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Top 5: Classic car auction sales of 2012

In the first of an on-going ‘Top Five’ series, we take a look at what kind of money high-end car collectors are prepared to pay for the best.

The classic car auction market has always intrigued me. Largely, this is because of the sheer beauty, history and diversity of the automobiles on display. Some are no less worthy of a discerning eye as a Picasso, for they are artworks in their own right. Others have a unique story to tell, or are just simply so damn successful as racing cars that the market has no choice but to respect them.

Beyond the stories of the cars themselves it’s the psychology of the market that also intrigues. Nowadays, it’s not only those in the trade or with oodles of money looking to add to their collections that you’ll see holding a bid card. Nope, like artworks or fine wine, there is the occasional speculator who looks at these items merely as another investment opportunity. There have even been a couple of funds set up in the UK that treat cars as an investment asset class.

Whatever the motive, the market has been on a ‘bull’ run for several years now. The very best examples of the most desirable models continue to grow in value, as seen by the following list of the Top Five Cars sold at auction in 2012. Prices include ‘Buyer’s Premium’ (basically a commission for the auction house) and are nominated in Australian dollars.

A couple of key points to note: All five sales came over the course of ‘Monterey week’, an annual gathering in the United States where all the major players congregate. The list also proves that a Ferrari badge is generally a value-adder; with recent news that Ferrari is the ‘World’s Strongest Brand’- beating Apple and Coca Cola- who knows what heights classic Ferraris will reach in 2013?

1. 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Spezial Roadster

Sold for $11,295,585 by Gooding, Monterey, August 18

The height of pre-World War 2 German excess, the 540K Spezial Roadster is somehow imposingly-styled yet still breathtakingly elegant. Powered by a supercharged 5.4-litre straight-eight this example was said to have had only three ‘caretakers’ from new, the first being the Baroness Gisela von Krieger- it was a graduation present from her mother. It has been restored to ‘Authentic, as-delivered appearance’ with ‘matching numbers’ (meaning it retains its original engine and driveline).

2. 1960 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spyder Competizione

Sold for $10,820,537 by Gooding, Monterey, August 17

Achingly desirable (and expensive) even in ‘standard’ long-wheelbase (LWB) form, this ‘Cali’ was one of only nine to be delivered with an alloy body. Additionally it was delivered in ‘Competizione’ specification, with covered headlights, disc brakes and an engine uprated with parts used by the 250 Testa Rossa race cars. Significantly, it was ordered by legendary US Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti lending it extra resonance on the American auction floor.

3. 1968 Ford GT40

Sold for $10,556,622 by RM, Monterey, August 18

Surprised to see Ford mixing it with the exotic Euros? With the GT40 (so named because its height was 40 inches) Ford’s aim was essentially to destroy Ferrari at the race track, after Enzo Ferrari reneged on a deal that would have seen Ford take over Ferrari (imagine that today…).

Powered by a 4.7-litre V8, this example was one of three ‘lightweight’ production-build GT40s. With ace Jacky Ickx it won a sportscar race at the famed Spa-Francorchamps circuit in 1967. Subsequently upgraded to 1968 specifications, it was used in the filming of the Steve McQueen movie, Le Mans.

4. 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder

Sold for $8,234,165 by RM, Monterey, August 19

Carrying Ferrari Classiche certification- a sign of its authenticity- this California Spyder is of the short-wheelbase (SWB) form- generally accepted to be the ‘Cali’ to have, despite the LWB Competizione above out-pointing it on the auction floor. One of 37 covered-headlight examples, this example is a Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance award winner.

5. 1955 Ferrari 410 S Berlinetta

Sold for $7,914,466 by RM, Monterey, August 18

Said to be a one-off body with coachwork by Italian Carrozzeria Scaglione, this earlier Ferrari was specially commissioned for Ferrari SEFAC (racing department) board member Michel Paul-Cavillier. It is powered by a massive 4.9-litre V12 engine which had been prepared for road racing competitions and produced over 280kW of power. Another award recipient, this time at the famed Concorso D’Eleganza Villa D’Este in Cernobbio, Italy in 2009, the uniqueness of this Ferrari no doubt contributed to its exceptional price.

*Images thanks to Mecum and RM Auctions