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Monterey Madness: The Latest from California


By Simon Kidston

Ex- Le Mans '59 Ferrari 250GT LWB California 'Competizione' was centre of attention at RM where it topped the weekend's prices: $4,950,000.

If anyone wondered whether recent stock market turmoil would dampen sales results at this summer's benchmark auctions over the Pebble Beach weekend (and many were asking themselves, myself included), the hard figures speak for themselves. I haven't yet counted the number of records which were broken, and despite an arguable shortage of truly 'great' cars on offer, 2007 was the highest turnover year ever in Monterey, up 38.8% from 2006.

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The week kicked off as has become customary with Gordon McCall's Jet Party at the peninsula's private aviation terminal, adjacent to the large hangar where Christie's have held their car sale for the past four years. Gordon's slick event continues to grow in stature and showcases new executive aircraft available for purchase with classic warbirds displayed on the tarmac outside whilst a weird and wonderful array of historic and modern cars nestle under their wings. Over 3,000 well-fed and watered guests could wander from the Christie's auction display, headlined by the much publicized ex-Steve McQueen Ferrari Lusso (thankfully not painted red), past the newly created, one-off Blastolene Special (all 22 feet of it, complete with tank engine power and yours for $1.5m), over to a tranquil seating area where an elegant young lady was on hand to help you choose the interior furnishings for your new Gulfstream...  Veyron not exclusive enough? Try the Blastolene Special: 1500bhp, $1,500,000...  The King of Cool's Ferrari Lusso beats all records at $2.3m (no, not a misprint).

Christie's had great hopes for their 1963 Ferrari 250GT Lusso, which had received a massive PR build-up (well done) but seemed optimistically estimated at $800,000-1,000,000. At least one other auction house which has been successful in selling McQueen memorabilia had declined the car at this level, and a well-known US car museum which owns a number of 'stars cars' had seen their seemingly bullish earlier offer of $750,000 declined by the vendor, a professional restorer rumoured to have acquired the Lusso for $80,000 in 1997 in less than perfect condition and with its McQueen provenance unconfirmed. Within 10 seconds of opening, bidding had already broken the $1 million barrier, and when the auctioneer's gavel finally came down it set a new all-time record for the model: an anonymous telephone bidder had just paid $2,310,000, over four times the regular market value of a Ferrari Lusso. Feverish speculation about the mysterious buyer's identity spread quickly (suggestions ranged from a '60s rock star to a Swiss watch company) but more importantly, uncertain onlookers received a strong signal that far from wavering, the market might be poised to take another jump upwards.

The next afternoon, in the verdant surroundings of the Quail Lodge resort and golf club just outside nearby Carmel, Bonhams & Butterfields hosted their traditional sale in conjunction with the resort's own, ultra exclusive concours d'élegance known as 'The Quail- A Motorsports Gathering' for which tickets were sold out months ago. Bonhams had assembled a varied field of European and US cars for this auction which added not only the usual automobilia but also jewelry to the mix, giving the event more of a lifestyle flavour than the weekend's other sales, but really big ticket items were missing, especially compared to last year's auction which featured rarities from the German Rosso Bianco collection acquired early in 2006 by a Bonhams associate. There were still some interesting prices including a 1968 Chevrolet Corvette L88 coupe at $252,500 and a '73 Porsche Carrera RS Touring with non-matching engine at $271,000 (sold just last October by Gooding at the Otis Chandler auction for some $200,000), but the most surprising result of all was not for a car but an automobilia lot: a small Bullitt poster otherwise valued at $200-300 but in this case signed by McQueen himself soared to $14,040. Helped by a muscle car collection consigned without reserve, Bonhams turned over nearly $9 million, slightly more than Christie's the previous evening and enough to satisfy the company's San Francisco based US car department.

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Left: '68 Corvette with sought after L88 spec: $252,500 at Bonhams
Right:Ex-Otis Chandler Carrera RS with non matching engine: $271,000.

A few miles north, downtown Monterey has become the preserve of two auction houses which share a very differing style from their British rivals. Relative newcomers Russo and Steele host their sale in and outside the rather nondescript Marriott hotel, whilst Canadian colossus RM takes over the equally inspiring Portola Plaza Hotel just a few hundred yards away. Both favour the "pile 'em high" approach, with Russo and Steele not even bothering with a full catalogue but instead encouraging owners to post sales blurb under the windscreen wipers of their entries, consisting of a large proportion of US muscle cars, standard European sports car auction fare and a sprinkling of movie props and other oddities for good measure. Described by one magazine as "The WWF of auctions", Russo and Steele put on a loud and brash show which Europeans would find at best baffling and at worst just plain intimidating, but amongst the apparent chaos plenty of cars seemed to be selling. As widely forecast, the long hyped muscle car market showed signs of softening, a number of them stalling well below their pre-sale estimates but, tellingly, most owners were letting them go which I suspect was wise. European cars, on the other hand, apparently did very well. Displayed on the street outside (or abandoned- it was 3am) was a shiny blue '72 Lamborghini Miura SV, rebuilt in the USA from a long crashed wreck from the Middle East and described as "the lowest mileage SV in the States" (does it matter after almost everything has been replaced?), which was knocked down at $962,500, highest price of the sale. The owner must believe in the bull market as he is already re-offering it for $1.2 million. Not sure what to make of that...Another iconic Italian sports car, a right-hand drive example of the early wedge shaped Lamborghini Countach LP400 "rumored to have been owned by Mr Adnan Kashoggi, a celebrity and one of the richest men in the world" surprised most people when it was hammered at a staggering $533,500.

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Left: Rebuilt '72 Lamborghini Miura SV displayed at Russo and Steele: $962,500. Nice windscreen sticker.
Right:Early Lamborghini Countach price was astonishing: $533,500.

In comparison, RM produced a beautifully presented auction catalogue (arguably the best of the weekend) heavy enough to serve as a door stop and containing something for almost every taste, ranging from the streamlined, almost sinister 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ town car built for candy bar heiress Miss Mars (complete with Art Deco boudoir interior) through to a voluptuous 1959 Ferrari 250GT California Spyder Competizione which achieved the model's best race result (5th overall at Le Mans in '59) but had been restored without its correct period livery or race details such as the bonnet mounted bug deflector, a decision which I suspect may have cost it a couple more bids. I'm sure neither vendor is complaining, however, as the Ferrari was sold for $4.95 million and the big Duesie at $4.4 million. The most surprising result was probably the $3.74 million paid for a handsome, one-off de Villars bodied Delage D8 resident for most of its life in Spain, which made the $1,705,000 paid for the fastback Aerosport bodied D8 (recently offered in the London trade but not sold) seem almost reasonable. Well, almost...

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Left: Looking like it came straight out of a Hollywood film noir: the candy bar heiress' Duesenberg town car cost its new owner $4,400,000 at RM
Right:Beautiful, one-off de Villars bodied '33 Delage D8 attracted several 'big hitters': $3,740,000 at RM.

Other highlights at RM included a well presented but standard looking silver Gullwing at $726,000, a navy blue Lancia Aurelia B24 Spyder America on wire wheels which appeared cosmetically prepared for sale at $550,000 (!), and another car in the same vein, a freshly repainted, metallic blue Lamborghini Miura S ($473,000).

Now in his fourth year of business, former Christie's protegé David Gooding again occupied the weekend's prime position in a huge tent at Pebble Beach's Equestrian Center, a dusty outdoor area just a few hundred metres from the manicured lawns upon which the 200-plus entries for the world famous concours d'élegance are shown. This location allows entrants and spectators to move easily between the two events and has traditionally made the Sunday evening sale an entertaining end to the weekend after the Best of Show award is presented to the winner on Pebble Beach's oft-photographed winner's ramp. For many years Christie's occupied this spot until dethroned by Gooding in 2004, and he quickly overtook both his old employer and Bonhams in sales turnover whilst RM built up what seemed like an unassailable lead. This year, though, many pundits commentated that Gooding had secured the best cars and his presentation was also the class of the field, with slick lighting, cars displayed on raised podiums, a lavish video presentation for the star lots and, of course, a smart catalogue (although RM's will be hard to beat).

Perhaps encouraged by his success late last year with the late Otis Chandler's collection, two consignors had entrusted David with important collections for his 2007 Pebble Beach auction. The executors of the late Greg Garrison, the colourful 1960s TV producer and Dean Martin's manager, entered his Ferrari collection, whilst US philanthropist Richard J Solove chose this event to sell his entire Rolls-Royce collection without reserve, all proceeds destined for cancer charities. Neither disappointed: top seller amongst the Garrison cars was the last built Ferrari Daytona Spyder he had bought new, still with just delivery mileage covered, which saw a two way bidding battle between a Swiss based consultant and a telephone bidder resolved in favour of the latter at $2,035,000, unsurprisingly a new record for the model. In contrast, the black liveried 'normal' Daytona Spyder with 10,778 miles at RM sold for $1,056,000 just minutes later, illustrating the huge difference in value for one-owner provenance and ultra low mileage. Of Mr Solove's splendid Silver Ghosts, top price went (as expected) to 'The Corgi', a 1912 model special not only because it a rare pre-WW1 example (much rarer and more valuable than those built post-war), nor because of its towering 'Double Pullman' limousine coachwork by Barker (unlike 1920s/30s Rolls-Royces, early Ghosts can often command as much with closed bodywork as open) but because it is immediately recognizable as the inspiration for the model toy made by the Corgi company. On Sunday evening it cost its new owner $2,970,000.

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Left: Beautiful black Ferrari 250GT LWB California Spyder sets a new level for a 'standard' LWB at $4,455,000.
Right:'The Corgi', the 1912 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost which was immortalised in a model by the Corgi company, changed hands for $2,970,000.

Applause greeted the sale of another important British car with its own nickname, 'The Green Hornet', an original Blower Bentley (one of the 50 made to homologate the supercharged 4 ½ Litre for racing) with skimpy 2/3 seater coachwork by Gurney Nutting, its pointed tail recalling the shape of an insect. Although perhaps not the prettiest vintage Bentley ever built, this car's rare state of preservation and excellent provenance (it had been a gift from the late owner's husband in 1953) saw bidding soar to $4,510,000. Perhaps smarting from the loss of the ex-Le Mans Ferrari 250GT California Spyder to rival RM, Gooding had secured a stunning, black LWB street version with covered headlights from a well-known California based collector. This voluptuous convertible attracted universal admiration for its Pebble Beach class-winning restoration and was sold for $4,455,000, another new record for a standard LWB California Spyder. Illustrating how the most sought after versions of the evergreen 911 are still appreciating, an American race historied '74 Porsche Carrera 3.0 RSR found a new home at $891,000.

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Left: Big, fast and expensive: Gurney Nutting bodied Blower Bentley achieved $4,510,000.
Right:A new high for a Porsche 911? Ex-Brumos 3.0 RSR brought $891,000 at Gooding.

Stepping back in time to the previous century, the steam powered 1884 De Dion Bouton known as 'La Marquise' (spot the trend: catchy nickname= good for marketing= high price) and claimed to be the world's oldest running car, soared to $3,520,000, changing hands for only the third time in 125 years. Finally, two cars of which we have recent first hand knowledge are good examples of the evolution in the market. The ex-Aga Khan Maserati 5000GT bodied by Frua, sold at RM's Monterey sale exactly four years ago for $319,000 (and by us a year later privately) was knocked down here for no less than $1,100,000 in rather more tired condition than back in 2003. Another old friend was a '67 Ferrari 275GTB/4 NART Spyder conversion by Straman, handled by the author no fewer than four times between 1999 and 2005 and auctioned only last year by RM for $776,000, which found a new home in Monterey for...$1,320,000, a 70% gain in a year.

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Left: Getting hot and steamy doesn't come cheap: $3,520,000 to be exact.
Right:Who says Maseratis depreciate? Only titans of industry or playboy heads of state could afford a Maserati 5000GT when new, and at $1,100,000 today, not much has changed.

By the end of this remarkable weekend, Christie's had sold $8,100,000, Bonhams $8,900,000, RM $46,000,000, and, for the first time heading the sales totals in Monterey, Gooding turned over $61,350,000. Russo and Steele are still gathering their results". Those are just the headline figures without counting the innumerable side deals done over the weekend amongst the thousands of collectors, dealers and enthusiasts who flocked to the peninsula. Although everyone involved in the market has their own theory (the level of optimism usually dependent on whether they are buying or selling), the atmosphere and results in Monterey probably exceeded most expectations and provided a timely confidence boost in a moment of financial uncertainty, suggesting that, at least for now, the trend continues to be upwards. The coming months will tell whether this is down to a decade of positive momentum before the brakes come on, or whether there really is still that much spare cash around looking for a home. Take a moment to check out the table below which makes interesting reading.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the coveted Best of Show award at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance went to the famous 'Mormon Meteor' Duesenberg, a 1930s American speed record breaking icon of titanic proportions and an appropriate winner in a year which honoured the Aston Martin and Auburn/ Cord/ Duesenberg marques.

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Left: An American icon: the Duesenberg record breaker nicknamed 'The Mormon Meteor'.
Right: Owner Harry Yeaggy at the end of a very happy weekend.

Photos Credits: Simon Kidston / Rick Carey / Utimatecarpage.com