There are few better ways to spend your weekend than browsing the morning newspaper and pondering the purchase of a Triumph or Victory Vegas Jackpot. But something much more franticlies at the other end of the vehicles market: the raucous tumult of a car auction. Recently, the world’s most desirable cars have started going for what equates to private-jet money. What makes a car fetch such high prices is elusive, but it boils down to the intangible. A car that is exquisitely beautiful with an impeccable provenance (especially when attached to a household name) always drives up value. Rarity and exclusivity, too, are important factors. More than anything, though, the cars that bring top money are those with the best stories.
For the few super-rich, the challenge of how and where to purchase their dream cars is real, and when these individuals come together at an auction, prices can sail into the stratosphere. And 2017 was no exception. It was a banner year for auction houses RM Sotheby, Gooding & Company, and Bonhams, which together sold over US$500 million worth of automobiles.
If you’re not the richest businessman in the country or your net worth isn’t close to Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma’s staggering $95 million, don’t beat yourself up. You can always check out our list of the most expensive cars to hit the market. Get ready for your eyes to water!
The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta summed up the brand’s philosophy best: the highest levels of styling, performance and comfort. Created by a team led by Giotto Bizzarrini, the machine was developed for the FIA world sports car racing championship series and hence got the name GTO, short for Gran Turismo Omologato, Italian for Grand Touring Homologated. The 250 GTO is one of those cars that’s just perfect. Built on a 2,400 mm wheelbase, it handles and stops well, and power from the 3-litre V12 engine, with bore and stroke of 73 x 58.8 mm, is claimed to be 300 hp (220 kW). The highly competitive chassis 3851GT was built along the same lines, and used smaller section tubing along with bracing for increased torsional rigidity. Built in the early 1960s, the Berlinetta made its public debut at the Ferrari press conference in January 1962, and was the only front engine model on display, with its sports racing counterparts and monoposto cars all having a mid-engine configuration.
The 250 GTO was equally at home on the road or track – perhaps the last dual-purpose race/road car produced. Since then it has become one of the icons of Ferrari production history and has achieved legendary status amongst aficionados of the marque. With a relatively small production run of 36 cars, on its maiden outing, it finished second overall to a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossain the 12-hour race.
Auction: Bonhams, The Quail, 2014
Although the most sought-after Ferrari 250s are the GTOs, a stunning GT can also get any auction paddles jumping. The 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider Competizione has a few things going for it that makes it extremely valuable. For starters, it’s bodied by the same Scaglietti coachwork of Ferrari’s racing coupes, and the 250 GT is one of only eight built with an aluminium body rather than the typical steel, in order to save weight. Another thing that contributes to its value is that it’s from the same series as the car in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Apart from the LWB California Spider’s extensive history, it’s a gorgeous machine that boasts full competition specifications. The blue-and-silver colour combination is unique and works great. Chassis 1603GT features the most powerful engine still fitted to a California Spider (a Tipo 168), and a coveted covered headlight that boasts the full-racing covers add to the car’s aerodynamic look. It also comes equipped with its factory hardtop, retains its original 240-hp 3.0-liter V-12 engine, has four-wheel disc brakes, and a larger fuel tank for endurance racing. In the end, its pristine condition combined with its rarity and racing heritage made for big bucks at the Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach Auctions.
Auction: Gooding & Company, California, 2016
Touted as the ultimate Italian sports car of its generation, the 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider by Touring fetchednearly$20 million, making it the world’s most expensive pre-war car. Chassis 412041 – believed to be one of seven ever made – has a double-wishbone independent front suspension with coil springs over dampers, four-speed manual transmission, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. It also features a swing axle rear suspension with radius arms, transverse semi-elliptical leaf spring, and hydraulic friction dampers.
The two-seater open bodywork by acclaimed coachbuilder Touring of Milan was built using its patented Superleggera construction method, consisting of hollow steel tubes wrapped in outer panels of aluminium and an inner pencil-thin framework. It’s powered by a 2,905cc DOHC inline eight-cylinder engine with dual Roots-type superchargers and dual overhead cams, which help produce 180bhp and allow a top speed of 110mph. A steeply raked windscreen and grille, with the rear wheels covered by spats for improved aerodynamics, made this a racing overachiever in its time.
It is claimed that Alfa Romeo made only 32 2.9 chassis, but its early history is unknown. In 1949, its whereabouts first surfaced in a Brazilian newspaper clipping that displayed an amateur racer importing the car from Italy to use in local competitions. It then made an appearance at another Brazilian race in 1950, which it won. The announcement of the victory was the last anyone heard of the car for decades, before it reappeared without its body in late 1972. In Argentina in 1953, this ultra-rare car’s original body appeared again on a different 8C 2900B, when its owners removed it and sold it to a body shop near Buenos Aires, where it sat unused until 1986. Finally, in 1994, the chassis and body were reunited and the car’s restoration began half a century after the two had parted.
Auction: RM Sotheby’s, California, 2016
ACES OF RACE
Mercedes fans rarely agree on anything except that the 1954 Mercedes Benz W196 is the best thing out there. The Silver Arrow, with a capacity of 750 cc with or 2,500 cc without a supercharger, a racing distance of 300 kilometres or a minimum of three hours, and free choice of gas mixture broke the all-time auction record at the Bonhams Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2013. Mercedes collaborated closely with German company Bosch to deliver the first successful Grand Prix car to have fuel injection. Standout features include a swing axle with low pivot point instead of the customary De Dion layout and a lightweight space frame with an overall weight of just 73 lbs.
The supreme mechanical artistry was built specifically to restore German contention to the top levels of international motorsport – this time in the new Formula One series. The 00006/54 effectively won two titles in less than 18 months, with a final scorecard showing 12 starts in 1954 and 1955, when it won nine Grand Prix. Upon its retirement from racing, the Silver Arrow was restored and displayed in the Mercedes-Benz museum before being used for testing and tire development. It was the favourite testing car of the legendary Mercedes designer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who was responsible for the design of the 1937 W125, the 1938 W154, and the 1939 W165.
Auction: Bonhams, England, 2013
A striking Scottish blue with a white cross combination and a monocoque structure body help this 1955 Jaguar D-Type stand out. The British brand already had the 24-hour classic, Le Mans, figured out, winning there with its C-Type race cars in 1951 and 1953. In 1954, however, Jaguar moved on and developed the D-Type for the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing. The iconic race car was largely the work of Malcolm Sayer, who was also responsible for the invigorating XJ13 prototype, the XJS, and C and E-Types.
For the D-Type exterior, Sayer designed a fairly low frontal area with three rounded shapes along its hood – one of which makes room for the inline six-cylinder engine and two for the wheels. The rear, along with a smooth rounded nose, had an oval intake and a headrest. The model was among the first to get a fuel-injected engine and disc brakes.
Constructing only six team cars, the “long nose” made its debut at the 1954 Le Mans race, where it managed a second to Ferrari’s 375 Plus. However, with a win by the factory in 1955, and then by the Scottish racing team Ecurie Ecosse in 1956 and 1957, Jaguar owned the place for the next three years, which helped them add 54 more cars with chassis XKD 501. Touted as the most historic British sports car ever made, this sculpture on wheels is notable for its history and beautifully authentic presentation.
Auction: RM Sotheby’s, California, 2016
THE GREEN HORNET
Originally built to defeat Ferrari in the World Sportscar Championship, the 1962 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato is a combination of precision and poise that would shame many saloons, let alone other cars.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the British manufacturer and Ferrari were locked in a fierce battle for top honours. However, the Italian rival had a competitive edge both on the racetrack and in the showroom; the Aston Martin DB4 couldn’t compete with Ferrari’s SWB Berlinetta. In 1960, Aston Martin approached Carrozzeria Zagato, the famous independent Italian coach building house, with the instruction to maximise its performance. In 1961, Zagato achieved the impossible and came up with a masterfully crafted distinctive design element that felt like a rare, tailored suit.
Compared to the original DB4, chassis no. DB4GT/0186/R had an elongated nose and a more pronounced grille that made it look more aggressive than its standard brethren. At the rear, Zagato reduced the C-pillar and the taillights were set into the fenders for a more fluid and dynamic shape. He also smoothed out the harder edges, dropped nearly 50 kilograms and added 12 hp to make it lighter and faster. With its 240lb. ft. of torque and four-speed manual gearbox, the 14 of only 19 DB4/GTs could accelerate from 0-60mph in 6.1 seconds, with a top speed of 153mph. Today, this rarer-than-a-Ferrari 250 GTO deserves to be regarded not only as a ground-breaking work of art but also as a historically significant engineering masterpiece.
Auction: RM Sotheby’s, New York, 2015
Science refers to a concept known as the butterfly effect, whereby a remarkably small change and result in large differences later. By that measure, Carroll Shelby must be counted amongst the greatest innovators of the modern era. Had it not been for the 1962 Shelby 260 Cobra CSX 2000, the American auto industry would not have landed on the world stage today.
While all Cobras are special in their own way, the CSX 2000 is exceptional because it was the first Cobra built on a shoestring. In 1962, the very first Cobra came to be at the hands of Carroll Shelby and his colleague Dean Moon, without a motor. Later, the duo installed the now-available and larger-displacement of Ford’s 260 HiPo V-8 in a matter of hours. And with that, the iconic car was complete and ready to roll. Once the CSX 2000 was complete, Shelby displayed it at a number of different venues as a press car for the motoring trade.
Defined by a single body line, a sharp crease at the top of the rear quarters, a bubble butt at the back, and an aggressive flaring on the wheel arches, the CSX 2000 is a priceless legacy. For the interiors, the dashboard and the seats were wrapped in leather, while the flooring was covered by interior carpet.
Auction: RM Sotheby’s, California, 2016
THE GREEN GODDESS
According to British former Formula One racing driver, Sir Stirling Moss, the 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 is “the most correct example of what is arguably the most important Aston Martin ever produced.” And we don’t disagree. The model was built under David Brown – the initials behind Aston Martin’s “DB” series – to win Le Mans in 1949, but it failed to take the chequered flag.
In 1956, with a host of upgrades over its DB3S predecessor that includes a lightweight tube-frame chassis, disc brakes, a five-speed transaxle, and a more powerful 3.0-liter straight-six, Aston Martin went on to produce only five examples of DBR1/1. Currently, the chassis number 01 is outfitted with a reproduction engine that can raise the car’s output to 301hp, but it also includes the original block. That means it can be raced without concern.
With its impeccable provenance and competition history, during which it was driven by the likes of Sir Stirling Moss, Carroll Shelby, Bruce McLaren, Jim Clark and Roy Salvadori, the DBR1/1, the first of the line and an integral team player to the end, remains an icon of British racing history.
Auction: RM Sotheby’s, California, 2017
It’s not only a design icon, but the 1998 McLaren F1 ‘LM-Specification’ makes driving feel like a completely natural activity. Penned on a blank sheet of paper by Ron Dennis and Gordon Murray, five of the McLaren F1 LMs were built in 1995 with an aim to create the finest and most desirable supercar on the planet.
The ‘LM-Specifications’ are a bit different. The second-to-last F1 road car built, chassis numbers 018 and 073 – fitted with improved aerodynamics and a more-powerful V-12 engine – was delivered in 1998 to its first high-profile owner. However, the client, who initially specified AMG Green Velvet paint with a green interior later asked McLaren to keep the car at their factory and upgrade it with new LM bodywork and unique, multi-spoke 18-inch wheels. They also installed a 4-millimeter Gurney flap to aid the car’s high-speed stability and gas discharge headlights. Finally, the car was painted in a stunning orange metallic colour, making it a rare combination of refinement and sportiness.
The upgrades did not stop there. The three-seat interiors of 073 were updated to GT specifications and re-trimmed in Alcantara and magnolia leather. Other modern amenities like upgraded air-conditioning, a Phillips satellite navigation, a helicopter-grade intercom system, and a new stereo were also fitted in this staggeringly handsome supercar. The sum of these updates in one single car perfectly blends the best aspects of the radical LM and the original road car.
Auction: RM Sotheby’s, California, 2015
Classic, exclusive, mesmerising and powerful, the 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Convertible is everything a car should be. The Corvette – with its special editions, huge variety of models, and racing derivatives over its 60-year history – has become something of an obsession among car connoisseurs. While many of those high-priced roadsters have been of the American and European variety, the Mecum Dallas auction in 2013 saw the sale of 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Convertible for $3.2 million – making it the most expensive Corvette ever sold.
The styling of the L88 is quite simple in comparison to the Corvette of the 1950s. However, a few styling updates were brought over the previous 1963-1966 models, including central reverse lights, re-profiled and sharper fender flares, and the trademark four round lights. The L88 option code turned the Corvette into a production racecar, heavy-duty transmission, suspension and power brakes.
This 427-cubic-inch, big block V-8 powered by 430-horsepower race motor was purchased by Jim Elmer of Portland in 1967, when it won the NHRA A/Sports Nationals at Indianapolis. The small and luxurious race car came with numerous drag strips, allowing the body to squirm more at launch and help to run just 11.1 seconds in the quarter-mile.
Auction: Mecum, Dallas, 2013