Retromobile auctions preview: 20 remarkable offerings worth considering
The collectible automobile year is now one contiguous multi-billion dollar industry, with countless concours events in every country, a dozen elite auction companies spanning the globe and dozens more specializing in just rare cars, and thousands of collectible car dealers. North America is the biggest market, where Monterey Car Week is the single biggest show of strength of the industry, and in Europe the showcase exhibit is Retromobile in Paris.
Paris gave birth to the automotive industry, held the world's first motor show, was the birthplace of motorsport, and now through the annual Retromobile celebration, Paris offers the finest in collectible automotive excellence available. The same is true of the wares on offer as three of the biggest elite auction houses assemble the finest automobilia available.
Almost all collector cars appreciate in price. The rate of increase in value varies, but in the long term, they're not making any more of them, the world is getting richer, and collectible automobiles are now a legitimate alternative asset class and a method for safely storing and appreciating wealth with some compelling benefits – you can drive them, admire them and make them a feature of your lifestyle that you can enjoy far more than entries on a spreadsheet.
This year there are three elite auction houses staging major sales alongside Retromobile. RM-Sotheby's and Bonhams hold their own auctions, and the official Retromobile auction house, Artcurial, is holding four consecutive auctions inside the Retromobile exhibition.
RM-Sotheby's Paris Auction 2019
6 pm, February 6, 2019 | View all Lots
Bonhams' Les Grandes Marques Du Monde au Grand Palais 2019
11.30 am, February 7, 2019 | View all Lots
The Official Rétromobile Auction 2019 by Artcurial
2.00pm, February 8, 2019 | View all Lots
The Rétromobile MV Agusta Collection 2019 by Artcurial
2.00pm, February 9, 2019 | View all Lots
Rétromobile Racing, Flying & Yachting by Artcurial
11.00am, February 10, 2019 | View all Lots
Rétromobile Vibration 2019 by Artcurial
2.30pm, February 10, 2019 | View all Lots
The full breadth of the offerings across these auctions is far greater than just automobiles, and the aim of this article is to preview the auctions, make people aware that the auctions are all streamed live online from the auction website (and it makes great viewing), and to explore the diversity of the offerings.
Auction link: Bonhams | Estimate: €2,500 to €3,500
This children's car was built circa 1904 and has suspension, rudimentary brakes and a wooden steering wheel. It will need a full restoration, but it's a toy that will be cherished and kept and might one day assist with a college fund, as it will almost certainly appreciate in value.
Auction link: Bonhams | Estimate: €800 to €1,200
A limited edition range of Ayrton Senna bicycles was announced in April, 1994, just weeks before Senna's final tragic race at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola on May 1, 1994. This is one of those limited editions, being a 24-speed gents mountain bicycle with Columbus Genius 20 inch frame finished in Brazilian national colors.
Auction link: Bonhams | Estimate: €4,000 to €7,000
This Bugatti Type 35 Children's Car is not one of the Bugatti Bebes produced by Bugatti in the 1930s, which have recently fetched prices of $99,000 and $110,000, but a hand-built replica created by a German enthusiast in 2018. The car is 2.9 meters long and runs a 6.5 bhp petrol engine.
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €5,000 to €8,000
This Bell Racing Models creation is a one fifth scale replica of the world's most valuable automotive model, the Ferrari 250 GTO.
Exquisite objects for adults
Auction link: Bonhams | Estimate: €900 to €1,200
A replica Rolls-Royce table lamp after an original design by Charles Sykes, believed to have been made as a Christmas present in 1938. Plated lamp stand with curved stem surmounted by miniature "Spirit of Ecstasy" mascot, with octagonal movable shade, 40.5 cm high.
Auction link: Bonhams | Estimate: €1,800 to €2,800
Marble book-ends mounted with Sterling Silver Rolls-Royce "Spirit of Ecstasy" mascot by Saunders & Shepherd. One of a limited number produced as Christmas presents in 1937 by Rolls-Royce for the Managing Directors of principal Rolls-Royce distributors.
Auction link: Bonhams | Estimate: €7,500 to €9,500
A silver radiator-shaped Rolls-Royce "Spirit of Ecstasy" desk clock by Breitling.
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €2,000 to €3,000
A rare black leather motorcar tuxedo Travel Smoker Kit for Cars by Hermes Paris, c. 1930.
Auction link: Bonhams | Estimate: €800 to €1,200
Exquisite workmanship, timeless style and an appreciating asset if you're careful with this leather 1970s Ferrari Leather briefcase. Not so much if you're not.
Formula One Memorabilia
This year, thanks to a happy coincidence, a collection of Formula One steering wheels, race suits and helmets is being auctioned by Artcurial in the Vibration sale. Some choice lots at RM-Sotheby's add to the mix, and with enough money, one could leave this year's Retromobile with a Formula One museum.
Race suits worn by most well known recent and contemporary drivers are available and suits/helmets and steering wheels used during championship-winning years are available for multiple title holders Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mikka Hakkinen, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Vettel.
Ayrton Senna leads the field in terms of the prices his memorabilia commands at auction, and one of the rarities on offer this year is a race suit worn by Senna during his first Formula One season in 1984 for Toleman.
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €15,000 to €25,000
Those who remember the 1984 season will no doubt recall the Monaco Grand Prix as the point where Senna appeared on their radar screen as a once-in-a-generation talent, hunting down Alain Prost in the wet on the most demanding and unforgiving of F1 circuits.
For his race engineer, Pat Symonds, it wasn't Monaco where he realized Senna was blessed with something special, but the United States Grand Prix in Dallas. From Wikipedia, Symonds words: "We were looking for a pretty good finish but then he hit the wall, damaged the rear wheel and the driveshaft and retired, which was a real shame. The real significance of that was that when he came back to the pits and said 'I'm sure that the wall moved!' and even though I've heard every excuse every driver has ever made, I certainly hadn't heard of that one! But Ayrton being Ayrton, with his incredible belief in himself, the absolute conviction, he then talked me into going with him, after the race, to have a look at the place where he had crashed. And he was absolutely right, which was the amazing thing! Dallas being a street circuit the track was surrounded by concrete blocks and what had happened – we could see it from the tire marks – was that someone had hit at the far end of the concrete block and that made it swivel slightly, so that the leading edge of the block was standing out by a few millimeters. And he was driving with such precision that those few millimeters were the difference between hitting the wall and not hitting the wall. While I had been, at first, annoyed that we had retired from the race through a driver error, when I saw what had happened, when I saw how he had been driving, that increased my respect for the guy by quite a lot."
In addition to the above, there's also a 1990 Senna-worn McLaren Rheos Helmet (championship year for car and driver) complete with radio estimated at €80,000 to €120,000.
Auction link: RM-Sotheby's | Estimate: €2,000 to €3,000
Seven-time F1 Champion Michael Schumacher won his first title in 1994 in a Benetton. This is the signed steering wheel was used by him in the Benneton B193B and B194 in the 1993 and 1994 Formula 1 seasons. It was used in the Monaco, San Marino, Spanish, and British Grands Prix in 1993, and was one of the first wheels to use the now standard paddle-shifting arrangement.
Auction link: RM-Sotheby's | Estimate: €2,000 to €3,000
In the debate as to who should be the greatest driver of all-time, Fernando Alonso has been staking a claim since he won the world karting championship in 1996. He was the youngest driver to win a world F1 title, the youngest ever double champ, and many more before finding himself in the wrong car at the height of his powers. He won the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans on his first attempt, and he's now attempting to win the triple crown (F1 – Le Mans – Indianapolis 500). A few weeks ago, he won the 2019 24 Hours of Daytona and he's leading the 2019 WEC. The above race suit, gloves and boots were used by Alonso during his 2006 championship year for Renault for press photography and at the estimated price, represent an investment, as Alonso is on unfinished business.
Investing in rare automobiles does not require a million dollar outlay. Indeed, some of the more affordable classes of automobiles offer a far better return on investment than million dollar cars. Such has been the case with vintage Volkswagens of every type in recent years, with an increasing premium being paid for the 21- and 23-window Deluxe Samba vans (also known as Kombi etc), very early Volkswagen Beetles (Bugs) and this year there's even an extremely rare Type 166 Schwimmwagen (€90,000 to €120,000), which was an amphibious version of the Bug used by the German army during WW2.
There are two of the much sought-after Volkswagen Samba vans in Paris, being a 1967 Volkswagen Type 2 Minibus Deluxe 21-Window (€65,000 to €85,000) at Bonhams, and a 1964 Volkswagen Type 2 Deluxe 21-Window (€100,000 to €150,000) at Artcurial. The auction record for a Volkswagen Samba is now over $300,000, so those estimates may be exceeded significantly.
The 1952 Volkswagen Beetle on offer is in as-new condition, having been originally delivered to Casablanca in Morocco, and being completely restored in Germany during the 1990s. It has traveled very few kilometers since is restoration and might surprise well beyond its estimate of €30,000 to €50,000.
1908 Mercedes-Simplex 35/45 Recreation
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €90,000 to €120,000
At least four cars are regularly claimed to be the world's first sportscar. In 2016, we considered the validity of those claims, added another four contenders, and chose a new winner – this car. Follow that link for the long story on the history of what was essentially the first modern motorcar. Its reliability, speed, lower center of gravity and better protection for the occupants made it a favorite among royalty and the aristocracy ... and racers who used it to win races at all levels.
The car for sale at Artcurial is not an original. Indeed, it is an exact, atom perfect replica created at enormous expense. It is believed to have been constructed by the legendary Pursang company of Argentina.
Pursang is a small company located in Paraná Entre Rios, about 450 km from Buenos Aires in Argentina. The work the firm does is astonishing and it's difficult to describe without a superlative festival. Essentially, if you want a priceless antique race car replicated, Pursang can do it.
I met Pursang at Techno Classica in Germany, where I had a conversation that was brief, concise, language-challenged and showed the company's enormous and completely unfounded humility. "We are a small company", I was told, "so we cannot take on many projects each year."
The type of job the company routinely gets tasked with? Let's say you've just spent a couple of million on a period race car of significant provenance and desperately want to race it, but it's too valuable to race with a clear conscience because it should be in a museum. Well you can take it to Pursang and the company will replicate it – perfectly! Then you can get crazy in the replica while the real one stays warm and safe in your climate-controlled garage.
So this car is a perfect replica of the world's first sports car and a car which went a long way towards establishing the reputation of the brand we now know as Mercedes-Benz. It was far from a cheap car when new, costing 20,000 marks in Germany, which equated then to roughly US$7,500, a sum which would have purchased eight Cadillacs or three Packards. Regardless, there were plenty of takers, with more than 1,500 Mercedes-Simplexes being sold in this era.
At the estimated auction price of €90,000 to €120,000, it would represent a fraction of the original cost from Pursang, and a substantial discount on the most recent Mercedes Simplex prices ($2,805,000 and $1,072,500). Authentic everything, made the same way as the original. Going much cheaper than it rightfully should, and offering an authentic experience in every respect.
1910 Michelin Poster
We feel this poster is so significant that it deserved its own article – which you'll find here.
1971 Porsche 916 prototype "Brutus"
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €800,000 to €1,200,000
As a general rule of thumb, we suggest caution with any car nicknamed Brutus. It suggests overwhelming power and menace, and this car embodies both those traits. It's what happens when you decide to give a Porsche 916 enough power for sportscar racing duties.
This is the prototype car used by Porsche to evaluate developing a mid-engined two-seater that would eventually become the Porsche 914 series and at its heart you'll find a 2.9-liter RSR factory race motor. Corina Piech drove this as her personal car for six years.
Coach-built city cars
The Fiat Jolly (bottom left above) is a perennial auction favorite, partly due to their relative scarcity, and partly because of the number of celebrities who drove them in the late 1950s and 1960s at a time when the paparazzi were just beginning to supply candid shots of the rich and famous to photo magazines.
Regularly photographed in their Jollys were President Lyndon B. Johnson, Mae West, Aristotle Onassis, Yul Brynner, John Wayne, Grace Kelly, Henry Ford II, Mary Pickford, Gianni Agnelli, and James Inglis.
The Jolly going to auction in Paris has an estimate of €60,000 to €80,000, which is quite modest considering the numerous examples that have sold for more than $100,000. While it is no longer a surprise to see a Jolly fetch six figures, it still is an astounding result given that the base car was not a luxury car. Just for the record, the record for a Jolly at auction is held by Gooding & Co which sold a 1960 Fiat Jolly for $170,500 in Scottsdale in 2015.
This year at Retromobile, there are several other examples of coach-built city cars, two based on the Fiat 500, and one based on the Mini.
At top left in the above image is a 1969 Fiat 500 Gamine by Vignale, which with an estimate of estimate of €18,000 to €24,000, represents one of the cheapest Vignale coachbuilt cars that has ever been offered at auction.
At bottom right is a 1982 Fiat 595 Barchetta by Simpatico, which was designed by F1 designer Peter Stevens, and only nine were produced. The Barchetta body is made of composite materials (fiberglass and Kevlar) and weighs in at just 460 kg, which indicates spirited performance despite the 1982 595 motor. That's probably irrelevant given that the car is an ideal collector, has just 878 miles on the lock, and will be a viable investment if it isn't driven. If it falls within the range of the estimate of €12,000 to €18,000, it could equally be viewed as viable unique transport in the right climate.
The last of the four is a 1994 Rover Mini 1.3i Cabriolet, resplendent in luxury in every way except the price. At an estimated €20,000 to €30,000, and with 52.000 km since new, it's a collector that you can drive too.
1900 Panhard et Levassor 16 HP Rear Entrance Tonneau
Auction link: RM-Sotheby's | Estimate: €275.000 - €325.000
Panhard et Levassor was the first car manufacturer in the world, (Germany's Daimler and Benz both began earlier, but production came in ebbs and flows) and was one of the leading marques in the very earliest car races.
It might not be a brand you recognize today, but Panhard et Levassor was dominant in the first few years of the great city-to-city races: 1894 Paris-Rouen (eq 1st), 1895 Paris-Bordeaux (1st), 1896 Paris-Marseilles (1st and 2nd), 1897 Marseilles-Nice-La Turbie (3rd & 4th), 1897 Paris-Dieppe (3rd, 4th), 1897 Paris-Trouville (2nd), 1898 Paris-Amsterdam (1st, 2nd, 4th), 1898 Paris-Bordeaux (1st, 2nd, 3rd), 1899 Paris-Bordeaux (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th), 1900 Paris-Toulouse (2nd, 3rd, 4th), 1901 Paris-Bordeaux (2nd to 7th), 1901 Paris-Berlin (2nd, 3rd) and 1902 Paris-Vienna (2nd, 5th).
This 1900 Panhard et Levassor is exactly the same as the cars in those races, and was hence at the very forefront of excellence 120 years ago.
Mercedes-Benz G 65 AMG Final Edition
Auction link: RM-Sotheby's | Estimate: €250,000 to €300,000
For decades, the G-Wagen has been considered the very best luxury off-road vehicle, and this car is one of the G65 AMG Final Edition models built to commemorate the end of production of the first-generation, W463 G-Wagen. This example of the limited-edition (65 cars) behemoth is in as-new condition, having only accumulated delivery mileage since new. It runs a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V-12 producing 621 bhp and is capable of hauling five adults on and off road in supreme comfort.
2019 Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €800,000 to €1,000,000
The term Shooting Brake comes from automotive antiquity, and refers to a modified two-door prestige car with a "station wagon" rear incorporated. Over the years we have featured many shooting brakes crafted from often priceless automobiles, but never has there been a shooting brake as beautiful and wholistically crafted as this one. Only 99 Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brakes will be built.
Presented in Lava Red, with color accentuating the spectacular body shape, this Vanquish Shooting Brake is also brimming with technology. It has a chassis made of aluminum, carbon fiber and magnesium. The V 12 engine, with close to 600 bhp, allows thundering acceleration with 0 to 100 km in 3.5 seconds and a top speed of over 310 km/h. Its sporting spec includes 8-speed transmission, carbon ceramic disc brakes, 19 inch wheels with high-performance Pirelli P-Zero tires, and carbon fiber roof.
This Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake is the only one on the market and it is available immediately.
Peugeot Metropolis Prototype
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €20,000 to €40,000
Peugeot has been making motorcycles since 1898 and is one of the pioneers of the Leaning Multi-Wheel vehicle format which has now established itself as a viable alternative to cars and motorcycles, combining many of the better attributes of both. This unique creation, the fruit of more than 500 hours of work, was shown at the Mondial Paris Motor Show last year.
1962 Citroën 2CV Sahara 4x4 Saloon
Auction link: Bonhams | Estimate: €80,000 to €110,000
It doesn't matter how far off the beaten track you get, there was once a distinct possibility that you'd come across an eccentric Frenchman driving one of these. They were rare, incredibly reliable, and seemingly always driven by Frenchmen with a passion for adventure. It would seem a shame to get this now completely restored AWD "deux chevaux" all scratched up, but if you wanted to go somewhere a long way away where there were no spares and no mechanics, this would get you there.
2009 Mercedes Benz SLR Stirling Moss Edition
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €2,250,000 to €2,500,000
Just over a decade ago, Mercedes-Benz released details of the Mercedes Benz SLR Sterling Moss Edition, and we wrote "a modern reinterpretation of the SLR 300 of the fifties, the car which dominated racing in the hands of Moss and Fangio. Available in June 2009, the puristic high-performance sports car might look spartan, but the technology, including the airbrake system, is all bleeding edge. Only seventy five units will be built, ensuring the €750,000 price tag represents a solid investment."
We were right. That €750,000 price has more than tripled in value inside a decade, meaning that the owner of this car, which has traveled just 950 km since new, has earned €1580 per kilometer for driving it, perhaps more by the time the hammer falls.
Porsche 550 Spyders
Porsche's 550 Spyder is the car upon which the marque's racing prowess was underpinned, combining a perfectly balanced 550 kg car with an aluminum 1,498 cc quad cam boxer engine to terrorize the much heavier and faster sports cars of the period. It certainly earned its "giant killer" reputation and with just 90 made, it now usually commands prices around the $5 million mark at auction. Two 550s are available in Paris this year, and both will sell in the same ballpark.
Auction link: RM-Sotheby's | Estimate: €3,800,000 to €4,300,000
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €3,800,000 to €4,800,000
1936 Bugatti 57 Atlantic replica
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €800,000 to €1,200,000
There were four Bugatti Atlantics made and three survive. One of them won the Peninsula Classic Best-of-the-best award 12 months ago, and is conservatively estimated to be worth $40 million. Another is owned by Ralph Lauren and from time to time it appears at concours events. Last time out in 2013, it won the Concorso d'Elegenza Villa d'Este in 2013.
This is a replica, built from a genuine Bugatti Type 57 and it is sensational – read the auction description. If it goes for the estimate, that's a 97 percent discount, for exactly the same experience. As one of our staffers exclaimed when looking at the images, "I'd take this one, drive it to work every day, and put the other $39 million in the bank."
1987 Ferrari F40 LM
Auction link: RM-Sotheby's | Estimate: €4,500,000 to €5,500,000
This is quite some car, being the competition variant of the car Ferrari built to celebrate its 40th anniversary – the twin-turbocharged 471-bhp, 201-mph F40. It is one of just 19 constructed to either F40 LM or F40 Competizione specifications and competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995 and 1996, with a best finish of 12th overall in 1995. It also won the 1995 Anderstorp 4 Hour Race, and competed extensively in the 1995 and 1996 BPR Global GT series.
2011 Ferrari SP3
Auction link: RM-Sotheby's | Estimate: Unofficially €4,000,000 to €5,000,000
This car is a true one-off built by Ferrari's Special Projects department in 2011, based on the Ferrari 599 GTO. Only a small number of one-off cars have been built by Ferrari Special Projects, and this is the very first Special Projects car to be offered at auction.
It has been in single ownership and has covered 110 km from new, being primarily the factory test miles. Given the changes to the make up of the collector car audience, and the trend towards new cars, this is the sort of gem that is likely to appeal to the new wave and it is a gilt-edged investment that will appreciate in value, and hold its own in any company, forever. Fireworks guaranteed on the auction block.
1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Touring Berlinetta
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €16,000,000 to €22,000,000
If it sells, this car will be the most valuable car of the Retromobile week, and one of the most expensive cars ever sold at auction. It is a sister car to the vehicle which "Best of Show" at the Pebble Beach 2018 Concours d'Elegance and one of the contestants for the Peninsula Classics Best-of-the-best award to be announced in the next few days.
Not just beautiful and rare, this car is one of the fastest pre-war cars in the world, with one of its sister cars having averaged 211.4 km/h for one 86.8 km leg of the 1938 Mille Miglia.
The auction description is extensive and detailed.
1931 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix
Auction link: Artcurial | Estimate: €4,000,000 to €4,500,000
One of just 40 Type 51 Grand Prix cars produced, the Type 51 was the successor to the Bugatti Type 35, which is often referred to as the world's most successful racing car. The Type 51 ran a supercharged, DOHC, 2,262 cc straight eight producing 160 hp (119 kW) and while not particularly successful in the major Grands Prix due to the government-backed Italian and German Grand Prix cars, it won many races at national level around the world. This particular car has one of the most granular histories imaginable, with almost every race recorded. See the auction description for a lengthy and fascinating read.