A 1930s Bugatti has sold for about $30 million to become the world’s most expensive car -- with dealers predicting more records as billionaires look for alternatives to risky financial investments.
The Type 57SC Atlantic was bought in a private transaction for nearly as much as its asking price, dealers with knowledge of the matter said. The coupe had been owned by the New Hampshire-based neurologist Peter D. Williamson, a former president of the American Bugatti Club, who died in 2008.
“Interest rates are low and some people have made a lot of money over the last year,” said John Collins, of U.K.-based Ferrari dealers Talacrest 2000 AD Ltd. “They want to buy real assets that have a limited supply and that won’t go down in value. Modern art and classic cars are tracking each other at the moment.”
Wealthy individuals are increasingly looking at physical objects such as art and cars because stock markets remain turbulent, dealers said. A 1932 painting by Pablo Picasso sold at Christie’s International in New York for $106.5 million on May 4, setting a record for any artwork at auction.
The Williamson family’s sale was brokered by the Santa Monica-based classic auto specialists, Gooding & Company. Katie Hellweg, the company’s spokeswoman, said in an interview that she wouldn’t comment on the price or the buyer.
The 123-mph car was bought by the California-based collector Peter W. Mullin, who specializes in French coach- built classic cars, said Max Girardo, a London-based specialist with RM Auctions, who on May 1 held a 33.2 million-euro ($42.8 million) car sale in Monaco.
“People will pay for good cars with good histories,” Girardo said. “But they have to be the right price. Buyers are educated and do their research.”
Mullin is the founder of Mullin TBG, which provides executive benefit packages. Calls to his company press office weren’t immediately returned. Mullin paid 260,500 euros at a Paris auction by Bonhams in January for a wrecked 1920s Bugatti Brescia Type-22 roadster that had been salvaged from a Swiss lake, dealers said.
Classic cars often fetch higher prices through discreet transactions than they do at auction. A Ferrari GTO sports car -- one of 36 produced by the Italian company in 1962 to 1963 -- was sold privately in the U.S. within the last four months after being priced at $28 million, dealers said.
A 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa was sold by RM for 9 million euros ($12.2 million at the time) in May 2009, and that holds the record for any car offered in a public salesroom.
U.K. television and radio host Chris Evans was the buyer, said Collins, who advises Evans on purchases of classic Ferraris.
Evans part-financed the acquisition of the GTO by selling other cars from his collection. These have included a white 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta that fetched 2.6 million euros at RM’s recent Monaco auction, said Girardo.
The car was one of a group of seven white Ferraris -- the “white collection” -- put together for Evans by Talacrest, said Collins. The Ascot-based dealership has sold a white 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 from Evans’s collection for about a million pounds and his white 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO is available at 525,000 pounds, said Collins.
In May 2008 Evans bought a Nero-black 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder for a then-record 7 million euros ($10.9 million) with fees at RM’s annual Maranello sale. The car was formerly owned by the Hollywood actor James Coburn. Evans is currently driving the black Ferrari in the Mille Miglia Classic, which ends this weekend, said Collins.
The Williamson Bugatti 57SC Atlantic was designed by Ettore Bugatti’s son, Jean, and debuted at the 1935 Paris Motor Show. The futuristic design, made out of welded aluminum with a distinctive central seam, attracted three orders, only two of which survive in their original condition.
One is owned by the fashion designer Ralph Lauren. The other was acquired by Williamson at a Sotheby’s auction in Los Angeles in June 1971 for a then-record price of $59,000, said the Geneva-based classic car adviser Simon Kidston, founder of Kidston SA.
“This Bugatti is as close a motor car gets to being a work of art,” Kidston said in an interview. “And it’s almost as rare as a unique work of art.”
Collins was among the bidders at the RM Auctions inaugural sale in Monaco, which found buyers for 88 of its 105 cars. A 1937 BMW 328 racer that won the 2.0-liter class in the 1938 Mille Miglia failed to sell on the day after being estimated at 6 million euros to 8 million euros. A U.S.-based buyer was found the day after the auction at a revised price of about 4.5 million euros, still a record for any BMW, Girardo said.
The top performer at the auction itself was a black 1962 Ferrari 400 Superamerica Cabriolet that sold for 2.8 million euros with fees to another U.S.-based buyer against a high estimate of 2.45 million euros.
“It isn’t all roses and daffodils,” said Girardo. “Cars have to be priced correctly.” Five lots sold for more than 2 million euros.
“I wanted to buy two or three cars in Monaco, but couldn’t get them,” Collins said. “Prices are rising. Ferraris that would have been marked at 350,000 pounds ($529,000) last year are now selling for 450,000 pounds to 500,000 pounds.
‘‘I’ve seen a few Russians coming into the market and some of the City people are back. If I want to buy at auction I’m going to have to be more bold,” Collins said.
Total sales at the Monaco auction matched the record 33 million euros achieved at RM’s May 2007 sale at the Ferrari factory in Maranello in May 2007, said the Canadian-based company.
“The success of the sale wasn’t down to euphoric bidding or a market that has suddenly gone into orbit,” Kidston said in his company’s newsletter. “The key was a good selection of lots attracted by fresh, dynamic marketing and presentation, and keenly negotiated reserve prices in line with today’s market.”
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn at firstname.lastname@example.org.