Car cultures faced off in a money-fueled Sonoran desert duel last week at the annual Phoenix-area collector car auctions with European marques – led by two Ferraris – spinning up the highest numbers, although two iconic Corvettes also made the multi-million-dollar Top 10.
American iron, from vintage relics to 1930s classics, 1950s nostalgia and 1960s muscle accounted for two-thirds of the 2,321 vehicles sold out of the 2,815 lots that went under the hammer at six major auctions – but only half of the $249-million (all prices U.S.) in sales rung up during the record-setting week.
Euro-flash, more often than not with a Ferrari prancing horse badge prominent, commanded most of the serious money.
An auction-topping $8.8-million was paid for a 1958 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider at RM Auctions of Canada’s $45.5-million sale – the highest price ever paid during auction week. And $6.6-million was paid for a 1958 Ferrari 250 GT Series I Cabriolet at Gooding & Company, the highest price this model has commanded at auction.
Ferrari’s 250 GT Series 1 Cabriolets, considered among the most beautiful, desirable and rare of all its road-going cars were introduced in 1957, styled and built by Carozzeria Pininfarina. This one was the 14th of 40 built, had only four previous owners, and epitomizes the sophisticated allure of Europe’s exotic sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s.
The 250 GT’s elegant steel bodywork was draped over a tubular chassis, with independent front and live axle rear suspension with 16-inch Borrani wire wheels. They were powered by a classic Colombo-designed, 3.0 litre, single-overhead-cam V-12 that rasped out 240 hp on its way to 7,000 rpm, and could get to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds, with a top speed of 240 km/h. Interiors were lavish, with loads of leather and chrome.
The 250 GT LWB (long-wheelbase) California Spider was aimed directly at wealthy North American buyers who wanted something they could look good in Monday through Friday and perhaps race on the weekend. With competition in mind, it was bodied partially in aluminum by Scaglietti panel-beaters (only 50 were made). Its on-track prowess was proven at Sebring, and with a surprise fifth place finish at Le Mans in 1959.
The two Corvette L88s that broke into auction week’s top 10 – as part of Barrett-Jacksons record $113-million in sales, were also cars that could be driven on the street, but were really spec’d for the track. Compared to the effete-by-comparison Ferraris, these thundering big-block Corvettes said it all about America’s take on the sports car.
Corvette offered the L88 option from 1967 through 1969, and only 216 were built. Tick the L88 option box and your Corvette arrived packing a 427-cubic-inch V-8 rated at 430 hp, with a heavy-duty, four-speed “rock crusher” gearbox bolted behind it, and heavy-duty brakes and suspension. They didn’t come with sound insulation, a heater, radio or power steering.
The 1967 L88 Coupe that sold for $3.8-million and finished fourth on the Top 10 list was one of 20 built that year. In eighth, with a sale price of $2.8-million, was a legendary competition Corvette, an SCCA and IMSA veteran known as the “Rebel” for its flag paint scheme. After being raced hard, it disappeared in the 1980s. It was discovered in a junkyard in the 1990s, and purchased for a few thousand dollars.
Barrett-Jackson also offered a pair of iconic examples of a more straightforward – for a quarter of a mile – type of American competition, drag racing. The 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Hot Wheels-sponsored funny car was driven by Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, and the 1972 Plymouth Hot Wheels Duster of Tom “The Mongoose” McEwan. These 250-mph nitro-fueled cars battled it out in one of the sport’s greatest rivalries – subject of a recent movie – and were offered along with their 1967 Dodge Ramp Truck transporters.
Bidding ground to a halt just shy of $1-million, failing to make the reserve, but NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick stepped up later to acquire the four vehicles.
Top 10 sales
Make and model
1958 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider
1958 Ferrari 250 GT Series I Cabriolet
1997 McLaren FI GTR Longtail
1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Coupe
1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica SI Coupe
1951 Ferrari 212 Export Berlinetta
1931 Alfa-Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport Spyder
1969 Chevrolet Corvette No. 57 Rebel L88 Convertible
1961 Porsche 718 RS 61 Spyder
1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/6C
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