Like the classic car scene as a whole, auctions cover all the bases, from small regional houses holding sales in a convenient barn to the high-powered international businesses whose sales see tens of millions of pounds changing hands and are televised around the world.
The highest of the high points has long been the week of auctions at Monterey, California, which precedes the famous Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach. This is often a place where records are set, and this year was no exception, with a trio of classic Ferraris setting various records, including one becoming the most valuable car in history.
The car in question is a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta, which was sold by Bonhams on Thursday, August 13. The car was predicted to be a top performer and the Bonhams pavilion was packed to capacity, with the sale broadcast on outdoor screens to a crowd on an equally packed lawn outside. The sale had an atmosphere that ‘at times resembled a tennis match’, with moments of tense silence as increasingly high bids were invited and gaps and cheers when they were placed. The hammer fell at $38,115,000 (£22,843,633).
The GTO was the 19th of its type to be completed and was the centrepiece of a collection of ten Ferraris owned by Fabrizio Violati, who had the collection on public view in San Marino. The entire collection was auctioned at Pebble Beach, fetching a combined total (including the GTO) of £39,552,440.
Records continued to fall on the second day, with RM Auctions selling a 1964 Ferrari 250 LM (which also happened to the 19th built). The 250 LM was the first mid-engined Ferrari and the car in question was imported direct from the factory to Nevada, where it was the personal transport of William Farrah, the hotel and casino mogul who was also a renowned car enthusiast – several of his cars have collected trophies at Pebble Beach over the years. The Ferrari sold for $11,550,000 (just short of £7 million), which was a new high for the model.
THE MCQUEEN EFFECT
But when it came to Ferraris with celebrity owners, nothing could beat the car under the hammer at RM on Saturday, August 16. The 1967 275 GTB/4’s first owner had been actor, racing driver, car enthusiast and ‘King of Cool’ Steve McQueen, who actually had the car delivered to him on the set of ‘Bullitt’. He later sold the Ferrari to fellow actor Guy Williams, star of ‘Lost in Space’. More recently the car passed to Vern Schuppan, the retired Australian racing driver who piloted the Porsche 956 to victory in the 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans. He had the car restored by Ferrari back to the exact condition it had been in when McQueen purchased it.
Bidding started at $4 million (£2.4 million), which was already nearly three times the normal value of a Ferrari 275. A phone bid immediately took it up to $6 million, then $7 million, before going up in quarter-million increments. The final bid was $9.25 million, which with the premium and other charges brought the total within a whisker of £6 million – four times the usual value of the model. This is a relatively modest ‘McQueen effect’ – a Porsche 911 owned by the same actor sold for 12 times its standard value in 2011.
A certain amount of mystery surrounds the buyer of the McQueen Ferrari, but it is thought to be ‘a very wealthy [unsurprisingly!] British car collector’ who was bidding by telephone. Well-known Ferrari enthusiast and radio presenter Chris Evans was in Monterey but has confirmed that he was not the buyer. The record-breaking 250 GTO is also thought to have gone to a (different) British buyer.
THE OTHER HALF
Monterey is not all about Ferraris with price tags that resemble phone numbers though. Mecum Auctions, a house with a rather different tone to the likes of Bonhams and Gooding, is gaining a reputation as something of a ‘Monterey Fringe’, holding its auctions at a separate venue within the city. Based in Wisconsin, Mecums has a rather less formal and distinctly more American flavour, specialising in US motors and racing cars from the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies. Adding to the Midwestern theme is a special sale of tractors from the same period, some of which can fetch up to $30,000 (£18,000). Mecums says that its ethos is ‘something for everyone’.
Of course ‘everyone’ encompasses a wide range and, yes, the top performer at the Mecums sale was yet another Ferrari – a 1961 250 Series 2 cabriolet, which fetched over $2 million – but there were other, less valuable (and, arguably, more interesting) lots.
One was a 1959 Riley One-Point-Five in left-hand drive form and described as being from a ‘now-obscure British brand’. Appearing between a Honda S600 ($41,000) and a Ford Falcon ($9,500) the little Riley found an enthusiastic new owner for the grand sum of $5500 (£3300). A 1974 Triumph TR6 fetched slightly more ($6000/£3600), while other sub-10k cars sold at Mecums included a pair of Volkswagen Beetles, a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair, a 1997 Jaguar XK8 and a 1962 Chrysler Imperial Southampton.
Auctioneers will be getting a brief respite before focus swings across the Atlantic and onto the sales at the Goodwood Revival on Saturday, September 13.