Aug. 19 (Bloomberg) -- A 1960s Ferrari convertible sold for a record $27.5 million in California, where classic-car sales were dominated by rarities from the Italian maker.
The 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S NART Spyder’s price at RM Auctions on Aug. 17 was the most paid at auction for a car by the Italian manufacturer anywhere in the world and the most for any car bought at a U.S. public sale. It beat, among others, a 1997 McLaren F1 roadster that made $8.5 million at Gooding & Co.
“The NART Spyder is a very special car,” said the U.K.- based dealer John Collins, one of the underbidders at the RM Auctions event. “They’re so rare. They’re among the most beautiful of all Ferraris. Some of the biggest collectors in the world own one, and Steve McQueen tried to buy this one after he crashed his,” said Collins, of the Talacrest dealership.
A prewar Bentley “Blower” sold for $4.6 million at Bonhams in the bellwether weekend sales that showed strong demand for the most desirable lots. The West Coast events timed to coincide with the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance raised a record $301.9 million, the highest total for a series of classic car auctions anywhere in the world, according to the Michigan-based Hagerty database.
Ferrari claimed the top three prices, led by the NART Spyder convertible. One of just 10 built, it sold to a buyer in the room identified by dealers as the Canadian fashion entrepreneur Lawrence Stroll. An after-hours call to Stroll’s New York office to confirm the purchase was not returned. Stroll built Tommy Hilfiger into a global brand in the 1990s.
Estimated by RM at $14 million to $17 million, the convertible had been entered for charity by family of the late North Carolina businessman Eddie Smith Sr., the car’s one and only owner.
“There are some serious collectors who own NART Spyders, and quite a few who don’t,” said Harvey Stanley, of the U.K.- based dealer DK Engineering. “If you didn’t buy that one, you won’t be finding another.” The Spyder was named after the North American Racing Team by Ferrari’s U.S. importer Luigi Chinetti.
Another example of the NART Spyder was described by McQueen as “one of those red Italian things” when it appeared in the 1968 movie “The Thomas Crown Affair,” co-starring Faye Dunaway. It would have cost about $15,000 when new, dealers said.
The price, which included fees, was the second-highest for any car at a public sale after the 19.6 million pounds ($29.7 million) given for a 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 that Juan Manuel Fangio drove to two Grand Prix victories, sold by Bonhams in Goodwood, U.K., on July 12.
A 1953 Ferrari 375 MM Spyder specially commissioned by Jim Kimberly, heir to the Kimberly-Clark business empire, sold for a further $9.1 million at RM on Aug. 16.
Top seller at Gooding’s 10th Anniversary auction at Pebble Beach on Aug. 17-18 was a 1957 Ferrari 250 GT 14-Louver Berlinetta which reached $9.5 million, just above its low estimate. It was one of only eight surviving examples and had a race history that included a 4th in Class at the 1957 Mille Miglia.
All three purchases would have secured their new owners entry into the exclusive classic car racing events such as Mille Miglia Storica. These have grown in popularity with wealthy enthusiasts over the last 10 years, said dealers.
The 1997 McLaren supercar, one of just 64 road-going versions built, sold on Aug. 17. Entered by a private U.S. collector, the Magnesium Silver 230-MPH runaround cost about $1 million when new.
“The F1 is only modern supercar that’s risen significantly over its original sale price,” said McKeel Hagerty, president and chief executive of Hagerty. “It’s arguably the greatest supercar ever built.”
Bonhams’s sale at Quail Lodge on Aug. 16 was topped by 1931 Le Mans-specification 4.5-liter Supercharged Bentley “Blower” that sold for $4.6 million. Owned by the U.S. collector Charles R.J. Noble for more than 50 years, it had been estimated at $4 million to $5 million.
Though the average sale price at these California sales rose to $415,895 from $327,370 in 2012, the overall success rate of the series declined, according to Hagerty.
The 2013 auctions found buyers for 57 percent of the offered lots, down from 66 percent last year, reflecting an increasing selectivity in the classic car market.
Demand was particularly patchy at the lower-value auctions held by Russo and Steele, and Mecum. These found buyers for just 37 percent and 48 percent of their cars respectively.
The previous record for any car sold at auction in the U.S. was the $16.4 million paid for a 1957 Testa Rossa prototype at Gooding in California in August 2011.
The record price paid for any car remains the $35 million given in a private transaction in June 2012 for a 1962 Ferrari GTO 250 racer made for the U.K. driver Stirling Moss, traders confirmed to Bloomberg.
The HAGI F index of collectible Ferraris has climbed 34.3 percent this year through July, according to the London-based analyst company, the Historic Automobile Group International. Hagerty’s Blue Chip Index of collectible autos has risen 51 percent over the last three years.
Last year’s Best of Show at Pebble Beach, a 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Torpedo Roadster, was sold by its Texan owners, Paul and Judy Andrews, for $8.25 million at RM on Aug. 17. The meticulous restoration had included the sourcing of 760 lizard hides for the upholstery.
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