The Paris round of collector car auctions begins later this week, and in close to a perfect setting, the three tier 1 auctions are just some of Retromobile's many highlights. The auctions run February 8 (RM-Sothebys), February 9 (Bonhams) and February 10 (Artcurial) and though the auction world record price won't be under threat this year as it was last, some very important and wonderfully storied automobiles will grace the auction block this week.
You can watch the auction action for all three auctions live via internet streaming from the web sites of the respective auction houses.
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RM-Sotheby's | 6pm, February 8, 2016
Bonhams | midday, February 9, 2016
Artcurial | 2pm, February 10, 2016
Here's our pick of the 10 most interesting lots of the week.
1 - Nuvolari's Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3
Estimate: €3.8 to €5.0 million (US$4.1 to $5.4 million) | Auction Link
Look closely at this rare 1934 Alfa Romeo and on the bonnet you'll see the Prancing Horse logo made famous by Ferrari Scuderia. More than a decade before Enzo Ferrari started making cars under his own name, he ran his own race team and became the pseudo Alfa Romeo works team. The car is an Alfa Romeo Tipo B P3, one of just seven built, the first single seater in Grand Prix racing, briefly dominant in it's time, and the first to appear at auction for a decade.
The car is even more significant when you realize it was campaigned by Scuderia Ferrari, and driven by Tazio Nuvolari, the pre-war equivalent of Juan Manuel Fangio and a contender for the best driver of all time. That's Nuvolari below, with Enzo Ferrari seated on the pit apron. Understanding the celebrity status enjoyed by Nuvolari during the 1930s is difficult today, but in Europe he was a household name spoken with great reverence for his regular extraordinary feats of bravery and win-at-all-costs madness.
Many decades of his own team's Grand Prix success, Enzo Ferrari still regarded Nuvolari as one of the best ever, proffering the names Tazio Nuvolari and Sterling Moss as the best he had seen. Ferdinand Porsche called Nuvolari "the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future" and he was once described by leading Grand Prix driver Achille Varzi as "the boldest, most skilful madman of all." There is no record of when Varzi made that famous quote, but as an off-track friend, sometimes team-mate and eternal on-track rival of Nuvolari, he bore witness to many of the legendary Nuvolari exploits.
F1-for-the-fans tells the story of the 1930 Mille Miglia, where Nuvolari led the race on time but was behind Varzi on the road: "In the dark of night Nuvolari tailed Varzi for tens of kilometres, at speeds up to 150 km/h (93 mph) with his headlights off, thereby being invisible in Varzi's rear-view mirrors; ultimately switching on his headlights just before overtaking 'the shocked' Varzi near the finish at Brescia and scoring the event's first win at over 100 km/h (62 mph)."
My favourite story about Nuvolari involves his rise through the ranks as a motorcycle racer where he was also a tearaway. In a high speed practice accident for the Monza Grand Prix, Nuvolari broke both legs, and awoke on Saturday night to find himself strapped like a mummy. The next morning, he had the doctor restrap him in the crouched position he required so he could ride a motorcycle, and he was allowed to start the main race from the back of the grid, as the bike needed to be held upright by his pit crew until the race was underway. Sure enough, Nuvolari rode through the field and won the race. What's amazing is that there are countless stories like this about Nuvolari to choose from. He regularly broke bones, and seemed to bounce right back to his death-defying best immediately.
The importance of Nuvolari to the Italian people is best illustrated when Nuvolari and Enzo Ferrari had a "falling out". When neither would relent in their disharmony, Benito Mussolini personally intervened to heal the rift and get Nuvolari back into an Alfa Romeo and winning again.
Hence, this is a beautiful, rare, historically-important car with great provenance, though thanks to some muddled Italian records, the links to Nuvolari are difficult to specify. There's no doubt he drove it a lot, but when and where is difficult to establish. Nuvolari's most famous victory came in a similar P3. In the 1935 European Championship, the Alfa Romeo P3 faced a difficult task as the turbocharged 3167 cc, straight eight engine produced 265 hp, while the new turbocharged 4.0 liter Mercedes-Benz W25 produced 375 hp, and Ferdinand Porsche's outrageous mid-engined Auto Union turbocharged V16 Tipo B would eventually produce 520 hp. In preparation for the German Grand Prix, Nuvolari's P3 was bored out to 3.8 liters, giving it an extra 65 hp for a total of 330 bhp, but no-one considered it had a chance given the strong line-up of greats driving the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union entries.
On 28 July 1935, the German Grand Prix was held over 22 laps of the 22.8-km (14.17-mi) Nürburgring, then and now the world's most demanding racetrack. Nuvolari drove the race of his life on the ultimate drivers circuit, prevailing over bad fortune and faster competition. The race had been led by German cars on every lap except the last one, and when the crimson Alfa took the checkered flag, there was a widely reported "stunned silence" by the nationalistic, 300,000-strong German crowd that had considered a German win to be inevitable.
2 - 1965 Ferrari Dino Berlinetta Prototype by Pininfarina
Estimate: €4.0 to €8.0 million (US$4.3 million to $8.6 million) | Auction Link
This is the original prototype vehicle for the mid-engined Dino, later to become the Ferrari Dino, and will be sold 52 years after it first rocked the world in it's debut at the Paris Motor Show in 1965. Since 1967, the car has been on display in the Musee de l'Automobile at Le Mans, and is now being sold. The full story of the history of this game-changing car is told well in the auction description. It isn't just the first Dino prototype, but the first mid-engined Ferrari. Could blow through the estimate very easily. Worth watching.
3 - 1948 Ferrari 166 Spyder Corsa by Scaglietti
No official estimate | Auction Link
This 166 Spyder Corsa was just the seventh competition-client Ferrari to be built. Delivered new with an Ansaloni body on a long wheelbase chassis, the car was raced by leading drivers of the day, including Giuseppe Farina, Giampiero Bianchetti and Raymond Sommer, and won outright at Reims in 1948. In 1949, its chassis was shortened and engine re-bored to 2.3 liters, making it more competitive. It continued to shine on the race track until 1956 when it was given a splendid new body, styled by Scaglietti, that prefigured the design of the iconic 500 TR and 750 Monza. This is an important part of Ferrari's early history, still fitted with its original engine, and is eligible for all prestigious historic motor racing events.
4 - 1935 Ulster Aston Martin
Estimate: €1,600,000 to €1,800,000 (US$1,720,000 to $1,950,000) | Auction Link
One of the finest lightweight 1930s two-seater sports cars you will ever see. This car was the Aston Martin factory entry in the 1935 Le Mans 24 Hours race, finishing fifth in class. This was effectively an Aston Martin "works replica" production racer. Driving these lightweight gems, the Aston Martin factory team did very well against open competition in the 1934 Ulster TT, placing 3rd, 6th, and 7th. Aston Martin then offered identical cars to amateur racers for just £750. They were so tough that of the 31 made, 28 still exist, a statistical anomaly that speaks volumes for the craftsmanship and design of the vehicle. The well documented ownership includes the car's extensive in-period and even more extensive modern-era competition history. As the auction description summarizes: Representing a once-in-lifetime opportunity to acquire a well-documented example of Aston Martin's finest sports car of the pre-war era.
5 - Johnny Hallyday's Cadillac Custom by Boyd Coddington
Estimate: €50,000 (US$54,000) | Auction Link
From the extensive collection of the "French Elvis" Johnny Hallyday, this Boyd Coddington creation began life as a 1953 Cadillac Serie 62 Cabriolet and is being sold by Hallyday for the benefit of charity. Hallyday's collection has included many fine automobiles, including a Ferrari 250 California Spider, a Lamborghini Miura, an AC Cobra, an Aston Martin DB6, a Ferrari 275, a Bizzarrini and hundreds of motorcycles, and you must admit this car has a certain presence. It's most likely that the person who bids the most on this no-reserve offering will be a local, because although you've possibly never heard of Hallyday, he has recorded more than 1,000 songs and sold over 110 million albums, nearly all in French.
6 - 1970 Porsche 917/10 Prototype
Estimate: €4,600,000 to €5,500,000 (US$5.0 to $6.0 million) | Auction Link
The Porsche 917 has been called the "greatest racing car of the 20th century," so the prototype 917/10 Spyder is quite a significant car. Fastidiously documented, this car runs the factory test and development chassis, with the serial number #001 and was the first of only thirteen 917/10 chassis constructed. The heart of this car is a five-liter DOHC air-cooled horizontally-opposed 12-cylinder engine that produces more than 600 horsepower. It may be nearly five decades old, but it still has enough mumbo to make even the best drivers cautious.
7 - Claude François' 1947 Cadillac Series 62 cabriolet
Estimate: €40,000 to €60,000 (US$43,000 to $65,000) | Auction Link
Dating from the last year of "fin-less" Cadillac production, this Series 62 convertible is believed to have belonged to the French pop singer, Claude François. François was quite successful in France in many creative spheres, but is best known for one song. In 1967, he was the co-composer of Comme d'habitude and he then recorded a version of the song. After Canadian-American singer and songwriter Paul Anka saw this clip on French television, he negotiated the song's publication and adaptation rights, then wrote new English lyrics with an entirely different meaning to the original. Frank Sinatra then recorded Anka's version as My Way and the rest is history. François' ownership is not well documented, but given the price, it's still a great car with a great story.
8 - 1974 Ducati Formula 750 SS
Estimate: €60,000 to €70,000 (US$65,000 to $75,000) | Auction Link
There aren't a lot of bikes going to auction in Paris this year, with a collection of Ducati racers being one of the few highlights. The Ducati collection includes a 2009 Ducati Desmosedici RR road bike (€50,000 to 60,000) and a 1972 Ducati Formula 750 Imola Replica (€40,000 to 50,000) but the pick of the bunch is this 1974 Ducati 750SS racer that was commissioned from the factory by a father for his son's 18th birthday, and was delivered in racing specification together with an optional (separate) NCR kit. Not much is known about the intervening years, but the bike has been extensively rebuilt and returned to as-new condition and is a perfect specimen of the Ducati F750 bike that got the v-twin legend underway. The road bikes that were replicas of this bike now fetch more than the estimate, and this isn't a replica – it's one of the few genuine articles.
9 - 1943 Ford GPA Amphibious Military Vehicle
Estimate: €140,000 to €170,000 (US$150,000 to $185,000) | Auction Link
Based on the famous Jeep, the Ford GPA was created to meet the WW2 needs of the American army for a lightweight amphibious vehicle. The GPA was designed by Roderick Stevens Jr, who had already achieved fame for the design of the amphibious military DUKW. The German equivalent of this WW2 military vehicle, the Volkswagen Schwimmwagen is already selling into the suggested price range, and this Ford is much rarer.
10 - Volkswagen Kombi/Samba Van
Estimate: €60,000 to €100,000 (US$65,000 to $107,000) | Auction Link
There has been a lot written about the Volkswagen Kombi's dramatic rise at auction, with all the history of those ever-increasing prices here. Another one of the coveted 21-window and 23-window vans that set the records will go to auction in Paris and there will be a lot of people watching how it fares. The breadth of the estimate indicates the potential of the lot.
Please note that we have already covered the 1949 Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle going to auction in Paris in a separate feature article. That makes 11 stars in all!