Mercedes, Record GT40 Head $220 Million Car Auction

Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster
A 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster. One of only 30 built, it was estimated to sell for as much as $16 million at a two-day auction of classic cars at Gooding & Co. in Pebble Beach, California, on Aug. 18-19, 2012. It sold for $11.8 million with fees, a record for the marque at auction. Photographer: Mathieu Heurtault/Gooding & Co. via Bloomberg

Wealthy collectors paid record prices for a Ford GT40 and rarities by desirable marques such as Mercedes, Ferrari and Bentley in California’s classic car sales.

Gooding & Co., RM Auctions, and Bonhams sales ending last night raised in excess of $220 million, 33 percent higher than the $166.7 million generated in the bellwether West Coast sales last year.

Classic cars, like art and wine, have been attracting increased attention from wealthy individuals looking to diversify their investment portfolios. Existing buyers, aware of the worth of rare autos as a store of value in times of economic weakness, are also looking to improve their collections.

“There was a unique number of important cars,” said Dietrich Hatlapa, founder of the Historic Automobile Group International (HAGI), whose Top 50 benchmark index of exceptional classic cars has gained 8.2 percent in the year through July. “The lineup was impressive, the prices were strong.”

The most highly valued lot of the week was a 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster offered on the second day of Gooding’s Aug. 17-18 sale at Pebble Beach. One of only 30 built, and featuring the desirable “high-door, long-tail” styling, the car had been tipped by dealers to rival the auction record of $16.4 million set by a Ferrari Testa Rossa at the same venue last year.

Mercedes Record

The Mercedes sold for $11.8 million with fees, underlining the more selective market for high value prewar cars. The price was nonetheless the highest of the week and a record for the marque at auction. A 1935 Duesenberg Model JN Convertible Coupe, formerly owned by the Hollywood star Clark Gable, was estimated at more than $9 million and failed to sell.

Gooding’s 122 cars raised $115 million, a record for a two-day sale at the auction house. Gooding offered a 1960 Ferrari “competition” 250 GT California Spyder formerly owned by the late New England collector Sherman M. Wolf.

One of only nine alloy-bodied long wheelbase versions made, it sold for $11.3 million against a valuation of $7 million to $9 million.

A comparable LWB “competition” California Spyder was sold by Gooding two years ago for $7.3 million.

“The prices of the rarest Ferrari road cars from the 1950s and 1960s have really moved up,” Hatlapa said. “The marque continues to lead the market.”

RM achieved $8.6 million for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder and $8.25 million for a cream-colored 1955 Ferrari 410 S Berlinetta at its Aug. 17-18 sale at Monterey.

American Record

The two-day event raised $96 million with 90 per cent of the 120 offered cars finding buyers, said RM. Twenty cars sold for more than $1 million, the Canadian-based company said.

A 1968 Ford GT40 racer was the star lot at RM, selling on the first day for $11 million -- a record for any American auto at auction.

The Gulf/Mirage, finished in trademark powder blue with a marigold stripe, was estimated to fetch more than $8 million. The car had been raced by Jacky Ickx at Daytona and Le Mans trials in 1968. It was later used as the camera car in Steve McQueen’s 1971 film “Le Mans.”

Earlier on Aug. 17, a restored Ford GT40, formerly owned by the Bolivian tin magnate Jaime Ortiz-Patino, sold for $2.2 million on the second day of a Bonhams auction of classic motorcycles and cars at Quail Lodge, Carmel.

Valued at $2 million to $3 million, the car had been driven by Ortiz-Patino’s godson, Dominique Martin, at Monza and Hockenheim races in 1969 before being damaged by fire.

McLaren Racer

The most highly valued lot at Bonhams was a 1997 GTC Gulf Team Davidoff McLaren F1 GTR racer, again featuring powder blue and marigold livery. Estimated to raise as much as $5 million, it failed to sell in the salesroom and found a buyer shortly afterwards for $3.85 million with fees, Bonhams said.

The London-based auction house raised $10.3 million from successful bids in its Aug. 16-17 auction. Buyers were found for about 50 per cent of its 97 cars. Elsewhere, Mecum Auctions achieved $5.5 million for a 1972 Porsche L&M 917/10 Spyder raced by Can-Am Champion driver George Follmer at a three-day sale in Monterey on Aug. 16-18.

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

Muse highlights include John Mariani on wine and Hephzibah Anderson on books.

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