Bugattis Boost $50 Million Sale, Duesenberg Jams Traffic

I took a spin around the block in a 1933 Duesenberg in New York last week. People stopped to stare, snap photos and give us the thumbs up sign. The trip lasted 15 minutes and caused two traffic jams.

The ride was a prelude to “Art of the Automobile,” the first car auction in Manhattan in more than a decade. Organized by Sotheby’s and RM Auctions, it will offer 30 trophy vehicles valued at a combined $50 million on Nov. 21.

The automobiles are on view on the 10th floor of Sotheby’s York Avenue headquarters in Manhattan through Nov. 20. Vintage Bugattis and Ferraris are parked on pedestals in the same space where Andy Warhol’s $105 million “Silver Car Crash” and hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen’s art trove were displayed.

Squashed on the front seat inches from the driver, I found that the car’s seductive looks exceeded its practical benefits.

Though there was a vanity in the back seat for applying lipstick, the rear-view mirror was so tiny it could fit in my purse. And the side mirrors, attached to the side mount covers, seemed miles away.

Estimated at $2 million to $2.5 million, the Duesey could drive as fast as 100 miles per hour, but we proceeded at a snail’s pace. The car was too bulky to pass a parked truck or a double-parked Honda. We had to wait for them to move, and, of course, the cars lining up behind us began a frenzied honking.

By the time we got back, I was happy to get out.

“It’s not about practicality,” said Don Williams, whose Blackhawk Collection in Danville, California, includes about 100 cars, including a 1930s Duesenberg once driven by a mayor of New York. “You don’t take a car like this grocery shopping.”

Bespoke Dueseys

Dueseys were always the cars of choice for the rich and powerful. At about $20,000 in the 1930s, the money “could have paid for a block of single family houses,” said Alain Squindo, vice president of RM Auctions and my ride companion. “It was designed like a bespoke suit.”

The owners could choose everything from color to the ceiling height -- to make sure the car could accommodate extravagant ladies hats.

The top lot by estimate at the Sotheby’s/RM Auctions sale is a 1964 Ferrari 250 LM by Carrozzeria Scaglietti, chassis number 6107, estimated at $12 million to $15 million.

Other highlights include a 1956 Aston Martin “Supersonic,” expected to bring $1.8 million to $2.4 million. It was driven by American grand-prix racer Harry Schell and owned by Gail Whitney Vanderbilt and her husband, Richard Cowell, a record-setting water skier.

An orange Lincoln made by Italian coach-builder Felice Mario Boano has an estimated sale price of $2 million to $2.5 million.

An Art Deco-inspired, cream-colored 1938 Talbot-Lago cabriolet made by French coachbuilders Figoni et Falaschi is estimated at $8 million to $10 million.

“I’ve been playing with these beautiful cars all my life,” said Williams, who is familiar with at least 20 cars in the auction. “To me they’ve always been art.”

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Elin McCoy on wine.