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posted: 1/23/2014 12:28 PM

Two 1958 Ferraris lead auctions up 11% as bidders prize rarities

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  • A 1958 Ferrari 250 GT Series 1 Cabriolet sold for $8.8 million Jan. 17 at the RM Auction at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

    A 1958 Ferrari 250 GT Series 1 Cabriolet sold for $8.8 million Jan. 17 at the RM Auction at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.
    Associated Press

By Scott Reyburn
Bloomberg News

Two 1958 Ferrari convertibles captured the top prices at a week of classic car auctions in Arizona that raised $248.6 million, an 11 percent advance on the equivalent events last year, according to Hagerty, a U.S.-based classic car price database.

A restored Ferrari 250 GT California LWB Spider sold for $8.8 million with fees at RM Auctions on Jan. 17, leading the Arizona sales held by six companies. They are regarded as the second-most important series of classic car auctions in the U.S. after Pebble Beach, Calif., in August.

Classic cars were a lucrative alternative investment in 2013. Prices in the dealer and auction markets for exceptional historic autos rose 47 percent, according to a report this month from London-based research company Historic Automobile Group International. Prices for rare Ferraris surged 62 percent for the year, the HAGI indexes show.

"Demand remains high and lively -- even though some of the estimates were a bit optimistic here," Dietrich Hatlapa, founder of HAGI, said in a telephone interview. "The market took a massive leap in 2013."

Classic road-going Ferrari racers from the 1950s and '60s have become increasingly coveted by wealthy collectors over the last decade.

The red 250 GT Spider at RM's sale in Phoenix, one of 50 LWB California convertibles made by the Italian company specifically for the U.S. market, sold to a bidder in the room against a high estimate of $9 million. A 250 GT LWB California Spider in similarly restored condition sold for $3.4 million at an auction in Pebble Beach in 2011, according to HAGI.

"The California is a signature brand in the Ferrari market," McKeel Hagerty, president and chief executive officer of Hagerty Insurance Agency Inc., said in a telephone interview. "It sells well in Arizona. This is where a lot of new people enter the market."

Another 1958 Ferrari 250 GT convertible, a Cabriolet model in blue with coachwork by Pinin Farina, fetched $6.2 million at Gooding & Co.'s auction in Scottsdale, exceeding the $5 million high estimate.

A total of 2,815 lots were offered by RM, Gooding, Barrett- Jackson Auction Co., Bonhams, Russo & Steele, and Silver Auctions. Eighty-two percent of the cars were sold, at an average price of $107,096.

The iconic Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing coupe inspired two of the week's biggest positive surprises. A 1955 example, valued by dealers at $1.2 million to $1.4 million, sold for $2.1 million at Barrett-Jackson's event, helped by the sight of British racing legend Stirling Moss driving the car on to the podium, according to Hatlapa.

A black 1956 Gullwing in dilapidated condition, estimated at $1.1 million to $1.4 million, climbed to $1.9 million at Gooding. Typifying the excitement that can be generated by fresh-to-market, totally unrestored cars at auction, that Mercedes will need a further $400,000 to $500,000 spent on it to make it roadworthy, said Hagerty, who questioned the wisdom of the investment.

"You can spend a lot of money on a restoration car, and then make a loss at auction," he said.

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