12 Essential Classic Cars to Watch at Scottsdale’s Auctions

Why is Arizona heating up? Look no further than this not-so-dirty dozen.

Bonhams

Where do serious car collectors go in January? For over 30 years, you’d find most of them in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz., during Auction Week, where from Jan. 23-31 this year, six auction companies will vie for about $300 million in sales. The posh Arizona Concours d’Élégance at the Biltmore, now in its third year, kicks off a week of frantic bidding as over 2,500 cars and trucks roll over the block. Think about it: Interest rates remain stagnant, and the stock market is wildly unpredictable, so why not buy a great-looking old car that has a decent chance of appreciating? You can’t drive a stock or a bond, but you can have a lot of fun with a vintage car, and long-term trends have proven there’s money to be made.

The scene at Scottsdale is something to behold: The clamor of the auctioneers, the fervid shouts of the ring men (and women), a legion of dazzling young ladies being escorted by wealthy silver foxes, the endless free drinks for high rollers… None of that, however, compares to the beauty of the swoopy Delahayes, the baroque Benzes and the flashy Ferraris. Just be careful not to scratch your ear, or you may go home with a Corvette.

We’ve scanned the lineups for the top auction firms and found lots we’d kill for. Here are 12 of the best.

Gooding & Company: Fashion Square, Scottsdale, Jan. 29-30

David Gooding literally grew up in the famed Harrah Collection, where his ad worked. He drove a Mercer Raceabout as a kid and worked for Christies and RM before splitting to form his own firm. His British auctioneer, Charlie Ross, has a witty and understated English approach. Watch Ross work the crowd and see if you can resist not bidding.

1955 Bentley R-Type Continental

Gooding & Company

The Bentley R-Type Continental was the quickest four-passenger car in the world in its day. Today’s Bentley, with its W-12 engines, is a tad quicker, but it doesn’t come close to the cool cachet that the original Continental possesses. “Connies” are seven-figure cars now, and just 208 of these R-Type Continentals were built. But imagine purring up to The Club in this posh GT. The crowd would part like the Red Sea as you step out with your mate.

1967 Toyota 2000GT

Mathieu Heurtault/ Gooding & Company

A few years ago, the idea of Japanese cars as collectibles was a scoffable notion. Not anymore. Toyota worked with Yamaha to develop the sleek 2000GT as a 7/8ths-size Jaguar E-type, complete with a rigid backbone chassis, a three-carburetor twin-cam six, a sleek hatchback shape with covered headlamps and a 137-mph top whack. Just 351 were built; James Bond drove a special roadster version in You Only Live Twice (1967). Not surprisingly, 2000GTs have steadily crept up to seven figures. This 47-inch tall Solar Red coupe spent time in Costa Rica with the Toyota distributor there, and then underwent a comprehensive 4,000-hour restoration. Toys don’t come any better.

1967 Ferrari 330GTC Speciale

Gooding & Company

This stallion is one of just four custom coachwork GTCs with “flying buttress” styling built by Carrozzeria Pininfarina in 1967. That’s why the high-estimate on it is $4 million. The first example was owned by Princess Lilian de Réthy of Belgium, and her husband, King Leopold III. This car was first owned by a prominent Tuscan heiress, Signora Maria Maddalena da Lisca, the wife of pasta magnate (and friend of Enzo Ferrari) Pietro Barilla. Since then, it’s had more star-studded owners. Even better, it hasn’t been shown since the Seventies, so there are beaucoup opportunities to trot it out for a royal bow. And did we mention? With 300-hp, disc brakes and fully independent suspension, the GTC is one of the nicest driving Ferraris of the mid-Sixties.   

RM-Sotheby’s: The Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix, Jan. 28-29

Barrett-Jackson sells more cars than anyone in Arizona, and Gooding has the estate and “barn find” business locked up. But RM, newly linked with Sotheby’s, sells more truly high-end cars worldwide, especially storied Ferrari competition cars, than the rest. Be at the Biltmore when RM-Sotheby’s’ peripatetic auctionmeister, Max Girardo, weaves his multi-language magic at the podium.  

1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster

RM-Sotheby's

The ultimate autobahn stormer, this Benz checks all the boxes: high doors, long tail, exposed spare, factory left-hand drive and a famous former owner, believed to have been Reginald Sinclaire, heir to the Corning Glass fortune. Very few of these Sindelfingen custom-bodied Special Roadsters were built; only six survive. With the supercharger, there’s 180 horsepower available. To engage the blower, you flatten the loud pedal past a detent and you’re rewarded with a chilling scream that must have panicked the peasants back in the day. A similar 540K belonging to Bernie Ecclestone of Formula 1 fame brought over $10 million. RM thinks this one will go even higher.

1929 Duesenberg Model J Disappearing Top Torpedo Convertible Coupe

RM-Sotheby's

It’s a Duzy! Walter M. Murphy Coachworks in Pasadena, Calif., built more custom bodies on Duesenberg chassis than any other company. Known for their disappearing tops, Murphy Duesenbergs were sleek and sassy and this car’s no exception. The first owner was David Gray of Santa Barbara, whose dad invested $10,500 with Henry Ford in 1903, and came away with $26 million when he sold his stock a few years later. Of course he bought a new Duesenberg. With a 420-cid, 265-bhp straight-eight, the Model J packed more power than any American car until the supercharged Model SJ (with 320 hp) succeeded it. I drove this very car years ago in Florida, and I was stopped for speeding barely five minutes after I got behind the wheel. It was worth it.

1952 Cunningham C3

RM-Sotheby's

Champion America’s Cup yachtsman and meatpacking heir Briggs Swift Cunningham built his own cars to compete at Le Mans in the early Fifties, footing nearly the entire bill by himself. The Le Mans organizers required Cunningham to produce 25 cars to prove he was a real manufacturer, so he built a run of sexy, Vignale-bodied, tubular-chassis, Chrysler Hemi-powered C3 sports coupes and cabriolets. This car languished in the vault of the Petersen Automotive Museum until it received a recent ground-up resto by RM Restorations in Blenheim, Ontario. Less than two dozen coupes were built, so this is one rare (and fast) bird. Bring a check for $1 million if you want to be in the game.

Barrett-Jackson: Westworld of Scottsdale, Jan. 23-31

B-J is the fabled “Elephant in the Room” at the Arizona Auctions. It’s indescribably huge. The auction building itself is over a mile long! B-J will sell more than 1,200 cars over seven days at Westworld and the action is non-stop. You’ve probably seen B-J’s show on TV for years. Why not take a few days off in the desert and see it up close?

1938 Coddington V12 Hemi “The French Connection”

Barrett-Jackson

Boyd Coddington was arguably the premier builder of far-out custom cars in the Nineties, with luscious confections like “CadZZilla” for Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and Boyd’s take on a ’57 Chevy hardtop, the outrageous “CheZoom.” Master metal smiths Marcel DeLey and his sons hand-hammered this baby out of lightweight aluminum over thousands of hours, then artfully positioned the sleek two-seater shell on a custom Art Morrison chassis, and trimmed it with 15 ostrich skins and two cowhides. For power, there’s a custom-built Italian V-12 Hemi. This stunning tribute to French carrossiers Figoni et Falaschi was Boyd’s last build. He passed away in 2008. B-J doesn’t give estimates, but there’ll never be another one of these, trust us.

1965 Ford Shelby Cobra 289 Roadster CSX 2495

Barrett-Jackson

There’s no cooler ride from the early Sixties than a 289 small-block Shelby Cobra with a quartet of Weber twin-throat carburetors. Weighing barely over 2,000 lbs, with 300 hp, depending on the engine’s state of tune, these raucous little roadsters made mincemeat of Corvettes in the SCCA B Production racing class and terrorized muscle car owners. Shelby built just 580 small-block Cobras over the four-year production run. I prefer these to the meaty 427s, thanks to their lighter weight and nicer overall balance, and this is a real one with interesting history, in a sea of replicas. Unlike most B-J offerings, there is a reserve on this car. Better bring a check just north of $1 million.

1953 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible

Barrett-Jackson

Want the ultimate Fifties dreamboat? Here it is: “My Blue Heaven,” Cadillac’s luxurious first Eldorado convertible. Just 532 of these finned fantasy ragtops were built, and this five-year restoration is number 288. One of the most expensive cars in America in its day, at $7,750, this showboat has a graciously dipped doorline, a sumptuous blue leather interior, GM’s famed panoramic (wraparound) windshield, those delicious little fins and all the style Harley Earl and his design team could muster. Power everything? Of course, and even the desirable Signal-Seeking radio is included. This was the car you used to impress.

Bonhams: Westin Kierland Resort, Scottsdale, Jan. 28

British Bonhams is the new kid on the block in Arizona, but the firm’s been around for, over two centuries in the U.K., and its car offerings more than back up its pedigree.

1973 Porsche Carrera RS 2.7

Bonhams

Air-cooled Porsche fanatics crave these lightweight street/track racers. This matching numbers example is one of just 28 with a factory sunroof. Porsche was required by the FIA to build at least 500 examples for Group 5 competition. They were produced in racing spec as the M471 Lightweight, and in road trim as the M472 Touring option like this car. It retains many of the production car’s comfort features. You can’t miss an RSR 2.7 thanks to its wide-body rear and ducktail spoiler, both of which helped high-speed stability. A quick 5.5 second to 60 mph and a top speed that just kissed 150 mph were heady stuff when this Carrera coupe appeared. The high-end estimate on this one is $800k.

1953 Fiat 8V Elaborata Berlinetta by Zagato

Bonhams

Fiat’s 8V was a little jewel—a tiny berlinetta with a 2-liter, 110-hp, narrow-angle twin carburetor V-8. Only 114 examples were sold, many with swoopy “Supersonic” coachwork by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan. Just five of these were “Double Bubble” Elaborata coupes by Zagato, and this is one of that small coterie. Fiat’s stellar engineer, Giovanni Savonuzzi, designed the chassis and the Supersonic bodies. But many feel the even rarer Elaborata by Zagato is the 8V to have. Especially this one, because it was owned by Anna Maria Peduzzi, a noted Italian lady race-car driver. Restored by Steve Tillack, one of the very best, this aluminum lightweight is ready to rock… if you can write a seven-figure check.

1972 Alfa Romeo Montreal

Bonhams

The Montreal is the virtually unknown Alfa that has been under the radar for years, and is just now emerging as a desirable collectable. Its credentials are impeccable: a 2.7-liter, fuel-injected, 200-hp V-8, with a five-speed gearbox, a luscious shape designed by Marcello Gandini (who penned the Lamborghini Miura) and coachwork by Carrozzeria Bertone. Originally, it was more expensive than an E-type or a Porsche 911, and it has room for four people and a top speed of 140 mph. Truth is, with just 3,925 examples made by 1977, the rare and beautiful Montreal is that special sleeper in collector cars that everyone wants to find. Scarf this one up, probably for well under $100k, and watch it appreciate.

Ken’s tips: Before you buy any car at auction, examine it very carefully, preferably with an expert. Ask to see all the requisite paperwork and check the provenance. Do your homework before you attend the sale. And don’t ever suddenly decide to bid when you’ve had a few pops and the car looks lovely under the stage lights.

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In addition to being an author and curator, Ken Gross is the former features editor of Special Interest Autos and winner of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award.