The year 2016 was extraordinary in the collector car world, with prices in the highest part of the market stronger than we have ever seen. To illustrate this, the total cost of the top 10 highest price cars sold at auction this year was a jaw-dropping US $172,141,359.
This is a staggering number, but the cars that make up this huge figure are astounding in their own right. Let’s count them down, from cheapest to most expensive, and explain what made these 10 cars so special.
10. 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special roadster
Price: US $9,900,000 at the RM Sotheby’s Arizona auction.
Analysis: The 540K is an easy car to explain. Quite simply, it is a Mercedes 540K, and that is the going rate for one of these prewar masterpieces of design and engineering. A 540K offers entry into any event in the world, and this car had a great history, complete with no gaps, something rare for many 540Ks.
9. 1932 Bugatti Type 55 roadster
Price: US $10,400,000 at Gooding & Company's Pebble Beach auction.
Analysis: Again, this is fairly simple: This is a Bugatti 55 factory entry at the 1932 Mille Miglia, where it was driven by Achille Varzi and Count Castelbarco. It still has its original body and matching-numbers drivetrain. That might sound like a strange distinction, but not many of these cars still have their original bodies and engine/transmission. All of this history works to make this an extraordinary Bugatti with amazing history, and the price shows I am not the only person who thought so.
8. 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza
Price: US $11,990,000 at Gooding & Company's in Pebble Beach.
Analysis: This car was also not a huge surprise, as it is considered by many to be the ultimate factory-built 2.3 liter 8C. The fact it was the winner of the 1947 Sport Nazionale Championship with Renato Balestrero behind the wheel only adds to the car’s pedigree. This was another matching numbers car with its original body and eligible for every vintage racing and touring event in the world.
Analysis: Now we are getting into the bigger leagues. This car is one of the first competition SWB Berlinettas built and was raced by Hugus and Pabst to seventh overall at the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is another original-body and matching-numbers car that was just restored by the wizards at GTO Engineering. The car is full Red Book Certified by the Ferrari Classiche and is a great example of a top-tier Ferrari race car that is on every high-end Ferrari collector’s list of must-haves.
6. 1962 Shelby 260 Cobra CSX 2000
Price: US $13,750,000 at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction.
Analysis: It’s simple: This is the first Cobra. This is the very first Shelby Cobra built and has always been owned by Shelby. It was an astounding car to see on the auction block, and the price reflects how much the Shelby mythology is worth. When you sell the origin point of an icon, you can set a record price.
5. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider SWB
Price: US $17,160,000 at Gooding & Company's in Pebble Beach.
Analysis: Like the car before, I can sum this sale up easily: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” I maintain these cars are valued as high as they are largely because of this film, which, in fact, used a replica of the car. I have no idea how, but these cars continue to set unbelievable records, especially when you look at the prices for more rare Ferrari cars that sell for less. That being said, this was a great example and sold for a market-correct price.
Analysis: Now, this car is a different story than the one above. It is one of only nine alloy-bodied LWB California Spiders that came from the factory in full Competition spec. On top of that, it has a great period racing history that includes a fifth overall finish at the 1960 12 Hours of Sebring. It was also a Platinum Award and Competizione Cup Winner at the 2011 Cavallino Classic. Of course, this car has Ferrari Classiche Red Book Certification. All of that makes it to be to be a good buy, both now and in the future.
3. 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider by Touring
Price: US $19,800,000 at RM Sotheby’s Monterey sale.
Analysis: This car belonged to my friends Sam and Emily Mann, and all you needed to do is to look at this car in person to know that it would sell for a huge number. The car also has period racing history and is eligible and has competed in many vintage rallies and events, including the Pebble Beach Concours. This car was well bought, and we hope it continues to be seen on vintage tours and at concours events.
2. 1955 Jaguar D-Type
Price: US $21,780,000 at RM Sotheby’s in Monterey.
Analysis: Of all the cars offered for sale in the last five years, this was hands down my favorite. This is the car that took the overall win at the 1956 Le Mans race with the legendary Scottish Ecurie Ecosse team. It is also the only Le Mans-winning C- or D-Type that has survived intact and remained essentially original to its winning form. This means the car has the original body panels and its engine, while not the original one delivered in 1955, but better yet, the one it won Le Mans with. Simply a remarkable historical document and an amazing automobile. To me, it would have been a deal at twice the price.
1. 1957 Ferrari 335 Sport Scaglietti
Price: $35,711,359 at Artcurial Paris
Analysis: Yes, that is a lot of money for a car -- oh, but what a car. This car’s history is amazing.
As a factory racing car, this Ferrari was driven to sixth place by Peter Collins and Maurice Trintignant at the Sebring 12 Hours. Next, it was driven by Wolfgang von Trips in the 1957 Mille Miglia to an overall second place. Next, Ferrari upgraded the car to a 335 S spec by fitting a 4.1-liter engine capable of 400 bhp and a top speed of around 300 km/h. In this guise, it was driven by Mike Hawthorn and Luigi Musso at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Hawthorn set the first-ever lap record above 200 km/h at Le Mans. These same drivers got a fourth at the Swedish Grand Prix and second at the Venezuela Grand Prix, which helped clinch the Constructors' World Championship Title for Ferrari in 1957.
In 1958, Ferrari sold the car to Luigi Chinetti, who had Stirling Moss and Masten Gregory drive the Ferrari 335 S in the Cuban Grand Prix, which they won. After that, it continued to participate in other American races, where it was driven by Gaston Andrey and Lance Reventlow.
If you know historic racing, you know this driver’s list is a veritable who’s who of the world’s greatest drivers of all time. That alone makes this car as close to priceless as a car can get. I feel at this price, it was well bought and a veritable bargain when compared to the mythic 250 GTO.
If all of this data says anything, it is that truly great cars, as these cars are, have and will continue to increase in price, regardless of any softening of the classic car market. So if you have a car like these in your collection, be sure you are done with it before you sell it, or you are likely to pay more for it when you buy it back later.
Photos courtesy of RM Sotheby's, Gooding & Company, Artcurial.