RM Auctions hammers on highest sale during Rétromobile with
$5 million 1955 Jaguar D-Type
Story and photos by Kit Foster
Car auctions have been a feature of Rétromobile as long as most people can remember. Christies held the official franchise for many years, yielding it to Bonhams upon closing its motor car department in 2007. After the French auction house Artcurial took on the official mantra in 2011, Bonhams set up shop nearby at the historic Grand Palais. This year, there were auctions for four nights running: Bonhams at the Grand Palais on Thursday, Artcurial running a double header on Friday and Saturday on-site at Rétromobile and new kid on the block RM Auctions with a sale on Wednesday evening. The Canadian company’s Rétromobile-timed sale on Feb. 5 was held the event’s opening day at Place Vauban, at the southern end of Les Invalides complex in the Seventh Arrondissement in Paris.
The smallest of the sales in terms of size, RM Auctions nevertheless made an impact with its 53 lots by receiving the highest price for a single automobile and perhaps the biggest surprise for a “barn find.” Centerpiece of the sale was a group of seven rare sports cars from the Peter Harburg collection in Australia, including three Porsches, a Lola T70 MkIIIB, a Ferrari 750 Monza Spider and a 1950 Aston Martin DB2 that raced at Sebring when new. The high point, however, was the sale of Harburg’s 1955 D-Type Jaguar, a highly original car delivered new to Australia and raced there by four-time champion Bob Stillwell. The historic Jaguar sold for 3,696,000 euro (about $5,071,000) including buyer premium. This was not only the highest price realized at RM Auctions, it was the high price for a single car sold at any of the Rétromobile week auctions.
Not all cars were racing thoroughbreds. There was a good collection of European “street” sports cars, the likes of Jaguar, Austin-Healey, Alfa Romeo and Lancia, most of which sold near or within the range of estimates. Vintage machinery included a 1930 Lancia Lambda (no sale at a 90,000 euro or $123,000 high bid) and a 1921 Th. Schneider, a little-known French make delivered new to, and bodied in, Australia. The Th. Schneider was a relative bargain at 61,600 euro ($84,400). A cute little Bugatti Type 40 roadster changed hands for 252,000 euro ($345,250). The only American car in the sale was a 1965 Mustang, recently prepared in the UK for historic racing. It sold for 67,200 euro ($92,000). Lowest successful bid of the evening took home a 1956 Fiat 600 for 14,000 euro ($19,200), and the final lot of the day, a 1957 Fiat 600 Multipla (Fiat’s idea of the minivan) drew some spirited and prolonged bidding, inching past estimates to sell to hearty applause at 33,600 euro ($46,000).
The barn find surprise came early in the sale, when a sadly neglected Mercedes-Benz 600 six-door Pullman landaulet laid waste to its 80,000-120,000 euro estimate to hammer sold at 480,000 euro (537,600 euro or $736,500 with buyer premium). The crowd went wild. No doubt, its rarity (26 built, fewer survive) added to its appeal. It is one car that, despite its challenging condition, can almost certainly be restored for less than its acquisition price.
French regulations require a local auctioneer on the rostrum. The official impresario announced each lot and wielded the gavel upon sale, but in between, RM Auctions’ Max Girardo pattered seamlessly between French and English in a linguistic display seldom seen on the classic car circuit. With total sales of some 17.7 million euro (more than $24 million), RM Auctions’ Paris experience equaled Bonhams’ take and made a good showing against top dog Artcurial. The “new kid” is certain to be back in Paris for Rétromobile number 40 in 2015. Full results can be found online at www.rmauctions.com/results/result.cfm?SaleCode=PA14.
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