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Rarity drives price into the stratosphere

Ferrari GTO fetches $38 million at auction

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Ferrari GTO

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Ferrari GTO

A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold at auction Thursday night in Carmel, Calif., for nearly $38 million -- a record, but far less than many experts had predicted.

Classic-car experts had expected the car could bring up to twice that amount, but bidders begged to differ. Amid a packed house of well-heeled collectors, the bidding started at $11 million and hit $31 million within a minute.

But enthusiasm for the car fell flat at the $34-million mark.

"Spare another $500,000?" auctioneer Robert Brooks asked the audience.

The response was tepid, as the bidding progressed in $100,000 increments toward the final sale price of $34.65 million. Another 10 percent is added on in buyer's fees.

Thursday's sale culminates months of furious speculation about the final price of the Ferrari, which is known by its chassis number 3851GT. Though bidding failed to meet expectations, $38 million sets a new high for a classic-car market that has surged in recent years. It beats the previous record sale of nearly $30 million, for a Mercedes W196 sold in England last year.

The GTO is among the world's most rare and coveted cars.

'When you're talking about many, many millions of dollars, you see collectors get very picky. And they should'

The car that sold Thursday, like many Ferraris of its era, was hardly coddled in its early years. The 3851GT was raced, wrecked and rebuilt more than once. Two months after it was purchased, French race driver Henri Oreiller, a retired Olympic gold-medal skier, slammed the car into the side of a building and died shortly thereafter.

Some experts speculated that the fatal crash -- the only one involving a GTO -- could hurt the value of the car. Others predicted its extreme rarity -- and a history of one owner for nearly a half century -- would overcome any such concerns.

The 3851GT, which came from the factory in pale grey but is now painted red, is the 19th of just 39 Ferrari 250 GTOs. The model was built at the end of an era when the fastest road cars were also raced professionally. The exclusive club of GTO owners includes Ralph Lauren, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and Wal-Mart heir Rob Walton.

The sale was billed as the highlight of what could be a record-breaking week in the Monterey, Calif., area on a number of fronts. One expert had predicted that the skyrocketing values of high-end collector cars could push total sales to nearly $500 million during four days of auctions.

That compares with $312 million last year and $123 million five years ago.

The disappointing, if record-breaking, sale of the 250 GTO, might signal those predictions won't hold up.

A fast rise in values recently has lured more investors who may care little about cars, only their potential profits. The sellers of the 3851GT, in fact, bought the car just two months ago.

The GTO was one of 73 cars bought by an investor group in June for between $150 and $200 million, said Marcel Massini, a renowned Ferrari historian based in Switzerland.

Brooks, co-chairman of Bonhams auction house, declined to name the owners. He said they clearly bought the cars with the intent to sell most of them quickly.

The investors bought the car from the estate of Fabrizio Violati, the scion of a wealthy Italian family who owned the car for decades. He paid the Italian equivalent of $4,000 in 1965 for the GTOs.

Violati was 30 years old at the time. Fearing backlash from his parents, who worried about him racing, Violati claimed he hid the car from them and only drove it at night.

Years later, he kept the GTO in shape by entering it and other Ferraris in his collection in vintage-car races, earning numerous championships in the process.

The racing pedigree is among the many factors that make the GTO, and Ferraris generally, appealing to collectors.

The brand has an unbroken streak of building some of the world's fastest F1 and GT race cars, which have been piloted by some of the world's best drivers. Ferrari has for decades sold exotic coupes in low volumes at high prices.

Combine those factors with a singular focus on selling two-door sports cars -- unlike Porsche, Aston Martin or Lamborghini -- and the prancing horse emblem has become synonymous with speed.

No Ferrari titillates collectors like the GTO. The model maximizes all the elements that can boost a classic car's value: rarity, exclusivity, beauty and racing championships.

The two-seat coupe, with a 3.0-litre, 300-horsepower V-12 engine under its long hood, did everything well, said McKeel Hagerty, founder and president of Hagerty Insurance, which insures classic cars and tracks their values.

"It was elegant on the street, and you could take it to the racetrack and really have a good chance of winning," he said.

The ideal classic should be built in exceptionally small numbers; have few previous owners; include thoroughly cataloged repair and restoration receipts; documented regular -- if sparing -- use; and a unique ownership story.

"We're getting to a new era of collecting," said David Gooding, president and founder of Gooding & Co., a high-end auction house in Santa Monica, Calif., "When you're talking about many, many millions of dollars, you see collectors get very picky. And they should."

Despite failing to meet some expectations, auctioneer Brooks said he wasn't disappointed with the final number.

"Good god no! It's a world record!" Brooks said after the event. "I mean the previous world record was $30 million, and we're nearly 30 per cent ahead of that. That's a lot of money; that's a big up."

 

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2014 B10

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