From outdated old racer to multi-million-dollar objet d'art...
April 2008

From outdated old racer to multi-million-dollar objet d'art...

The life story of an old Ferrari and why its value has multiplied by 750-times in four decades.

Just spare a moment to think yourself back some 35 years. You’re a British car enthusiast, and you have just seen an obsolete racing Ferrari advertised for sale. There’s no major-league racing category in which it can any longer earn appearance and prize money. So nobody wants it. You have a little bit of cash to spare, and so you invest in the old car. It costs you $10,000. You sell it after a few years, and actually make a few thousand dollars profit. It was a sound investment. But if only you had kept it. Why? Because that $10,000 car from the early-1970s is on the market again right now – and this time the price is nearer $7 ½ million. What an investment that would have been – an asset which has appreciated 750-fold in less than 40 years.

So how can this be? What is it about obsolete racing cars of the 1960s that when they were five or six years old they commanded no better than fire-sale prices, yet here and now in 2008 the same machine is coveted by a cash-rich connoisseur market in which demand far exceeds supply?

First, you have to understand that racing cars are special. No matter how exotic or powerful and fast any production ‘supercar’ model may be, the connoisseur world has always regarded them as inferior animals compared to great racing cars. This is because, uniquely, retired racing cars carry with them an individual history. Each one has its own record of endeavour and success, and of occasional - often heroic - failure. Such individual histories are exceptionally well documented in the specialist sporting press. So each racing car stands alone – an iconic individual, a higher breed than the surviving production road car, which by definition has a history which is in no way so well-defined and glamorous.

Such a pedigree may well be sufficient to cement the interest of a big-spending ‘contemplative’ collector – one eager to acquire a car for its history and charismatic connections alone. But since the 1980s an ever-growing series of major international Historic car events has provided a refreshed arena in which great racing cars of a certain age can again be used, either in fun-run public road rallies or in red-hot full-blooded circuit racing. The availability of such events has encouraged an entirely more active class of ‘user’ collectors, who buy such cars as a combined financial investment and as an electrifyingly exciting item of currently-useable sports equipment. The number of wealthy enthusiasts who acquire great Historic racing cars to race them again seems to grow, year on year.

So what’s the story of our historic racing car worth $10,000 in the 1970s – worth $7 ½ -plus million today? It is actually a 3.3-litre, V12-engined Ferrari 250LM – a shapely Pininfarina-styled 180mph rocket ship on wheels.

cobra_daytona  bruce_mccaw_with_doug_nye

Of course, the car collecting fraternity know such a car by its individual chassis number. This Ferrari 250LM’s is chassis ‘6051’. It was delivered new in September 1964 to a British aristocrat, the Honourable Eddie Portman. He was a racing enthusiast who had campaigned Lotus and Ferrari cars for several years. But he quickly resold the 250LM, and it passed to the enthusiastic motor racing son of the famous Anglo-American sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein.

Jackie Epstein owned a garage business in southern England and had spent several years learning how to go motor racing as a private owner. He had discovered that with the right car, and the right approach, a gypsy existence racing at circuits all over the world could actually come close to covering its own costs. The purchase price and running costs of the car could be offset by appearance money deals with race organisers keen to attract overseas entries into their races. Such payments could also cover travel and hotel bills. Fuel, tyre and auxiliary systems suppliers then paid quite healthy bonuses to car owners who achieved good results. At the end of a year selling the car could recoup at least part of the purchase cost. With good judgement in planning their race programme, the private owners could have some terrific fun, enjoy good sport, and see the world at somebody else’s expense. You know it made sense!

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Left: At ten tenths 'Down Under'- racing hard at the '66 Surfers Paradise 12 Hours in its heyday...

Right: ...and barely five years later, almost forgotten in a British country garage

After two seasons of enjoyable racing, including outings at Daytona (USA), the Targa Florio (Sicily), Spa (Belgium) and even further afield (South Africa and Australia to name but two), early in 1967 the sculptor’s son sold his racing Ferrari to Birmingham garagiste David Prophet. After a few more years, around 1973, the old racing warhorse was acquired by enthusiast T.A. ‘Bob’ Roberts – who at that time was establishing the Midlands Motor Museum in Shropshire, England. Ferrari ‘6051’ became one of the Museum’s prime exhibits until 1981. It passed to a Belgian collector, later to a wealthy Dutch diamond dealer, and by the turn of the 1980s-1990s the old car’s market value had accelerated through the $3-million mark.

In 1992, it was sold for an even higher price to a collector in Japan, then 1996 it passed into American hands. Eventually in 2003 it was acquired by the present vendor – and today for five million Euros this iconic and historically unique racing Ferrari could indeed be yours. As an entry ticket to the most prestigious motoring events worldwide, from Pebble Beach to Goodwood, it has few equals. As one of just 32 such cars ever made, fewer still of which have survived their hard racing lives, it also guarantees its owner membership of a very exclusive club indeed. And as with all vibrant, living, heart-poundingly exciting, competition Ferraris, if you can afford the investment…