James Bond’s Lotus Sub Boosts $33 Million Sale, Jag Flops

A James Bond Lotus submarine and a 1957 Maserati sold last night at a $33 million car auction.

A Scottish lord’s Jaguar D-type and his 1966 Ferrari failed to sell as buyers balked at high estimates for the world’s most valuable classic racers at the London event.

“After the excitement of record auctions in the summer, the estimates got ahead of themselves,” Dave Kinney of Virginia-based USAppraisal.com said in the RM Auctions sale room. “There’s a limited market for race cars. This is a good sign that people aren’t prepared to pay crazy prices for everything. I was surprised the Jaguar D-Type didn’t sell, though.”

The Lotus Esprit Series 1 prop, propelled through the water by a working electric motor in the 1977 film “The Spy Who Loved Me,” fetched 616,000 pounds ($967,000) with fees, below a low estimate of 650,000 pounds at hammer prices.

The prop had been bought by an unidentified U.S. couple at an auction in Long Island, New York, in 1989 and this time went to a telephone buyer, outgunning a lone bidder in the room at Battersea Park.

The advertised highlight of the second session of the two-day event was a group of seven racers being sold by Irvine Laidlaw. A Jaguar of the type that won the Le Mans 24-hour race three times in the late 1950s didn’t find a buyer after being estimated at 5.5 million pounds to 6.5 million pounds.

Laidlaw, 70, sold the Institute for International Research, the world’s largest conference organizer, in 2005. He has been a prominent driver of high-value cars at historic racing events.

Toyshop Cars

“I gave up racing this year,” Laidlaw said in an interview at the auction. “If I don’t use them, I sell them. I don’t want them sitting around like toys in a toyshop.”

Laidlaw’s D-Type was painted in the colors of the Edinburgh-based privateer Ecurie Ecosse, which won Le Mans in 1956 and 1957. This particular “long-nose” version was a reserve car used by the team for fuel-injection testing. The bidding stopped below the reserve price at 4 million pounds.

Laidlaw also failed to sell his Ferrari 275 GTB/C Berlinetta Competizione. Once placed 10th in the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour race, it had a low estimate of 2.5 million pounds.

The most expensive sale of the group -- and of the entire auction -- was a Maserati 250S with coachwork by Fantuzzi. One of just four of its type, and previously raced by the U.S. driver Carroll Shelby, this sold for 2.1 million pounds with fees against a low estimate of 2.5 million pounds.

Auction Record

The Laidlaw lots raised just 3.8 million pounds with fees against a low estimate of 11.5 million pounds.

The two-day auction raised 20.9 million pounds -- a record for the Canadian-based company in the U.K. -- with 90 percent of the 134 lots finding buyers. The presale low estimate for RM’s biggest-ever annual London sale had been 32 million pounds.

Demand for rare classic cars has been booming. They’ve been the top performer in the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index over the last 12 months, increasing in price by 28 percent, the London-based realtors said on Sept. 7.

The index tracks the value of nine luxury collectable assets. Gold declined by 23 percent and art by 3 percent over the same period. Knight Frank said the index showed the growing popularity among high net worth individuals for investing in “tangible objects that can also be enjoyed or treasured by their owners.”

Dealers said expectations at this London event had been raised by bellwether sales last month in California that took $301.9 million, the highest total for any series of classic car auctions.

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on arts, Hephzibah Anderson on books, Jeremy Gerard on theater, Martin Gayford on European art and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.