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This 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO could sell for at least US$45-million at the RM Sotheby’s auction.Patrick Ernzen/©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

Car collectors who frequent the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance never sweat the zeros in a sale price, yet the prospect of a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO selling for at least US$45-million at the RM Sotheby’s auction in nearby Monterey, Calif., has their attention.

Since Weathertech floor mat mogul David MacNeil paid US$70-million for another GTO in a private transaction this spring, even Ferrari’s tifosi are debating how much is too much for a GTO, the world’s most coveted car.

“The price is not insane, not at all,” international Ferrari authority Marcel Massini opined on FerrariChat, as word spread that MacNeil had invested the equivalent of 260,000 sets of Toyota Camry floor mats.

“After all, it is the TDF [Tour de France] winner, one of the top three or four GTOs on the planet. Picassos sell for $140-million and up and you can’t even drive them. I bet we’ll see a $100-million GTO sale in the next five years.”

RM stages auctions on Friday and Saturday in the Monterey conference centre, ahead of the Concours d’Elegance on Sunday at the Pebble Beach golf course. The GTO auction is scheduled for Saturday.

Certainly RM Sotheby’s estimate of US$45-$60 million seems more realistic now than it would have, four months ago.

Ferrari made only 36 GTOs – 39 if you count three with larger engines, but they’re not as prized. They were beautiful and they were fast, dominating their GT3 class in major races. Their screaming 3.0-litre V12 engines and leonine lines accentuated by triple nostrils above their radiator intakes distanced them from any other sports/racing car.

The GTO being auctioned in Monterey was the third built, chassis and engine No. 3413. Its pedigree includes winning its class in the Targa Florio road races in 1963 and, updated with Series II body modifications, again in 1964.

The GTO being auctioned in Monterey was the third built, chassis and engine No. 3413.Patrick Ernzen/©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

Greg Whitten, when a board member of Numerix, and later the company’s CEO, paid a reported US$7-million for it in 2000. Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, chairman and chief executive of L’Oreal, had owned 3413 since 1994. Gianni Bulgari, of the wristwatch family, was the second of 12 owners.

Another GTO holds the existing auction record, US$38.1-million at the Bonhams pre-Pebble sale at the Quail Lodge in 2014. Of the 10 highest auction prices on record, six are Ferraris. A lone Mercedes-Benz, the W196 race car in which Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1954 Formula One championship, ranks third at US$29,650,095. An Aston-Martin DB1, that established the record for British cars at RM Sotheby’s Monterey sale last year, stands seventh at US$22.55-million.

Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason is the best-known GTO owner – he paid £35,000 ($58,700) for his in 1977 – but all are known to each other. Canada’s Lawrence Stroll, Ralph Lauren, and Walmart heir Rob Walton are prominent among them.

Whitten sounds sated. “I’ve had the GTO for a long time,” he told Forbes. “There are other cars I want to buy.” He drove 3413 in the 55th Anniversary GTO Tour last September, from Florence through the Chianti hills and on to Maranello and Ferrari’s test track. He’d already participated in the 40th and 50th tours and raced a dozen times in Ferrari Maserati Historic Challenge events, including at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant.

This GTO's pedigree includes winning its class in the Targa Florio road races in 1963 and, updated with Series II body modifications, again in 1964.Patrick Ernzen/©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

Few car enthusiasts can imagine walking away from a GTO. Its hold on the American imagination began as it blazed a trail of racing wins, but a controversial appearance on a Car and Driver magazine cover, March of 1964, reached a wider audience.

In a painting of a racing scene commissioned by editor and publisher David E. Davis, a Pontiac Tempest GTO rides a Ferrari GTO’s bumper out of a downhill turn, positioned to sweep ahead. But Car and Driver had no reason to suggest such a possibility.

The magazine confessed inside its plan of staging a comparison test between a Ferrari GTO and “the car which stole its name,” faltered because it was unable to secure the Ferrari.

The story glorifying the new Pontiac asserted it was a better car than most current production Ferraris, but not the GTO. “The Ferrari GTO is a racing car that costs upward of $20,000 new. Therefore we are not surprised that it will go around a road racing circuit several seconds faster than our Tempest GTO.”

The price then was US$18,500 new. Used, the sky’s the limit.

RM Sothebys sales totalled US$133-million at last year’s event, with 32 lots going for at least $1-million. Among this year’s classics for sale are a 1966 Ford GT40 Mk II ($9-to-$12 million est), 1934 Packard Twelve Individual Custom Convertible Victoria ($4.5-to-$6-million), 1965 Aston Martin DB5 Vantage Convertible ($1.9-to-$2.5-million), 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari ($3-to-$4-million), 1971 Lamborgini Miura P400 SV ($2.2-to-$2.4-million), 1968 Porsche 908 Works Short-Tail Coupe ($2.3-to-$2.8-million).

And then there’s the 1961 VW Deluxe 23-Window Microbus: US$140,000-$160,000.

This 1965 Aston Martin DB5 Vantage Convertible is expected to sell for $1.9-million to $2.5-million.Patrick Ernzen ©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

This 1968 Porsche 908 Works Short-Tail Coupe could sell for $2.3-million to $2.8-million.Robin Adams ©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

The price for this 1966 Ford GT40 Mk II is estimated to be between $9-million and $12-million.©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

This 2014 Ferrari LaFerrari could sell for $3-million to $4-million.Darin Schnabel ©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

Admission for RM previews on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday is $US40. Only registered bidders ($US300) may attend the actual auctions. Among the latter group, Brent Merrill will be on hand to witness the Ferrari GTO’s auction - but that’s not to say he gets its appeal.

The Toronto collector better appreciates the American classics, including the 1930 Packard 745 Roadster he’ll be showing at Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance.

“I don’t understand what the guys see in some of those Ferraris,” he said in an e-mail ahead of the show. “I know when I park a good classic behind a Ferrari around town, the people seem to look more at my classic.”

At Pebble, Merrill’s thinking predominates. Pebble’s best-in-show winners more often than not boast magnificent coachwork and huge engines. Four Packards have taken the big prize, five Duesenbergs, nine Bugattis and eight Mercedes-Benz.

When Terry Radley, a Canadian Tire store owner, won best-in-show in 1981 with his 1929 J Murphy Convertible Coupe restored by the internationally-known restoration shop of Harry Sherry of Warsaw, Ont., it was the third Duesenberg in four years.

Whereas, no Ferrari was selected best until 2014 when a 1954 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe interrupted the parade of large and extra-large motor cars.

Merrill won his class with a 1931 Cadillac V16 Coupe, took the runner-up ribbon with his Marmon Sixteen Convertible Coupe, and a third with a 1928 Stearns-Knight Convertible Coupe.

“Being an early 30’s guy I would lust for two cars at Gooding [& Co.], the Gary Cooper Duesenberg would make my heart jump and so would the Bugatti 57C Atalante. ... Both are super rare and beautiful representations of the classic era – from two of the best makers,” he says. “Perhaps the classic prices will catch up to those of Ferraris one day,”

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