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updated: 8/18/2013 9:10 AM

Ferrari Spyder sets $27.5 million auction record

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Bloomberg News

A rare 1960s Ferrari convertible sold last night in California for a record $27.5 million.

The 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 S NART Spyder's price was the most paid at auction for the Italian carmaker anywhere in the world and the most for any car bought at a U.S. public sale.

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"The NART Spyder is a very special car," the U.K.-based dealer John Collins, who was the underbidder at the RM Auctions event, said in a telephone interview. "They're so rare. They're among the most beautiful of all Ferraris. Some of the biggest collectors in the world own one, and Steve McQueen tried to buy this one after he crashed his," said Collins, of the Telacrest dealership.

Classic Ferrari racers from the 1950s and 1960s are the world's most consistently valuable motor cars, dominating both the auction and private market. Prices for the marque's investment-grade road cars have surged in 2013. The HAGI F index of collectible Ferraris has climbed 34.3 percent this year through July, according to the London-based analysts, the Historic Automobile Group International.

The RM event forms part of a bellwether series of classic car sales on the West Coast that also includes high-value selections from Gooding & Co. and Bonhams.

Estimated by RM at $14 million to $17 million, the Ferrari had been entered by family of the late North Carolina businessman Eddie Smith Sr., the car's one and only owner.

Racing Team

The NART Spyder -- named after the North American Racing Team -- was the brainchild of Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari's North American importer. Only 10 were built.

Canadian fashion entrepreneur Lawrence Stroll, a motor racing enthusiast, was bidding in the room via an intermediary, dealers said, who also identified Stroll as the buyer.

An after-hours call to Stroll's New York office to confirm the purchase was not immediately returned. Stroll built Tommy Hilfiger into a global brand in the 1990s.

Proceeds of the sale of the Ferrari will be donated to charity, RM said.

The price, which included fees, was the second-highest for any car at a public sale after the 19.6 million pounds ($29.7 million) given for a 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 that Juan Manuel Fangio drove to two Grand Prix victories, sold by Bonhams in Goodwood, U.K., on July 12.

The actress Faye Dunaway described another example of the NART Spyder as "one of those red Italian things" when it appeared in the 1968 movie, "The Thomas Crown Affair."

Dunaway's co-star, Steve McQueen, was also among the first owners of the exclusive convertible that would have cost about $15,000 at the time, dealers said.

Arizona Ferraris

Ferraris from the 1950s and '60s sold this year include two 250 GT models that raised $8.25 million and $8.1 million at Gooding and RM respectively at sales in Arizona in January.

The market for classic cars continues to expand. This latest California series of auctions, which ends tonight, is estimated to exceed $325 million, a record for the series, according to Michigan-based analysts Hagerty. Last year RM, Gooding and Bonhams raised in excess of $220 million, a 33 percent increase on 2011.

The previous record for any car sold at auction in the U.S. was the $16.4 million paid for a 1957 Testa Rossa prototype at Gooding in California in August 2011.

The record price paid for any car remains the $35 million given in a private transaction in June 2012 for a 1962 Ferrari GTO 250 racer made for the U.K. driver Stirling Moss, traders confirmed to Bloomberg.

"California sets the temperature of the market," Simon Kidston, founder of the Geneva-based classic car adviser Kidston SA, said before yesterday's sale. "The rarest classic cars are selling extremely well and the prices are just going in one direction. Ferraris have become the equivalent of Google stock."

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