Editor’s note: As each year draws to a close, the ClassicCars.com Journal polls its editors and correspondents to determine what we consider to be the top-10 stories from the collector car world during the past 12 months. Check out the other top stories here.
Auction records fell and they fell hard during 2018 as bidding for the rarest, most-spectacular and most-coveted collector cars reached previously unimaginable heights.
The two most-notable eight-figure records were set during Monterey Car Week in coastal California, where six collector car auctions are held during the week preceding the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The record for the most expensive car ever sold at public auction was set by a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO competition coupe that hit an astounding $48.4 million (including auction fee) at RM Sotheby’s sale in downtown Monterey.
Meanwhile, at the Gooding & Company auction at Pebble Beach, a truly remarkable pre-war classic – a 1935 Duesenberg SSJ LaGrande roadster originally owned by Hollywood legend Gary Cooper – became the highest-selling American car of all time when it sold for $22 million, including auction fee.
The bidding for the Ferrari GTO started at a no-nonsense $35 million before a standing-room-only crowd packed into the auction room to witness what was expected to be a most-memorable sale.
They were certainly not disappointed. Well-prepared bidders both in the room and on the telephones competed at rapid fire to gasps and cheers from the crowd until the classic red Ferrari race car was hammered sold at $44 million, setting the world record. The $4.4 million buyer fee was shocking enough on its own.
This GTO was one of just 36 built, plus three subsequent 330 GTOs, with an enviable racing and ownership provenance, including competition at the hands of some of the world’s most celebrated drivers. It had a highly successful racing career, never failing to finish a race, and it retains its original engine, gearbox and rear axle, as well as its factory Series II body that was added during its racing days.
Yet those in the know opined that if the GTO still had its original Series 1 body with its iconic front-end design, the final bid might have been even higher. In 2017, a 250 GTO with a Series 1 body sold for a reported $70 million in a private transaction.
The 250 GTO is considered to be among the greatest and most-beautiful race cars ever built, as well as the most glorious of Ferraris, powered to many victories by their 3.0-liter V12 engines. They have been admired and collected since day 1, and all 36 are known to still exist.
These most valuable of Ferraris rarely come up for sale or auction, but when they do, they are about certain to break auction records. Watch for whenever the next one comes up to see this current record fall.
The Duesenberg SSJ La Grande roadster was one of just two built by the illustrious automaker, the other one going to another Hollywood star, Clark Gable. The car was expected to exceed $10 million to become the highest pre-war American sale, but the spirited bidding drove the racy coupe to twice its pre-auction estimated value, and an overall American-vehicle record.
The Duesenberg is strikingly handsome in a true-roadster form, its relatively short wheelbase and broad side exhaust headers making it look like a piece of kinetic sculpture. Its appearance on the auction block was thrilling.
Other stunning prices achieved at collector car auctions during 2018 included a famous 1956 Ferrari 290 MM roadster sold for $22.5 million during RM Sotheby’s sale this month at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles; a 1963 Aston Martin DP215 Grand Touring Competition Prototype by RM Sotheby’s in Monterey for $21.45 million, the third highest price ever for a British car; and a 1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato, sold by Bonhams in Goodwood, U.K., for $13.3 million.