Bugatti Tops $13.7 Million Sale; Lennon Car Withdrawn

Bugatti Type 51 Racer
A 1933 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix racer sold for 943,000 euros at a Bonhams auction in the Grand Palais, Paris, on Feb. 5, 2011. Entered from the estate of the late Fitzroy Somerset, the 5th Baron Raglan, it had been estimated to raise as much as 800,000 euros. Photo: Bonhams via Bloomberg.

An English lord’s 1930s Bugatti Grand Prix racer was the top lot in a Paris auction that raised 10.1 million euros ($13.7 million).

The 1933 Bugatti Type 51, entered from the estate of the late Fitzroy Somerset, the 5th Baron Raglan, fetched 943,000 euros including fees on Feb. 5. The Bonhams sale at the Grand Palais had been scheduled to include a 1965 light blue Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 Coupe, estimated to raise as much as 170,000 euros, that Beatle John Lennon bought hours after passing his driving test. It was withdrawn before the event owing to “consignor’s remorse,” said Leonora Oldfield, a press officer at the auction house: The present seller could not bear to part with it.

The Bugatti had been estimated to raise as much as 800,000 euros. It was bought by a French private collector in the salesroom, Oldfield said in an interview after the event. The French-manufactured racer was one of 53 successful lots in an offering of 90 cars. The sale, including memorabilia, had a low estimate of 13.7 million euros at hammer prices.

Buyers of collectors’ vehicles have become more selective, as at the Bonhams auction. The Historic Automobile Group International (HAGI) Top 50 index of exceptional classic-car prices was up 6.6 percent in 2010, lower than its average annual growth of more than 12 percent from 2003 to 2008. This year, two investment companies -- Guernsey-based IGA Automobile LP and the Liechtenstein-based Classic Car Fund -- have issued prospectuses with target returns of 15 percent and 17 percent respectively.

Sicilian Crash

The Bugatti was likely to have been a works model that raced in the 1933 Belgian and Dieppe grands prix before crashing in the 1934 Targa Florio road race in Sicily, according to the catalog.

The damaged Type 51 was acquired in 1979 by Raglan, a patron of the U.K. Bugatti Owners’ Club, and took more than two years to restore. It was then raced at various events around the world for almost three decades, said the London-based auction house.

A 1930 Bugatti Type 46 Cabriolet, also formerly owned by Raglan, sold for 333,500 euros to another French collector. A 1960s Porsche Type 906 Carrera competition coupe also attracted demand, reaching 747,500 euros -- the second-highest price of the evening -- against a valuation of 600,000 euros to 700,000 euros.

King’s Aston

A 1955 Aston Martin DB2/4 Sports Saloon that had been owned by Baudouin, the king of Belgium, sold for 333,500 euros against a high estimate of 240,000 euros. The price was an auction record for the model, said Bonhams.

King Baudouin, who reigned from 1951 until his death in 1993, was known for his love of fast cars. The Aston Martin, supplied new to the monarch, was “an expensive car designed to cater for the connoisseur of sports cars who is not limited by financial considerations,” said Autocar magazine in 1953. The DB2/4 was in “concours” condition following a restoration between 2001 and 2008, according to the auction house.

Bonhams’s most highly valued lot was a Scuderia Ferrari 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport Spyder that Luigi Scarfiotti drove in Italy’s Mille Miglia (1,000 Mile) road race. Entered by a Texas-based collector, it failed to attract any bids after being estimated at 950,000 euros to 1.25 million euros.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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