finish the event

Mechanical failure prevented the car from finishing the race. Some 291 vehicles entered the 1981 event, though just 59 finished with another Lada Niva taking third place

Mechanical failure prevented the car from finishing the race. Some 291 vehicles entered the 1981 event, though just 59 finished with another Lada Niva taking third place

Mechanical failure prevented the car from finishing the race. Some 291 vehicles entered the 1981 event, though just 59 finished with another Lada Niva taking third place

Inside, only the front seats remain and much of the interior has been stripped away to save weight

Inside, only the front seats remain and much of the interior has been stripped away to save weight

Inside, only the front seats remain and much of the interior has been stripped away to save weight

Why did the Lada sell for so little?

Rob Hull from This is Money explains: The question probably should be: why was the estimate so high? 

Ultimately, it’s immensely difficult to value some cars, especially those that don’t have a proven sale background to determine demand and price.

Estimates on cars like this are often a case of sticking a finger in the wind. 

Some cars are simply worth whatever someone is prepared to pay, and on the night it seems that was far short of what Sotheby’s expected. 

When there’s no reserve price in place, a lack of appetite can sometimes lead to a vehicle significantly missing its estimate. That’s what’s happened here.

You can listen to Rob discussing classic cars (and the Lada) in last week’s This is Money podcast.

The 4×4 Lada Niva has gained cult status in recent years and is considered a cut above the boxy saloons that the firm also made.

Ahead of the sale, Felix Archer, car specialist at RM Sotheby’s, said the ‘plucky’ Lada had led an ‘undeniably fascinating’ life, namely its entry – though failure to finish – the 1981 Paris-Dakar Rally.

‘The transnational race is renowned as gruelling and tough, which speaks volumes for the character and resilience of this small 4×4 that took on one of the hardest racing events in the world, all the more challenging under older race rules,’ he said.

‘In the car’s current state, it’s almost untouched since its participation in the Paris-Dakar race.’

RM Sotheby’s auction listing added: ‘If the Paris-Dakar rally was a Goliath of an event, this Lada was its David, facing seemingly impossible odds in one of motorsport’s most gruelling events, where one of its brethren finished third.’

Thought it wasn’t the only disappointment from the sale.

A lack of demand from wealthy collectors saw the car change hands for just 6% of what valuers had expected

A lack of demand from wealthy collectors saw the car change hands for just 6% of what valuers had expected

A lack of demand from wealthy collectors saw the car change hands for just 6% of what valuers had expected

The car was prepared for the gruelling endurance rally with a larger capacity fuel tank, additional protection for the front and rear bumpers, extra lights and a beefier suspension

The car was prepared for the gruelling endurance rally with a larger capacity fuel tank, additional protection for the front and rear bumpers, extra lights and a beefier suspension

The car was prepared for the gruelling endurance rally with a larger capacity fuel tank, additional protection for the front and rear bumpers, extra lights and a beefier suspension

Evidence of the incredibly high estimate for the Lada from RM Sotheby's online lot list

Evidence of the incredibly high estimate for the Lada from RM Sotheby's online lot list

Evidence of the incredibly high estimate for the Lada from RM Sotheby’s online lot list

This is Money’s 5 favourite Lada jokes 

1. What do you call a convertible Lada? A skip.

2. What do you call a convertible Lada with two exhausts? A wheelbarrow.

3. What do you call a Lada at the top of a hill? A miracle.

4. What’s the difference between a Lada and a golf ball? You can drive a golf ball 200 yards.

5. What do you call a Lada owner who claims to have received a speeding ticket? A liar.

The previously mentioned Aston Martin DB4 driven by Peter Sellers and Rod Stewart’s beautiful Lamborghini Miura both failed to sell, as did a 1967 Lamborghini 400GT that was reportedly first owned by Paul McCartney.

Another car previously kept by the former Beatles member did sell earlier in the month – a Radford-modified sixties Mini achieved £182,000 at the Auburn Auction held by Worldwide Auctioneers on Saturday 1 September.

Back in London, Ayrton Senna’s go-kart – also offered without reserve – sold for just £12,000.

That’s some way short of the £50,000 to £70,000 estimate placed on it. Still, that’s three times what the Lada changed hands for.

There were some big-money movers of the night, including a Ferrari Enzo sold for £1.97million and a 1953 Ferrari 212 Europa which made £1.01million.

The Lada wasn't the only disappointment for the sale. A Lamborghini Miura once owned by Rod Stewart failed to sell

The Lada wasn't the only disappointment for the sale. A Lamborghini Miura once owned by Rod Stewart failed to sell

An Aston Martin DB4 GT driven by Peter Sellars also failed to meet its auction reserve

An Aston Martin DB4 GT driven by Peter Sellars also failed to meet its auction reserve

The Lada wasn’t the only disappointment for the sale. A Lamborghini Miura once owned by Rod Stewart (left) and an Aston Martin DB4 GT driven by Peter Sellers both failed to meet their auction reserves

This go-kart was driven by Ayrton Senna in March 1994, just two months before he lost his life

This go-kart was driven by Ayrton Senna in March 1994, just two months before he lost his life

This go-kart was driven by Ayrton Senna in March 1994, just two months before he lost his life

Here he's pictured about to take the kart for a spin. Experts had estimated it could be worth up to £70,000, but it also disappointed with a sales figure of just £12,000

Here he's pictured about to take the kart for a spin. Experts had estimated it could be worth up to £70,000, but it also disappointed with a sales figure of just £12,000

Here he’s pictured about to take the kart for a spin. Experts had estimated it could be worth up to £70,000, but it also disappointed with a sales figure of just £12,000

The stand-out sale of the event was this Ferrari Enzo

The stand-out sale of the event was this Ferrari Enzo

It went for a massive £1.97million

It went for a massive £1.97million

The stand-out sale of the event was this Ferrari Enzo. It went for a massive £1.97million

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