Villa Erba auction: strong market for rare, historically important cars

In what is now becoming a tradition, RM Sotheby’s recently held an auction to coincide with the weekend of the Villa d’Este Concours, in Cernobbio on the shore of Lake Como, Italy. The catalog for this year’s sale, the fourth Villa Erba auction, comprised 44 cars, a classic Riva runabout, and 20 motorcycles. The event generated a total turnover of EUR 25,355,850 (commission included). The bulk of this, EUR 24,554,700, came from the sale of the cars and the Riva boat. Considering only these, the auction achieved a sale rate of 62.2%, corresponding to 28 cars plus the Riva, a good result overall, but nevertheless about 10% below the levels achieved by RM Sotheby’s in recent times.

Villa Erba auction: slow sellers vs. new record holders

While some of the cars offered set new value records, others failed to sell. It needs to be said that the market is increasingly focusing on important cars, or cars boasting a wonderful history and perfect restoration, and from what we saw at the Villa Erba preview, some of the cars offered had not undergone adequate preparation work ahead of the sale, or fell short of the high standards that we might expect to see, at least in terms of repainting work or interior refurbishing. In those cases in which the reserve price had been left low enough to give the purchaser sufficient margin to factor in the cost of possibly doing this work himself, then the car sold. Instead, the cars whose reserve price was considered too high failed to sell.

Seven vs. 5 digits

The most expensive car of Villa Erba auction was the 1937 Talbot-Lago T150 –C SS “teardrop”, which came under the hammer at EUR 3,360,000. A further car also broke the EUR 3 million barrier, and seven topped the EUR 1 million mark. The car with the highest pre-auction estimate, a wonderful 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680 S Saoutchik, did not sell. At the other end of the spectrum, the one with the lowest estimate was a 1955 Austin-Healey 100-4 BN2, which has been successful at many shows since undergoing a total restoration. Offered without reserve, it sold for EUR 78.4 K (12% commission included), which was in line with its estimated value of EUR 75–100 K.

The Riva boat of Villa Erba auction

Finally, since the venue was Lake Como, we can hardly omit to mention the result recorded by the only boat in the catalog, a 1961 Riva Tritone. It sold for EUR 198.9 K (sales commission included), rather less than the EUR 250–300 K it had been expected to fetch. We felt that the crowd present at the sale didn’t give off the same energy and buzz that we had noticed at RM Sotheby’s Duemila Ruote auction in November in Milan, and at their Amelia Island Auction last March.

The six cars we previewed

Villa Erba auction 2017: Bugatti Atalante

1935 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Prototype, Carrosserie Bugatti (© Tim Scott)

Three of the six cars we covered in our preview of RM Sotheby’s Villa Erba auction were sold, one of them fetching the second highest price of the day. We refer to the 1935 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Prototype, Carrosserie Bugatti. This car, the third Atalante Prototype, which boasts many unique coachwork features, was originally delivered to Meo Costantini and, from 1936, remained for 62 years with a single family. Still with only 25,000 kilometers on its clock, it sold for EUR 3.024 million, a price perfectly in line with its estimated pre-sale value of EUR 2.8–3.2 million, and a world record for a non “S” model Type 57. The second car in our selection to find a buyer was the 1961 Maserati 3500 GT Spyder Vignale, one of the only 242 built. It was restored a few years ago in a different color combination from the original white paint on black leather; it features a very rare original hard top, but the restored interior does not befit the model. Offered without reserve, it sold for EUR 840 K, commission included, after an estimate of EUR 750–950 K, which made it the ninth most expensive car of the auction.

Rich racing pedigree, matching numbers, … new record!

The third and last of our top six to find a new home was the 1961 Jaguar E-Type Series 1, 3.8 Litre Roadster, originally delivered in Portugal to Manuel ‘Mané’ Nogueira Pinto of Porto, a well-known racing driver and member of a prominent Portuguese racing family. He used it during the 1962 and 1963 seasons in Portugal and Angola, back then a Portuguese colony. Following its retirement from racing and a long “lay off”, the car was rediscovered in recent years in complete condition, painted red with a black interior and in need of a full restoration. The work, finished in 2011, included a bare-metal re-spray and a re-trim back to the original specification, while the engine, gearbox and differentials were all rebuilt. The car, all-matching numbers and in its original specification, was offered with a pre-sale estimated value of EUR 250–300 K. After some exciting bidding, it sold for Euro 582,400 – a new record price for a non-competition specified E-Type.

Villa Erba auction 2017: Jaguar E-Type

1961 Jaguar E-Type Series 1, 3.8 Litre Roadster (© Jorge Nabais)

The other three cars we had picked out for our Villa Erba auction report failed to sell. One was the 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680 S Torpedo Sport by Saoutchik, the oldest lot, which had also been expected be the most valuable of the auction, as shown by its pre-sale estimated value of EUR 6.6–8 million. This car is a recent winner of a best in show at Pebble Beach and a best in class at Villa d’Este, both achieved after an amazing restoration done by one of the world’s most renowned restorers, Paul Russell & Company of Essex (MA), USA. Furthermore, the car, the only known survivor of just three built, has a wonderful and romantic history. It remained in the ownership of the same American family for the first 78 years of its life, and has just 21,000 original miles on the clock. In the past decade or so it has changed hands several times, in 2006, in 2008, and again in 2013 (for USD 8.250 million, or EUR 7.3 million at the current exchange rate). With this kind of pedigree, it seems clear that the reason for its failure to sell has nothing to do with the car itself. Most definitely an “American” car, having always lived there, I feel it would have generated more interest at Pebble Beach or Amelia Island auctions. What is more, the recent passages of ownership tend to dilute appeal deriving from the wonderful early part of its life, characterized by “78 years of single ownership”. Our six also included the 1957 BMW 507 Roadster, offered, in a very sorry state and definitely in need of a comprehensive restoration. Its story, too, includes a long ownership: until three years ago, it had been with the same owner for 50 years. Offered with American documents and assigned an estimated value of EUR 1.7–2 million, it was probably simply deemed too expensive to buy and restore, remaining within current market values. Conversely, the 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport Spider, 4th Series with Carrozzeria Sport S.A. (the sixth car in our line-up) probably failed to sell because it has too many “new” components to appeal to a market that is currently wanting, as far as possible, originality in cars of this kind. Offered with an estimated value of EUR 2.2–2.6 million, this car, too, has an interesting history, but this was not enough to find it a buyer!

The Top Ten of Villa Erba auction

The Top Ten cars at the RM Sotheby’s auction, representing 22% of the lots, sold for an overall value of EUR 16.9 million (about 69% of the total value of the sale). Eight of them broke the one million euro barrier. The number one spot went to the 1937 Talbot-Lago T150 –C SS “Teardrop” Coupe, which has a Figoni and Falaschi body. This body, which makes it one of the most beautiful cars dressed by Figoni and Falaschi, is combined with the firm’s ultimate chassis (#90110), the “racing” T150-C SS lightweight, and the totally covered front fenders. It is one of only two cars built in this configuration.

Villa Erba auction 2017: 1937 Talbot-Lago T150 –C SS “Teardrop” Coupe

1937 Talbot-Lago T150 –C SS “Teardrop” Coupe (© Fotohalle Unger)

The original body was replaced with a Graber one in 1946, and it was not until as recently as 2000 that the car was re-bodied at La Auto Classic Touraine of Tours, in France, and given back its original lines. This important project was overseen directly by Patrick Delage, grandchild of Louis. On this occasion, the car lived up to its pre-sale estimate of EUR 3.2–3.8, selling for EUR 3,360,000.

New record for a Porsche 964

We have already mentioned the auction’s second most expensive car among our previewed six, while the third in the Top Ten was a 1993 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR 3.8 (chassis #WP0ZZZ96ZPS496107) that, selling for EUR 2,016,000, set a new world record price for a 964 version of a 911 sold at auction. There is a reason for this amazing price: the car, in Polar Silver on Guards Red leather, is essentially brand new, having covered only 10 kilometers. In fact, it is still covered in the Cosmoline protective wax that is applied before delivery. Only 51 of these cars have been built, and this is the only one that is still barely used.

No top ten without Ferrari?!

The fourth most expensive lot was a 1965 Ferrari 275 GTS Pininfarina (chassis #06819), the tenth of this model built; this particular one features the seldom seen color combination of Nero (code 18.292) on Nuvola (code VM 3015) leather. The car entered its second ownership in 1968, when it was sold to a family from the town of Gallarate, close to the Italian city of Varese, where it remained for more than 30 years. Restored in 1990–1991, it was sold by the second owner’s heir in 2007, and in 2008 was sold again, into an English collection. At Villa Erba auction, it was expected to fetch EUR 1.6–1.8 million, and came very close to the top end of this range, selling for EUR 1,792,000. This year’s Villa Erba auction offered many modern hyper cars, but only a few of them were sold. One of them, a 2015 Porsche 918 “Weissach” Spyder (chassis #WP0ZZZ91ZFS800537) became the auction’s fifth most expensive car. The only 918 originally painted in Arrow Blue, it came from a single ownership. Looking like new despite the 11,000 kilometers on the clock, it fetched EUR 1,456,000, thus topping its pre-sale estimate of EUR 1.2–1.4 million.

Villa Erba auction 2017: 2015 Porsche 918 “Weissach” Spyder

Successful supercar sale: 2015 Porsche 918 “Weissach” Spyder (© Tom Gidden)

The interesting history of a Ferrari 250 GTL

In sixth place was a 1964 Ferrari 250 GTL (chassis #5681 GT) painted in Dark Brown over beige interior. Originally sold in Reggio Emilia, Italy, by 1965 it was already in the ownership of Ferrari collector Aldo Curone of Padua, who kept it until 1999 when it was sold to another Italian collector. Last weekend, it was sold for EUR 1,428,000 after an estimate of EUR 1.4–1.6 million. The seventh most expensive car of Villa Erba auction was a 1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Cabriolet by Franay (chassis #110121 based on a GP chassis). One the series of 29 built (of which 26 survive), this one-off open car with Franay body comes with an interesting history: it was the October 1949 Paris Show car and also won the first price at the Einghien’s Concours d’Elegance in 1950. In the winter of 1950, it was slightly modified by Franay himself, who equipped it with a new grille and repainted it in black.

Villa Erba auction 2017: 1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Cabriolet by Franay

1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Cabriolet by Franay (© Tim Scott)

It featured as the firm’s show car at the Brussels show in January 1951 and then appeared the following summer at the Bois de Boulogne Concours. In late 1951 the car was sold back to its first owner, and soon afterwards “sent back” to the manufacturer to have the front modified. In 1952 it was again shown at the Enghien’s Concours d’Elegance and, in 1953 was exhibited on the Franay stand at the Paris Motor Show. The same year, it was sold to a butcher from Versailles, and a couple of owners later, in the 1960s, to an American who imported it to the USA (Philadelphia). Some owners later, the car, by this time dismantled, was sold to restorer Egon Zweimüller who took a full decade restoring it to its former glory. At Villa Erba auction, it sold for EUR 1,120,000, just falling short of the lower end of its estimated value range of EUR 1.2–1.5 million. Eighth position went to a 1990 Ferrari F40 (chassis #ZFFGJ348000085749) with only one owner and 18,000 kilometers from new. Estimated to be worth EUR 850–950 K, it exceeded expectations, managing to sell for EUR 1,064,000. The ninth most expensive lot was the Maserati 3500 GT mentioned among our previewed six, while last place in the Top Ten went to a 1975 Lamborghini Countach LP 400 Periscopio (chassis #112062), one of the only 150 Periscopios built, still wearing its original color combination of yellow on tobacco leather. Its first owner was a Saudi prince. Now restored and completed with a few strategic updates, it has only done about 6000 kilometers from new. It was offered without reserve and sold for EUR 817,600 after an estimate of EUR 0.9–1.1 million.

Villa Erba auction 2017: 1975 Lamborghini Countach LP 400 Periscopio

1975 Lamborghini Countach LP 400 Periscopio (© Tim Scott)

Some other cars at Villa Erba auction

Few of the modern hypercars offered at Villa Erba found new owners, which was surprising as this particular niche of the market has, until now, seemed very strong and active. In this instance, their failure to sell can really only be attributed to the price, because the cars presented were practically new and had done very few miles. In detail, a 2006 Ferrari 575 Superamerica (15,000 kilometers from new, estimate EUR 550–600 K), a 2014 Ferrari La Ferrari (201 kilometers from new, estimate EUR 2.75–3.2 million), a 2004 Ferrari Enzo (13,500 kilometers from new, estimate EUR 1.9–2.2 million), a 2016 Ferrari F12tdf (3000 kilometers from new, estimate EUR750–800 K), and a 2016 McLaren P1 GTR (360 kilometers from new, estimate EUR 3.2–3.6 million) were all “left on the shelf”.

Ferrari Daytona – everything but a shelf warmer

Villa Erba auction 2017: 1970 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Berlinetta

1970 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Berlinetta Daytona (@ Tim Scott)

Instead, a 1970 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Berlinetta, the Daytona (chassis ##13319), a wonderful early car, Ferrari Classiche certified what is more, sold for EUR 728 K after an estimate of EUR 650–725 K, while a 1964 250 GT/L Berlinetta (chassis #5681GT) fetched EUR 1.428 million after an estimate of 1.4 –1.6 million, and a 1960 Ferrari 250 GT Coupé series II (chassis #1617 GT) came under the hammer at EUR 604,800 after an estimate of 550–700 K. An amazing 1985 Lancia Delta S4 Stradale (chassis #ZLA038AR000000119) in Rosso Metallizzato on Alcantara Beige, virtually new with only 1600 kilometers from new, sold for EUR 492,000 after an estimate of EUR 450–550 K.

Villa Erba auction 2017: 1985 Lancia Delta S4 Stradale

1985 Lancia Delta S4 Stradale (© Cymon Tylor)

If any conclusion can be drawn from this Villa Erba auction, it is that the market remains strong and ready to spend, even considerable sums, to secure rare, historically important cars, especially ones with an interesting story, and preferably in perfect condition. The same market has little time for cars that are not perfect and have been restored cheaply. Such cars become interesting only if they are offered at prices low enough to allow a good margin for an eventual restoration. On this occasion, RM Sotheby’s perhaps paid the price for including some lots that were below their usual standard but still offered with high estimated values. All photos courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.

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