Retromobile preview: The barnfind of the century finally goes to auction
The first European collectible car and motorcycle auctions of the year get underway later this week, with major sales by Artcurial, Bonhams and RM Auctions surrounding the massive Paris Retromobile exhibit. Though there will be many compelling attractions for motoring enthusiasts in La Ville Lumière this week, the sale of the Baillon Collection, 60 cars found untouched after 50 years in seclusion, is the undoubted highlight.
Our feature story on the discovery of the Baillon Collection published in December had 900,000 page views. At the time of writing that feature, only two of the Baillon Collection had been estimated in value. Artcurial has now placed estimates on all of the cars in the collection and we have hi-res images of every car in the collection in the image gallery, along with the estimates and a link. If you flick through the image gallery, you can click directly through from the high resolution image to the auction description for any cars that may interest you.
Now in its 39th year, Retromobile continues to grow in both size and global stature every year, this year moving to the largest and most prestigious hall in the country's premier exhibition center, the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Center. Paris was the place where motoring and motorsport began, and Retromobile is helping it reclaim that position in the celebration of what has gone before us in motoring. The congregation of auctions by the elite auction houses is emphasizing this rise in stature as more cars of importance appear in the collectible car market auctions held in conjunction with the event.
Across the three major auctions of the week, American collectors in particular can be expected to find exceptionally buying – the Euro hasn't been available at such a favorable exchange rate to the greenback for a decade.
What's more, the fare crossing the block is different than you'll find at an American auction, with some wonderful ephemera from the very beginnings of motorsport and motoring. Extensive automobilia sections are included in both Artcurial and Bonhams auctions and this year there is again a swag of rare books, complete sets of auto magazines, hood ornaments, original Louis Vuitton luggage, beautiful period posters (including many from Geo Ham), a ton of Steve McQueen memorabilia, plus a wide range of artifacts that are often difficult to procure in America.
There's some wonderful stuff amongst the offerings, including this piston used in the 1983 French Grand Prix in the McLaren MP4/1C of Niki Lauda, complete with a McLaren authenticity certificate. The engine was a Ford, a bit of a dog, and even the talented Lauda could only wrestle it onto the podium once in the entire season. But hey, it's a genuine F1 piston bearing the McLaren name and just five years later, McLaren had the most successful year in F1 history (albeit with a Honda engine). That gives it enough gravitas to act as a delightful paper weight and conversation starter ... a €300 to €500 (US$340 - US$570) conversation starter.
Bonhams' automobilia lots include ten hip flasks fashioned after famous auto makers' radiators, with the instantly-recognizable Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz and Bugatti visages quite readily giving credibility and camouflage to even the most hopeless closet alcoholic. The flasks are expected to sell for between €250 and €450 (US$280 - US$510).
Similarly, there are many cars which were only produced and sold in Europe, and which are now becoming increasingly valuable. Different years tend to conspire to bring a number of a particular marque to the auction block at the same time and this year the three auctions feature a number of Alfa Romeos which are likely to find their way across the pond within the next few weeks. Most rare cars end up in America these days, that's where the money is, and the weakness of the Euro at present is likely to see a greater exodus of cars than ever this year.
The highest priced of those Alfa sales is likely to be one of two cars – either the 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Berlinetta by Touring pictured above, or the 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 5E Serie a Compresseur Spider Gran Sport pictured below.
The 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Berlinetta not only features the faster 110 hp, 2,443 cc DOHC six-cylinder engine with triple Weber 36DO2 carburetors, it has a provenance so delicious that it bears retelling, and will almost certainly add considerably to the value of this car in future times.
The car was a gift from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to his mistress, Claretta Petacci, and this car was with the unfortunate pair when they were discovered fleeing from the allied forces in April 1945, with Mussolini disguised in a German army uniform. The full story can be read here. It ended well for the car, but not the owner.
The car has been estimated by RM to fetch €1.9 - €2.4 million (US$2,150,000 - US$2,700,000).
The second high priced Alfa is this 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 5E Serie a Compresseur Spider Gran Sport above, which has a wonderful back story and an equally impressive estimate of €1.8 - $2.4 million (US$2,000,000 - US$2,700,000). An ex-works race car once owned by prominent Grand Prix driver Giuseppe Campari and subsequently raced by exiled Russian Imperial Guardsman, Boris Ivanowski, this car has an impeccable and unbroken history and a great story to it.
Yet another ex-Ivanowski Alfa will vie to complete the top three sales of Alfa Romeo cars in Paris. The 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport above is a former British "Stiles" Alfa team car which won its class at the 1930 Brooklands Double Twelve (24 hour) race in the hands of Ivanowski, and carries an estimate of €1.2 - $1.4 million (US$1,360,000 - US$1,580,000).
The other Alfa competing for a top three spot is this 1937 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 B Pescara Berlinetta which was the centerpiece of the Alfa Romeo stand at the all-important 1937 Salone dell'Automobile in Milan.
Though believed to be unique, and styled by no less than Pinin Farina himself, the car fell on hard times. Immediately post-war it was campaigned in the "Coppa delle Dolomiti" and Bolzano-Mendola hill climb before being transformed into a pickup truck in 1954.
At this time the original engine was replaced with an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 single-carburetor unit, converted to run on methane gas in a world where gasoline was in short supply! Luckily though, the forward part of the original body had been retained together with the rear wings, which were still on the car when it was rediscovered in 1992.
Now fully restored, it is expected to sell somewhere in a very broad estimate range of €800,000 to €1,400,00 (US$910,000 - US$1,590,000).
Three Bugatti Royales
The Royale is the car Ettore Bugatti built specifically for royalty. At 6.5 meters (21.3 ft) long with a curb weight of 3,175 kg (7,000 lb), the Royale is one of the most imposing and elegant automobiles ever produced. It's straight eight engine displaces 12.76 liters and the Royale was the height of excess in every conceivable way. It was unfortunate that its production coincided with the Great Depression, limiting the final number built to just six, and none were ever purchased by royalty. When production ceased, the remaining engines were used to power rail cars.
The three Bugatti Royales to be shown at Retromobile are the Coupé Napoléon, the Limousine and the Esders Roadster. Royales are the rarest, most coveted and most expensive breed of automobiles in captivity. When these cars last were on the open market and went to auction, the Bugatti Royale Berline de Voyager (sold for US$6,500,000 in 1986) and the Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupe (sold for US$9,800,000 in 1987) became the first and second most expensive cars ever sold at auction for more than two decades, finally being exceeded by the US$10,894,900 (sold for €7,040,000) sale of the ex-James Coburn 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider at RM's Maranello auction in May, 2008. Both cars still rank on our Top 100 list.
Lopresto Collection of Italian prototypes and coachbuilt art
One of the biggest highlights of Retromobile this year will be the showing of the collection of cars assembled by Milanese architect and property developer Corrado Lopresto. Unlike most collections, the Lopresto Collection specializes in just one aspect – prototypes and cars with unique coachwork. Only a dozen cars from the collection will be shown, but they have won more than 180 awards between them, many at the most prestigious Concours d'Elégance such as Pebble Beach, Villa d'Este, Amelia Island, Goodwood and Chantilly.
The vehicles on show from the golden age of Italian coachwork will be: the Lancia Florida prototype; the Giulietta prototype by Bertone and Pininfarina; the Lancia Sibilo; the Alfa 6C 1750 Aprile; the Aurelia B52 Vignale; the Autobianchi A112 Giovani by Pininfarina; the Lancia Flaminia Speciale by Pininfarina; the Osca 1600 GT Touring; the Alfa Romeo Praho Touring; the Alfa Romeo 2500SS Bertone and the Alfa 2500 SS by Pininfarina.
Porsche's Le Mans 936 on display
Porsche always participates in Retromobile, and always makes an effort. This year it will show the winning car from the most famous of its 16 victories in the world's most important race, the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. In terms of overcoming adversity to win the race, the 936 of 1977 overcame several seemingly insurmountable set-backs to claim victory. Full story of the win here.
A real Porsche 936 might well be close to priceless, but the success of the 936 in winning Le Mans three times saw Porsche create a half-scale car 936 replica in very limited numbers (believed to be between 50 and 100) in the early 1980s complete with tubular chassis and composite body. The Porsche 936 Junior was actually an official Porsche product for a time and could be purchased through a dealership, though the majority are believed to have been distributed to a privileged few VIP customers and dealers.
The replicas come up at auction from time-to-time and generally fetch very good money. The most recent Porsche 936 Junior sale was part of the Peter and Cheryl Dunkel Collection by Mecum in 2013 and the kart fetched US$23,760.
The 158 kg Porsche 936 Junior kart is fitted with a 200 cc Briggs and Stratton motor, has two forward gears plus reverse, a rear disc brake, suspension and electrics include a starter, lights and flashing indicators.
Two Porsche 936 Juniors are going to auction in Paris, one at Artcurial which estimates its 936 will fetch €16,000 - €20,000 (US$18,000 - $23,700) and the other which Bonhams estimates will fetch €15,000 - €25,000 (US$17,000 - $28,500).
Half Scale Cars
Quite a few half-scale cars will cross the block in Paris apart from the two Porsches. From top left, that's a Ford GT 40 by S.C.A.F.-de La Chapelle (estimate €7,000 - €10,000), a Ferrari Testarossa Junior by Agostini (estimate €8,500 - €13,500), a 1982 Ferrarina Type 312 T2 by Motor Pony (estimate €15,000 - €25,000), and an AC Cobra Junior by Harrington (estimate €10,000 - €15,000).
Another Harrington, a Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder Junior, will also sell by Artcurial at Retromobile, carrying an estimate of €12,000 - €18,000.
Million Dollar Cars
As a general rule of thumb, cars enter the domain of the serious car collector once they reach a value of one million US dollars, and the strength of an event can be judged by the number of million dollar cars that sell. In January, the Scottsdale auctions saw 41 million dollar cars change hands, Auctioneers' estimates for Paris suggest that 30 cars could reach the magical mark if they all sell. We'll have a full report early next week on how Paris is faring.
Below is a listing (with images and links to the auction descriptions) of all the cars likely to fetch more than a million dollars, though it's quite conceivable that spirited bidding on some cars with lesser estimates will also broach the million dollar mark – more than 1,000 cars have sold for more than a million dollars and each year the number grows larger.