By Kit Foster
Rétromobile, the Paris winter old car festival, is fast becoming the “Scottsdale of Europe,” with auctions three days running. RM, Bonhams and the French house Artcurial now have sales in rapid succession, beginning on the evening of opening day, this year Wednesday, February the 4th.
RM, in its second year in the City of Light, led off at the Place Vauban, with 72 lots, 66 of which were cars. Most of the offerings were European marques, including a baker’s dozen Ferraris, eight Porsches and six Lancias. As expected, high money was in the Ferraris, all of which sold, the most expensive of which was a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT/L “Lusso” Berlinetta by Scaglietti, knocked down for 1.45 million euros ($1.859 million including commission). Runner-up was a 1990 Ferrari F40 at $1.176 million. Missing their marks were an ex-works 1969 Porsche 911S, one of six factory-built rally cars, which failed to make reserve at $1.2 million and a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Belinetta by Touring, whose provenance included Claretta Petacci, mistress of Benito Mussolini. The Alfa, sympathetically yet masterfully restored and accompanied by a thick history file, failed to reach reserve at $2 million. A relative bargain was the final lot of the sale, a 1939 Panhard Dynamic, a lovely art deco sedan albeit in dire need of restoration. Although well below estimate, it was sold for $13,740, the wisdom of which became apparent at the Artcurial sale on Friday. In all, RM sold 82 percent of lots offered, totaling $22.2 million in all. Full results can be found online at http://www.rmauctions.com/results/result.cfm?feature=No&category=all&year=2015&sort=lot&view=list&SaleCode=PA15.
Bonhams’ sale followed on Thursday, at the historic Grand Palais. Notable among the 145 cars offered was a factory-specification 1965 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible, one of 39 built with left-hand drive, that set a world’s record for the model of 1,897,500 euros ($2.16 million), and the ex-Amschel Rothschild 1966 AC Cobra 289 Mark II Roadster, sold to a British bidder in the room for an above-estimate price of 937,250 euros ($1.068 million). Full results can be obtained at http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22528/#/aa0=1&MR0_length=10&w0=list&m0=0.
The real buzz, however, was reserved for the Roger Baillon “barn find” collection offered by Artcurial, the official Rétromobile auctioneer, on Friday. Assembled by Baillon, a French transportation entrepreneur, from the 1950s into the ’70s, it comprised 60 cars, mostly European classics of the 1930s and ’40s, plus some more modern Ferraris and a 1956 Maserati A6G. Included were many other French makes, like Hotchkiss, Berliet, Ballot and Lorraine-Dietrich. His intention was to establish a museum, but in the 1970s the fortunes of his business waned and the cars languished in makeshift, largely-open sheds. Discovered by Artcurial’s specialists, they were exhumed, as carefully as possible, and, in the words of Managing Director Matthieu Lamoure, the auction house “put on show the magic of these sixty mysterious mechanical creatures.”
And what a show it was. Advance publicity was intense; no one could escape its notice. On site, in a hall adjacent to Rétromobile, the cars were displayed with full attention to drama. Entering the darkened room, one saw the ghostly hulks, many on raised platforms with eerie lighting coming from within. No effort had been taken to clean them; in fact some foliage had been preserved (or added) to accentuate the fact that they had been pulled from the earth. One, a rare 1949 Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupe with body by Saoutchik, had suffered the complete detachment of its derriere. Much is made today of patina, which some prefer to spotless restorations. These cars, however, had not so much patina as simple decay, although each and every one had a certain air of endearment.
Estimates were on the high side of sensibility, which could be attributed to justifiable hubris at securing such a noteworthy horde. Once the sale started, however, it was clear it would rank in the record books with the legendary A.K. Miller sale of stockpiled Stutzes in the 1990s, and the brand-new, neglected Chevrolets of Ray Lambrecht in 2013. Our Dutch reporter, Joris Bergsma, was prepared with every possible credential, yet was unable to enter the hall—some 3,500 people had already packed in. He followed the sale vicariously from the main Rétromobile floor: “Back there the first rumors about sky-rocketing figures for scrap came through. We had a contact who had a contact in the salesroom. The first news that came through was that the very poor Amilcar CGSs project (estimate 3,000-5,000 euros) crossed the 30,000 line within 10 seconds and ended at the price which not so long ago was paid for a good running car. Both salesroom and buyers were in a frenzy due to the Baillon story which had been marketed cleverly by Artcurial. For the lesser cars prices up to ten times the estimate were paid. With the high-end cars plus 50 percent and more was not unusual. Aside from the often-mentioned record-fetching cars like the Maserati and Ferrari, it is worth mentioning the 1949 Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport by Saoutchik. Arguably the car which was in worst possible condition, missing most of the body’s left side and with collapsed roof and broken-off tail section, achieved a fully outrageous 1,700,000 euros. Although hard to prove, our impression was that not only Bonhams’ and RM’s auctions, but also the second part of Artcurial’s sale (the fine and shiny cars) suffered under the Baillon hype. What have we learned from all this? Bring your collection of old cars that still need restoring together in a poor shed with leaking roof. Wait 40 years and a miracle will happen.”
High price was garnered by the Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider from 1961, 16.3 million euros ($18.5 million), a world’s record and remarkable for a very slumbering barn find. The 1956 Maserati A6G 2000 Gran Sport Berlinetta by Frua also set a record at $2.2 million. Both cars had been stored inside, insulated with stacks of old magazines, and fared much better than their rustier compatriots. Much farther down the pecking order were two Panhard Dynamics, a sedan and a coupe. These, in much poorer condition than the one sold by RM on Wednesday, were knocked down at $43,400 and $63,800, respectively, more than three times the RM result. At 25 million euros, the Baillon collection marked more than half Artcurial’s 46 million overall yield. Full results of the sale can be found at http://www.artcurial.com/en/asp/results.asp.
All photos by the author unless otherwise credited.
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