Private Classic-Car Sales Soar Past $100 Million Mark

A Ferrari 250 GTO being offered for $20 million is set to boost private classic-car sales that have already made $100 million in 2010, dealers said.

The 170 mph 1963 Ferrari is billed as the world's ultimate sports car by Canadian-based specialists RM Auctions, which is selling it on behalf of a Japanese collector.

Classic cars often fetch higher prices through discreet transactions than they do at auction. Private sales for high- value classic vehicles topped $117 million worldwide within the last two months, said the Geneva-based adviser Simon Kidston.

"People now realize that prices have bottomed out," Kidston said in an interview. "The market is buoyant for truly exceptional motor cars. Elsewhere it remains selective."

The Ferrari was one of 36 produced by the Italian company in 1962 to 1963. The model won its division of the World Sports Car Championship in 1962, 1963 and 1964 and was voted by Motor Trend Classic magazine the "Greatest Ferrari of All Time." Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason is among the car's celebrity owners.

"Most people recognize the GTO as the most valuable and desirable of Ferraris," said James Cottingham, a director in the Hertfordshire-based dealers DK Engineering, which specializes in the marque.

Another example, with an asking price of $28 million, was sold privately in the U.S. within the last three months, said Cottingham. "That car had a particularly good originality, provenance and race history."

Desirable Bodywork

The privately-sold Ferrari GTO featured the original Series I bodywork, while the RM example has the slightly later, less desirable Series II design, said dealers.

A U.K. collector recently privately sold a 1930s Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 sports car for 12 million pounds ($17.9 million), said Kidston. A Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, sold by RM for 9 million euros ($12.2 million at the time) in May 2009, holds the record for any car offered in a public salesroom.

"We have some interest, though nothing is definite yet," Max Girardo, managing director of RM Europe, said in an interview. "A couple of collectors are flying over to see the car, which shows they're serious. These things take time."

The current owner acquired the car in 1996 and is selling because he has become too old to race, Girardo said.

Owners of these vehicles give themselves the opportunity to enter classic-car competitions, dealers said.

Mille Miglia

The buyer of a 1937 BMW 328 racer would earn automatic entry into the amateur restaging of the Mille Miglia in Italy. The open-road endurance race was abandoned after 30 years as a professional event in 1957 after 15 people died in a crash.

RM Auctions' May 1 inaugural sporting classics sale in Monaco will include the BMW that won the 2.0-liter class in the 1938 Mille Miglia. The privately owned car, which is fresh to the auction market, carries an unpublished estimate between 6 million euros and 8 million euros, said RM.

Although recognized as a rare car — fewer than 200 BMW 328s are thought to have survived of the 426 examples made between 1936 to 1939 — the valuation is a new price level for a BMW, said dealers. None of the German manufacturer's cars has sold for $1 million at auction, they said.

"BMW have always made fine motor cars," said Kidston. "They don't have the euphoric fascination of Ferrari."

Bonhams sold another BMW 328, lacking a race history, for a record 442,000 euros at an auction in Monaco in May 2008, said the company's London-based specialist Sholto Gilbertson.

An auction of 50 classic cars will be held at Bonhams in Oxford, U.K., on March 6. The company's first U.K.-based car auction of 2010 will include a 1956 Bentley S1 Continental Sports Saloon, valued at 150,000 pounds to 180,000 pounds. The Bentley S1 was an example of a mid-market classic car that had held its value, said Gilbertson.

The auction is expected to raise between 1 million pounds and 1.3 million pounds from 50 cars. Last year the event achieved a mid-estimate 968,493 pounds with all but one of the 40 offered cars finding buyers.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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