A fabulous array of storied automobiles crossed the auction block at RM-Sotheby's New York "Driven by Disruption" sale on December 10, the last big sale of the year before the Scottsdale auctions in January begin 2016.
The star of the show was Fangio's Ferrari 290 MM which fetched US$28 million and became the third most expensive car ever sold, nudging out a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 S NART Spider which sold for $27,700,000 in August, 2013 during Monterey Car Week.
The world record of $38.115 million was never at risk. That mark was set in August, 2014 when a Ferrari 250 GTO sold at a Bonhams' auction during Monterey Car Week and bidding for the 290 MM never threatened to pass the $30 million mark, with an opening bid of $16 million, then to $18 million and $20 million in two million dollar increments, then another one million dollars to $21 million, then $500,000 increases to it's final hammer price of $25,500,000, with the car finally going to one of two telephone bidders who had been battling for the prize.
Fangio's unparalleled story
So Fangio, widely acknowledged as the greatest driver in history, is now directly connected to two of the three most expensive cars ever sold. That seems fitting, because statistically, Fangio is dominant by almost any measure of the sport.
Fangio began international racing at an age most drivers are retired, yet he still holds the highest winning percentage in Formula One, winning 24 of 52 Formula One races he started (46.15 percent), the highest percentage of pole positions (29 from 52 starts = 55.8 percent), the highest percentage of front row starts (48 of 52 / 92.3 percent) and he was the oldest F1 World Champion in history at 46 years, 41 days in 1957.
Michael Schumacher won seven world titles and 91 Grands Prix before he retired the first time at 37. He returned to the sport after three years and didn't win another race. Four-time F1 Champ Alain Prost retired at the age of 38. The records of other long-term, three-time title winners also suggest that driving performance begins a rapid decline at around 40 years of age. Jack Brabham won his last title at 40, Jackie Stewart (36), Niki Lauda (35), Nelson Piquet (35), Ayrton Senna (31) while Lewis Hamilton (30 and three titles) and Sebastian Vettel (28 and four) are still going round.
Juan Manuel Fangio drove all but seven of his 52 Formula One starts AFTER the age of 40 years. His five titles were won at 41, 43, 44, 45 and 46 years of age respectively. Most fittingly for a sport where fair play and good grace are now rare, Fangio was a thorough gentleman at all times and his record is unblemished by acts of poor sportsmanship.
Just over two years ago, Fangio's 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 F1 Silver Arrow sold for $31 million, roughly doubling the previous world auction record for a car. The hammer fell at £17.5 million during the Goodwood Festival of Speed Sale conducted by British auction house Bonhams on 12 July, 2013 with an unidentified telephone bidder effectively paying £20,896,800 (about $31.6 million with commissions and premiums) for the car in which he won a world championship, eclipsing the previous record price for an auction car of £10,086,400 set by the Ferrari Testa Rossa prototype in 2011.
The Ferrari 290 MM
In broad terms, the car at auction was the one Enzo promised to Fangio in order to win his signature on a Ferrari contract, a 3.5 liter V12 with 320 horsepower, light weight and balanced roadholding. Ferrari's ultimate goal was to put the best driver in the best car and win the 1956 World Sportscar Championship. It was one of several identical prototypes and it effectively won two titles for Ferrari in 1956 and 1957.
In addition to being driven by Fangio in the Mille Miglia during 1956, this car was also subsequently raced by the full Ferrari roster plus a few other notables as time went by; Phil Hill, Ken Wharton, Olivier Gendebien, the Marquis Alfonso de Portago, Wolfgang von Trips, Peter Collins, Masten Gregory, Eugenio Castelloti and Luigi Musso. That's quite some racing heritage, given that the car achieved its aim of winning the world championship for Ferrari too.
Fangio chose to drive this car without a co-driver in the Mille Miglia and he finished fourth, albeit well behind the identical Ferrari 290 MM of fellow Scuderia Ferrari driver Eugenio Castellotti. That's Fangio in this car at the start of his race.
Castellotti was in a class of his own on the day, finishing 12 minutes in front of the second-placed Ferrari 860 Monza of Peter Collins, 34 minutes ahead of the third-placed Ferrari 860 Monza of Luigi Musso, and 50 minutes ahead of fourth-placed Fangio in the auction car, giving Ferrari a famous 1-2-3-4 result in the Mille Miglia. Castellotti's race time was just 11 hours 37 minutes and ten seconds, meaning his 50 minute margin over Fangio was a substantial one under rainy and difficult conditions.
The record time for the famed thousand mile course was set the previous year (1955) by Stirling Moss (with celebrated co-driver, journalist and motorcycle racer, Denis Jenkinson) in the fabled Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR – 10 hours 7 minutes 48seconds. That's 100 mph average.
The car was also the principal focus of an extensive photo essay by LIFE magazine photographer Thomas McAvoy shortly thereafter, and at that time LIFE was one of the most influential magazines in the country. It was standard fare at upper middle class homes and in doctors and dentist surgeries across the land with a large and influential audience, so the car has a history of "cut through" recognition in the American marketplace.
Most remarkably for a works car with so much bleeding edge competition under its belt, this car has never been crashed. This means that it is one of those very rare beasts which have done all the big races without being repaired countless times, and it hence has a degree of originality and authenticity which is almost unparalleled.
This is the same seat Fangio sat in, the same gearshift used by several world champions to conduct the 3.5 liter V-12 orchestra, the same panels that were on the car throughout its lifetime as it negotiated the racetracks of the world, from third place in the 1,000 km of Nürburgring, second place in the Swedish Grand Prix, and even into the following year's championship where it won the opening round of the 1957 World Sports Car Championship season, the IV Mil Kilometros Ciudad de Buenos Aires.
Works Ferrari sports-racing cars of the 1950s are rare in their own right, but one with such heritage and originality, created by Ferrari for the world's greatest racing driver ... a thoroughly deserved price.
Janis Joplin's Porsche 356
The multiplication algorithm of different genres of the collectibles marketplace caught everyone off guard in New York. While Janis Joplin's central role in musical history grows more prominent with the perspective of time, there has never been any significant Joplin memorabilia reach the market and hence the reverence she commands on the auction block has never been demonstrated. This car remained under Joplin family ownership until this sale, and was one of the resident superstar attractions at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for two decades, and there's only one. Even film cars have stunt doubles, but there's only one Porsche that was owned by the "Queen of Psychedelic Soul."
If this Porsche 356 were an example of non-remarkable provenance (i.e. not owned by Joplin), with a perfect paint job, it would probably sell for somewhere between $100,000 and $130,000, but as we said in our preview of this auction, "it's potential is now upward of five to twenty times that figure, and even that might be underestimating things."
So with the benefit of hindsight, the price isn't surprising. On the night there were seven parties competing for the car before it sold for a final $1.76 million ($1.6 million plus commissions). Bidding opened to a flurry of bids which took it to $800,000 with the fourth bid, already $200K over the top estimate. Then one of the bidders started bidding in smaller increments, attempting to rein in the price.
A bid of $850,000 followed, then $875,000, $900,000, $925,000, $950,000, $975,000, $1,000,000, $1,025,000 and $1,050,000, before another of the bidders began increasing the increments, with first $1,100,000, quickly followed by $1.2 million, $1.3 million, $1.4 million, and then a significant statement in the form of a $1.6 million bid. The final increase of $200,000 in a bid of $1.6 million broke the competition and clearly someone was going to buy the car at any cost.
Look through the prices that movie cars are beginning to command, and the prices that entertainment memorabilia is fetching, and there's little doubt that this car sold more as a piece of pop culture memorabilia than a car.
On October 1, 1970, Janis Joplin recorded what was to be her best remembered song, the anti-consumerism anthem Mercedes-Benz. Three days later she died of a heroin overdose. The words of that song are even more poignant when you consider that the highly original artist did in fact own a Porsche (this one) and made it a personal trademark, driving her psychedelic 356 Cabriolet everywhere.
The Porsche 356 was the first car that Porsche made, and the car that made the Porsche brandname a household word synonymous with sporting excellence and unfailing reliability. Tales of Porsche 356s traveling more than a million miles without major work are commonplace – no other sports car in history can boast such resilience. Produced over 18 years from 1948 to 1966, 76,313 Porsche 356s were made, with the last two years of production running in parallel with the then new 911, both cars becoming (somewhat ironically) the defacto "badge of success" for so many people who were raised listening to Joplin's music.
These days the 356, which sold for around $4,000 during the fifties, has long since passed into collectible car status and although only half the 76,300 original cars are believed to have survived, that's still a remarkably large number for a car that is beginning to regularly fetch $200,000+ at auction.
Janis Joplin was a highly original talent with one of the most recognizable female voices of all time. Rolling Stone ranked Joplin number 46 in its 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and it's worth reading Rosanne Cash's tribute to Joplin in that listing. This excerpt captures the essence of the piece: She wasn't just a great woman in rock — at the time she was the woman in rock. Janis really created this whole world of possibility for women in music: Without Janis Joplin, there would be no Melissa Etheridge. Without Janis, there would be no Chrissie Hynde, no Gwen Stefani.
Rolling Stone also ranked Janis at 28 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and her tribute in that listing actually quotes Melissa Etheridge on Joplin. Worth a read!
So the growing influence of American culture on the world's memorabilia prices through music and film is beginning to become a key factor. It does appear there is a growing multiplication effect for cars that are also music, sport or entertainment memorabilia, which was further emphasized by the sale of recently retired boxing champion Floyd Mayweather's 2003 Enzo for $3.3 million, well above the going rate for the model. The record price for a Ferrari Enzo is $6,050,000 achieved by RM Sotheby's for the Enzo gifted by Ferrari to Pope John Paul II.
The most valuable 356 model at auction is the Carrera Speedster, of which only about 140 were made, and one of these held the record price at auction for the 356 model prior to the Joplin car's sale for $1.76 million. In Monaco on 10 May, 2014, a 1956 Porsche 356 A Carrera 1500 GS Speedster sold for €840,000 (US$1,155,974) at an RM-Sotheby's auction to set the previous world record for a 356. So Janis now holds the world record for a Porsche 356 too.
Roy Roger's 1963 Pontiac Bonneville Nudiemobile
This Nudie Cohn car had previously been sold at the Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Museum Collection auction in July 2010 for $254,500, so many were watching the price as an indication of the strength of the entertainment collectibles industry as much as the collectible car industry. In the end, the singing cowboy's 1963 Pontiac Bonneville Nudiemobile fetched $308,000, which is a record for a Bonneville, but still less than Roy's saddle went for at auction ($386,500) or his Martin guitar ($554,500).
Few people blazed as many trails in the entertainment industry as Roy Rogers. Unquestionably one of the most influential performers in entertainment history, he's the only human to have conquered all available entertainment mediums – 100+ cinema-release movies, syndicated weekly radio shows for 12 years, a national weekly TV show for eight years and a monthly comic book for 14 years, plus he had quite a few hit songs as himself and as an original member of the legendary country group, Sons of Pioneers.
Rogers is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame twice, for himself and for the Sons of Pioneers, the group which he (then still going by his birth name, Leonard Slye), Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer founded in 1933 and still survives to this day – that's 1933 until 2015 – with very few personnel changes along the way, the group has won countless awards and been inducted into many Halls of Fame.
Perhaps the most noteworthy recognition of the group is by The Smithsonian Institute which designates certain artists and performers who have made a noteworthy contribution to the arts and culture of America as "National Treasures." The Pioneers are officially "National Treasures."
Rogers lived through the depression, picking fruit and working in labor camps he would later describe as "being like in the 'Grapes of Wrath'" to put food on the table for his family. When the opportunities finally came to remove himself and his family from abject poverty, he worked as hard as anyone in Hollywood to make the most of it. His work ethic was legend. The Sons of Pioneers, with Leonard Slye as lead singer, signed a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label, recording the first of 32 tracks for the label on August 8, 1934, the same day Bing Crosby made his first Decca session.
Playing all his lead roles as himself, he played against numerous female leads in the first 12 years of his career, before being cast opposite WW2 pin-up girl and fast-rising actress Dale Evans (below) in The Cowboy and the Senorita in 1944 and a 50-year romance began which was perhaps the most public in American history.
When Rogers' second wife died of complications following the birth of Roy Rogers Junior in 1946, Rogers and Evans were married on New Years Eve, 1947. Though the marriage was Rogers' third and Evans' fourth, the two were seemingly a perfect match and were inseparable until Rogers' death in 1998, living their lives in full public view together for 50 years.
These four images capture the stages of the 50 year marriage, from the initial movie through the years of film and television, through the thousands of live shows the couple did during their fifties and sixties, through to their appearance in matching Nudie suits at the 61st Academy Awards in 1989. Rogers was 79, Evans 78.
The marriage saw Dale Evans quickly evolve into the "Queen of the cowgirls" and gave America another fairytale – the non-dysfunctional family. Together they fought crime, ran a national TV show, administered a growing licensing empire and Evans got all the same merchandising magic bestowed on Rogers, Bullet and Trigger, with her own comic book series too. Evans is pictured driving this car as often as Rogers in later years.
Perhaps Rogers' best move in a career of outrageous over accomplishment was that in 1940, his contract was altered at his request, so that he retained the rights to his own voice and image for merchandising purposes.There was no merchandising/licensing industry at the time, and the movie studios considered the value of the request insignificant.
Rogers performed all his lead roles as himself, owned his own image from 1940 onwards, and along with Walt Disney, was one of the pioneers of the modern licensing industry.
Established movie stars with long careers usually produce around 50 to 60 films: Sir Laurence Olivier, Meryl Streep, and Katherine Hepburn all did less than 50 each, while Spencer Tracy did 60.
In addition to 104 movie roles (101 as lead), Rogers also produced several hundred episodes of the Roy Rogers Radio Show that was syndicated from 1944 to 1955 on more than 500 stations across America, then eight years of the smash hit Roy Rogers TV Show at the dawn of the television age (1951 - 1957).
That Rogers had the clause inserted in the contract clearly shows he saw the benefits of owning his own image and he adapted the image to fully monetize it in many different ways over the following half century, with an American restaurant chain named after him and now a booming market in Roy Rogers memorabilia fueled by decades of Roy Rogers merchandising. Below is a trade advert run by Rogers advertising his merchandising services.
With back-to-back hit movies for years, the original Roy Rogers radio show, then the evolving format for the television show, Rogers made specific products for all of the main media, reaching into the powerful newspaper circulations across America with a weekly syndicated comic strip.
Rogers' work ethic became a way of life, and long after active media production ceased, he was putting in more than 100 public appearances a year, many of them in this car, which is the perfect parade car, with its big rear shelf from which Roy and Dale have waved countless times.
Roy Rogers helped to mold the self image of the american male from WW2 onward as single-handed (with help from his trusty horse Trigger and dog Bullet) he took on a world full of crooks and foiled them in the name of justice and right. So big was Rogers' pulling power, he had enough cred to play the vast majority of his 100+ singing cowboy lead movie roles in his own character.
His success in America meant that the 100 plus episodes of the TV show became dubbed or sub-titled across the world and also endlessly rerun, so he became the cowboy hero of several generations globally and the most identifiable image of American western culture to the rest of the world via television.
As new TV shows became the smash hits of the latter fifties and sixties, Rogers shows became morning reruns for another six years. America to this day has been raised on Roy Rogers reruns. As his movies were recorded in color, when color television eventually arrived, Roy Rogers movies have filled many a slow afternoon on the telly. Billions of people, not just in America, were exposed to the clean-living, God-fearing, tetotaling (there's a non-alcoholic cocktail named after him), straight-shooting cowboy during their formative years.
Rogers' towering presence in the entertainment industry means his memorabilia often sells for astonishing amounts of money. His Martin OM-45 Deluxe guitar sold for $554,500 in April, 2009 but that's just one of many Roy Rogers memorabilia in the upper echelons of the auction listings. The official Christies video prepared for the sale of that guitar is really worth watching as it tells the story of a hard-working professional musician who fell into acting and became the most prolific producer of western content of all-time.
Rogers' was also one of the pioneers of the modern licensing industry and for many years he was second only to Walt Disney in the number of licensed products being manufactured bearing his name. It also means that many of today's powerbrokers grew up playing with Roy Rogers figurines, guns, clothes, badges, hats ... all the way through to pedal-cars and saddles ... and Rogers has been a major industry in his own right for more 75 years.
The outrageous Nudie Mobile was designed and built by Nudie Cohn, and used in myriad promotional roles and parades by the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans museum for many years. It is unrestored but in excellent condition, just as it was driven by the famous couple.
While the car is Roy Rogers car, equally as much celebrity comes from the fact the car was built by a style god Nudie Cohn, the man who put rhinestones on cowboy suits.
Cohn was a Russian emigre who started making elaborate g-strings for New York's burlesque showgirls during the depression, moved to California and with his unmistakable and flamboyant style, became tailor to the stars from his famous Nudie's Rodeo Tailors premises in North Hollywood.
Nudie got an early break when Rogers began using his nudie suites in his countless live shows, famously telling Nudie that when he went on stage, the kid in the nosebleed section of the bleachers had to be able to recognize him.
In addition to hundreds of outfits made for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans over several decades, Nudie made such iconic costumes as Elvis Presley's gold lamé suit from the cover of Elvis' record 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong, Robert Redford's costume from the 1979 film Electric Horseman (below right), and Hank Williams' white cowboy suit with musical notations on the sleeves (below left). Hank had his Nudie mobile custom made.
Others who have proudly worn a Nudie suite include the logical country actors and entertainers such as John Wayne, Johnny Cash, Gene Autry, Glenn Campbell (whose hit song Rhinestone Cowboy immortalized the style), Michael Landon, Mike Nesmith, and groups such as America, Chicago and ZZ top (Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill wear Nudie suits on the cover of Fandango).
Beyond the flamboyant influence Cohn had on western fashion, Nudie's contributions in film and TV costumes also helped to define western style beyond rhinestones, with Clayton Moore's signature outfit from the Lone Ranger TV series the best known and even low-pizzaz outfits such as Burt Lancaster's black tunic worn throughout The Rainmaker (Paramount, 1956) came from Nudie.
It was the legion of style icons who wore his gear who really took Nudie from cult to global though: Steve McQueen, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Cher, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Robert Mitchum, Tony Curtis ad infinitum all wore Nudie suits during their careers. Lennie Kravitz is a modern day fan. There were also the Nudie suits commissioned by ex-Byrds legend Gram Parsons for the cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers Gilded Palace of Sin. Gram Parsons' marijuana suit is considered by many to be "the Sistine Chapel of Nudies".
During his career, Nudie built thousands of Nudie suits, but only 18 Nudie Mobiles, resplendent in silver dollars, guns, lots of leather and acres of car. Only nine Nudie Mobiles are known to survive.
Kid Rock (above) owns one of them, which has been used several times in promotional shoots. It's the car originally owned by Hank Williams Snr, the man in the musical Nudie suit far above. There's another Nudie Mobile in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, two in Belgium and ... this particular car was used in myriad promotional roles and parades by the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans museum for many years. It is unrestored but in excellent condition, just as it was driven by the famous couple.
The Nudie Mobile fetched $308,000.
Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato
Among the roster of lots at New York on Thursday night, several other significant automobiles sold, most notably a Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato for $14.3 million which became the most valuable British car ever sold at auction, beating out the 1998 McLaren F1 "LM-Specification" which sold earlier this year for $13,750,000. The car was the fourteenth of just 19 DB4GTs created by Zagato.