While the sheets are being lifted off the latest and greatest in LA and Tokyo, the first New York City auction of ultra-exotic historic automobiles in a decade is on this week. Sotheby's and RM Auctions have spent some six months organizing "The Art Of The Automobile"— a live auction in Manhattan today at which thirty four cars will be sold for an expected total of over fifty million dollars.
The name of the show didn't sound particularly creative to me but it has significance, which was explained by RM Auction's Vice President Alain Squindo:
"We wanted to tell the story of the automobile to people who are not car people. We're displaying these vehicles as art."
Indeed, the pre-sale show I attended was better appointed than some art museums I'd been in. I can also confirm they had successfully attracted non-car people, after overhearing a visitor describe a 1955 one-off Lincoln as a "Corvette" and another call a BMW 507 "the first convertible."
That's ok, we can't all be four-wheel fanatics. Thankfully, badge-wearing staff experts were on hand and graciously sharing their knowledge with anyone who inquired, regardless of whether or not they looked like they were in the market for a seven-figure car.
The tenth floor of Sotheby's Upper East Side building had been completely remodeled, repainted, and transformed for the event. Each car was accompanied by an iPad loaded with specs and that particular example's backstory. About eight hours had been spent on detailing, per car. The resulting experience was a beautiful, museum-quality display of vehicles, automotive memorabilia, and a few watches thrown in for good measure.
I was told "car guys are watch guys and watch guys are car guys." Apparently it's common practice for very high-end auto sales to include offerings of time pieces. This was news to me, probably because I do most of my shopping in the "barter" section of Craigslist.
But the auction display was an exciting place to be, even if I wasn't in the market. Mr. Squindo elaborated on the ethos of the event when I asked how they chose which cars to feature:
"We wanted to span one hundred years of automotive history, and hit all the highest watermarks in performance and design."
By "highest watermarks" he was talking about extremely special cars — mostly well executed one-offs with interesting histories particular to the example being sold. About half of the vehicles were brought in on consignment, and the rest were specifically sought-out by the auction organizers.
Mr. Squindo showed me around the entire exhibition, pausing every few feet to deliver a mini-lecture on the treasures we were standing by. He was dispensing technical tidbits and anecdotes much more quickly than I could scribble notes, but I'll share some highlights with the photos below.
This 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental Sports Coupé had adjustable suspension; and a leather sheath over the front of it.
1933 Auburn Twelve Custom Speedster. Somehow that mirror attachment is at once classy and just a little redneck.
Squindo described this 1970 Plymouth as "the best Superbird on the planet." Would any muscle car fans like to dispute that claim?
The "GT room" featured some familiar favorites. I probably shouldn't admit that I like color-matched luggage, but I'm digging the bright red suitcase inside that Gullwing. Not sure what's going on with that steering wheel though.
The blue SL roadster was also claimed as "the best on the planet" of its kind. Both Benzes were finished in factory colors.
The color on this 1955 Maserati A6G/2000 Spyder stood out to me as well, along with the purple interior and unusual gauge layout. After this one-off was ordered, the buyer never took delivery and the vehicle ended up in the hands of servicemen at a French embassy. Yes, that's one of the 54 2000GTs officially delivered to the US in the background.
"The Talbot Teardrop — the easiest way to substantiate the claim of 'the automobile as art'," said my guide, as we entered a massive room completely dedicated to displaying this 1938 Talbot-Lago T150-C SS Teardrop Cabriolet. The artwork behind the vehicle is an original design draft and Frank Lloyd Wright's desk along with some Paul T Frankl furniture was displayed in the wings of the room "for period correctness."
One of my favorites; a 1958 BMW 507 Series II Roadster. There was a time when I thought I'd buy one of these someday, before I realized they fetched prices on par with a few thousand times my earning potential.
I found myself next to a spectator as I eyed the dual rear-wipers on a 1955 Ferrari 250 Europa Coupé. "Never seen that before," he commented. I proceeded to tell him about the glory that is the early 90's Camry wagon, but he didn't find that information very interesting.
Couldn't help but think this inline-seated "Tiger" had Jason Torchinsky written all over it. The livery even matches his Beetle! It was built by Messerschmitt as cheap transportation in 1960 Germany, but disappointingly was not made from a repurposed aircraft hull. Apparently it's capable of 70 MPH.
At this show, a 2011 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Bleu Nuit felt a bit ordinary. But I did think that three-tone exterior and contrasting interior were worth sharing. The Bugatti pulls it off, but this look would be hard to execute on anything less extreme.
1936 Delahaye Type 135 Competition Court Teardrop Coupé, featuring Post-It notes on the dash describing what the buttons do.
If people are interested in the title to your car solely for your signature, you've officially made your mark. This 1941 Cadillac one-off limo was built for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and was displayed alongside an original DMV record as proof. Believe it or not, this car had the biggest crowd around it the entire time I was at the show.
This 1964 Ferrari 250 LM Berlinetta was presented as the headliner. Obviously it was displayed with much circumstance; the wall of photographs chronicle the car's history. Shortly after I took this picture, a television crew was interviewing a "Ferrari expert" I didn't recognize in front of it. Expected sale price is over $12 million, most of the people making notes on it looked like Bond villains.
On the wall behind the 250 was a toy labeled as "Child's Testarossa", valued at $50,000-$75,000.
The last item of interest was the first stop on the auction's "journey through 100 years of automobila"— a massive vehicle identified as a 1892 Brewster Park Drag. Despite being roughly the size of an elephant, the cabin looked like it'd barely fit two adults. Of course, if you wanted to drive, you'd be up on the roof anyway.
On my way out, I couldn't help but wonder why there was a late-model Range Rover Autobiography sitting in the first floor lobby. I overheard it would be part of another auction, and belongs to Bono. His setup? White pearlescent paint and glossy-red badging. I assume he's replacing it with one of the new hybrid variants.