Take a stroll around the Casino de Monte-Carlo on any given day and you'll see all manner of exclusive cars. Here, the average BMW or Mercedes is looked upon as if it were a horse cart. Even a modern Ferrari that has not been upgraded or personalized in some extravagant fashion will fail to draw a second glance.
Of course, this tiny principality also plays host to the Monaco Grand Prix, a race that has been held every year since 1950. This annual display of horsepower has served to cement a reputation for the tax haven as a magnet for car aficionados. Another event, a collector car sale put on by RM Auctions every second year, has added to this reputation.
Hosted to coincide with the biannual Grand Prix de Monaco Historique – a race that sees classics from bygone eras take to the track again – this auction is slated for its third running on May 10. In years past, the auction staged by the Chatham, Ont.-based company has produced strong sales; top results have gone to a 1960 Maserati Tipo 61 "Birdcage" (which netted €2.46-million, or $3.74-million, in 2010) and a 1957 Ferrari 625 TRC Spider (€5-million in 2012).
This year, many euros will change hands once again. But a pair of more moderately appraised offerings has pushed the pricier vehicles out of the limelight. The first is a boat formerly owned by Monaco's royal couple, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. The second is a car raced by James Hunt, the F1 world champion immortalized in Rush, a film that depicted his intense rivalry with Niki Lauda.
"This is just the third year for our Monaco auction," says Peter Wallman, of RM Auctions' British office. "But we consider Monaco, Villa d'Este [Italy] and Pebble Beach [California] to be the three highlights of the global calendar."
Wallman describes the car auction circuit as more than just a marketplace for collectors to buy and sell automotive wares. Rather, it's an integral part of the social life for motoring enthusiasts – a rotating and glamorous backdrop where they can reconnect with friends and colleagues over flutes of Dom Perignon.
In this respect,the Monaco auction is sure to appeal to the cognoscenti of the collector car set. Among the cars up for auction are three expected to sell for at least €4-million each: a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet Series, a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C by Scaglietti and a 1956 Maserati 450S raced by Sir Stirling Moss in that year's Mille Miglia endurance race.
However, all eyes will be upon the 1974 Hesketh 308 raced by Hunt during the team's maiden F1 season and the 1958 Riva Tritone owned by the Monégasque royal family during their most romantic period. "In this case, we've got the ultimate Riva, the Tritone, the purest and most glamorous of the line," says Wallman. "And it's the boat owned by Prince Rainier when he was with Princess Grace. For someone who wants to cruise the Côte d'Azur, there is nothing better."
The stunning vessel, adorned with the red and white stripes of the principality, has undergone a restoration and appears as new as the day the royal couple took delivery. Powered by two Chris-Craft 5.5-litre, six-cylinder engines, the Tritone also features a push-button automatic transmission, which was all the rage in the automotive industry in the mid-1950s. Offered without reserve, the Riva Tritone is expected to garner bids of €350,000 to €500,000.
The 1974 Hesketh 308 is a different kind of animal, one more suited to all-out aggression rather than laid-back cruising. The first car designed and built by the team in-house, the 308 made its F1 debut in the hands of the hard-charging Hunt at the third round in Kyalami, South Africa. The car's provenance is boosted by the fact that only three examples of the Hesketh 308 series were built. However, its legacy is marred somewhat because the team failed to win a world championship race and then abandoned the series at the end of 1975.
Still, with the re-emergence of Hunt in the collective consciousness, interest in the 308 should be strong. A photo of the playboy racer graces the cover of the RM Auctions catalogue and the car was on display at the Royal Automobile Club in London before being transported to Monaco.
"The Monaco auction is a great event for glamour cars from the 1950s, 60s and early-70s," says Wallman. "They really represent the dolce vita in Italy and the south of France. And between James Hunt and Princess Grace, we can't possibly get any more glamorous."
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