RM Sotheby’s Pebble Beach Auction Is the Remedy for the Automotively Jaded
Not just your typical, blue-chip, eight-figure cars.
When you’ve been covering the high-end auction beat for nearly a decade, as I have, it's possible to become a bit blasé. Browsing the online catalogs for upcoming offerings, I now regularly find myself saying to myself, “Another $1.5 million Gullwing? Another $1.5 million Miura? Another $20 million 250 GT California?”
Clearly, this is no way for a car lover to behave.
Fortunately, the Pebble Beach sales tend to bring out some of the best cars in the world, because the event, as the world’s premier classic car show, brings out the global elite of automotive collectors. So while RM Sotheby’s Monterey sale does have some “typical” vehicles on sale—a Mercedes 300SL coupe and roadster, a Ferrari Daytona coupe and spider, a smattering of prime postwar Jaguar convertibles, the usual '70s and '80s suspects of basket-handled F40, whale-tailed 930, and carbuncular Countach—there is enough other interesting stuff to pique the interest of even a jaded bitch like me.
Even greater an antidote for my automotive anomie, I was fortunate enough to walk around every one of these vehicles with RM Sotheby’s specialist Ian Kellehr, close enough to smell their rich leather, to fog their tinted windows with my champagne breath.
Foremost among my list of Most Compelling Offerings are some truly incredible first editions of iconic sporting vehicles. There’s the first Chaparral racecar, a 1961 prototype driven to great acclaim by famed racer Jim Hall (estimate: $900,000-$1,400,000.) There’s the first 1955 Jaguar D-Type, an impossibly curvaceous and shark-finned Scottish Blue road-hugger that won Lemans in 1956 (estimate: $20,000,000-$25,000,000.) And there’s Carroll Shelby’s first ever Shelby Cobra, the foundational 1962 CSX 2000, which the catalog refers to, perhaps without hyperbole, as “The most important American sports car in history” (estimate: Pricele$$.)
In a category I like to call “Effortless Mid-Century Elegance,” there is also a trio of compelling offerings. A 1954 Bentley R-Type Continental, the fastest four-seater in the world at the time of its production, has genteel, almost pompadoured fastback contouring that the current Continental GT can only dream of emulating (estimate: $1,300,000-$1,700,000.) There’s an exquisite Deauville Grey 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, which cost $3000 more than a Rolls-Royce when new, and comes complete with accessories like a set of magnet-bottomed metal cocktail cups, perfect for drinking while driving (estimate: $200,00-$250,000.) And perhaps my favorite, a 1964 Ghia L 6.4 Coupe, one of a slew of Italian bodied/American powered amalgamations that came to fruition during that optimistic era. One look at the instrument panel will make you wish Apple were started in an Italian garage (estimate: $350,000-$425,000.)
In the realm of “Modern Classics,” there are many of the aforementioned usual suspects, but my eye was drawn to an Inka Orange 1981 BMW M1 over any contemporaneous mid-engined Ferrari or Lamborghini not only because these rectilinear wedges show up for sale so infrequently, but because it’s simultaneously such a rational and irrational vehicle for this brand (estimate: $450,000-$600,000.) Even more irrational was the Frua-designed 1971 Maserati Quattroporte prototype, one of two ever made during another of the trident brand’s boomeranging ups and downs. Juan Manuel Fangio took the sheet of the design at the Paris Auto Show that year, eventually causing Aga Khan to order one. I count ten side windows (estimate $175,000-$225,000.) And no proper modern car collection could be complete without a proper British muscle car. My vote goes to this 1982 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, in proper period brown. My buddy, Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer, could have any Aston he wants, and he has a V8 Vantage. Enough said? (estimate: $450,000-$525,000.)
Finally, I was thrilled to find that RM Sotheby’s is still selling true prewar “Classics.” The fact that this was something of a surprise tells us much about the changing nature of the collector car hobby, as Post-WWII cars take pole position on the scene. But as someone who had a Duesenberg-shaped Bar Mitzvah cake, I cannot resist a Duesie, especially Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg lead designer Gordon Buehrig’s favorite, a 1931 Model J Tourster in a green that echoes the classic shade on the brand’s famously potent straight-eight engine blocks (estimate: $1,300,000-$1,600,000.) There’s a pair of 1930 Cadillac V-16s, a Sport Phaeton and a Roadster, the former so smooth and shiny it could revive Luther Vandross, the latter so murdered out it could terrorize Satan’s nightmares (estimates: $600,000-$750,000, and $950,000-$1,200,000, respectively.) Speaking of murdered, there’s a sinister 1938 Maybach SW38 Roadster originally ordered by the owner of a German “heavy equipment manufacturing firm” that I would like to demand as personal restitution (estimate $1,250,000-$1,600,000.) And there’s an impossibly ideal, twin-supercharged, Deco-Minimalist 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C Touring Spider, thought by many (including me) to be one of the brand’s most perfect designs, with a price tag to match. (estimate: $20,000,000-$25,000,000.)
According to the catalog, there was also a spectre, an impossible vision, expected on the block: a 1935 Voisin C28 Aerosport, the outrageous, streamlined offspring of a French aerodynamicist/philosopher/poet/artist/engineer Gabriel Voisin. The actual car displayed at the 1935 Paris auto show, it had an argent body, an Hermes orange interior, and enough expressive oddity in its design and engineering to qualify for a Légion d'honneur medal. But when I tried to find the exquisite Voisin in the big RM Sotheby’s tent, I was told by my guide, that it had been removed from the sale.
The Voisin would have been a shot of adrenaline direct to the heart, but it turned out that such extreme measures weren’t necessary to counter my needless apathy. Simply being in the presence of these masterpieces was antidote enough. I am relieved of my nonchalance and reminded of the glory that is my passion and my so-called job. Looking forward to the next auction extravaganza in Hershey, Pennsylvania!