All posts by Larry Edsall

A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the Web and becoming the author of more than 15 books. In addition to being Editorial Director at, Larry has written for The New York Times, writes a weekly automotive feature for The Detroit News and is an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State Univeristy.

Future classic: Toyota FJ40

This FJ40 brought $71,500 at Bonhams Arizona auction |Photos by Larry Edsall
This FJ40 brought $71,500 at Bonhams Arizona auction |Photos by Larry Edsall

When we decided to launch a weekly series entitled “Future Classics,” one of the first vehicles on our list was the Toyota FJ40.

However, while wandering through the tents, buildings and parking lots of vehicles being offered up for bids during Arizona Auction Week, we wondered if the FJ might not be a future classic but already a classic.

We counted 14 of them in the Barrett-Jackson catalog. There also were a couple at Russo and Steele, one at Silver (plus an FJ45 pickup version), and even Bonhams, RM and Gooding & Company each had one FJ cross its block.

But we still feel justified in calling the FJ40 a future classic.

For one thing, they have yet to be included in the Hagerty Price Guide of collectible cars, which lists only Toyota’s 2000GT, 1980 Celica Supra and the various and ensuing Supras (which became a separate model line) as classics.

On the other hand, the Kelley Blue Book Official Guide for Early Model Cars does include 1963-83 FJ40s, and notes that you can expect as much as $53,900 for one in excellent condition.

Prices at the Arizona auctions ranged from the very high teens to $101,750 for a 1977 FJ40 Land Cruiser at RM. The 1978 model at Bonhams brought $71,500. Typically, however, prices were in the $25,000 to $50,000 range.

1966 FJ40 at Russo and Steele
1966 FJ40 at Russo and Steele

Although they aren’t include in Hagerty’s price guide (something we figure will change with the next edition of that book), McKeel Hagerty will tell you that early SUVs and classic pickups are the up-and-coming collector vehicles, in part because they’re cool, in part because they’re versatile (you can still actually use them on a frequent basis), and in part because they’re still affordable.

OK, so they’re a little less affordable at classic car auctions, but you can find them at classic car dealerships, used car lots and being sold by private owners for less than $20,000.

The FJ40 traces its roots back to the original Jeeps that carried U.S. soldiers in World War II. When the U.S. military found itself fighting a few years later on the Korean peninsula, the Army hired Toyota to produce an updated version, one better suited to the rugged, hilly Korean topography.

That original BJ (B stood for the Toyota engine and J for Jeep) was succeeded by the FJ series, first an FJ20 and then the FJ40, which soon became the vehicle of choice for people around the world who had to deal with mountains, deserts, jungles and other extreme and unpaved environments.

Chevota? Toyota FJ40 with Chevy V8 engine
Chevota? Toyota FJ40 with Chevy V8 engine at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale 2014


Eye candy: Steering wheels

Photos by Larry Edsall

The first motorcars were steered by means of a tiller, just like motorboats. The driver held the end of a bar that, through a series of joints and gears, was attached to the front wheel — remember, the first car was a three-wheeler — and later to the front wheels, which  changed direction when the driver pulled or pushed the tiller.

It is believed that it was in 1894 that one Alfred Vacheron first outfitted his car, a Panhard he was driving in the Paris-Rouen rally, with a steering wheel instead of a tiller atop the driver’s end of the steering column. We also know that by 1898 French automakers Panhard and Bollee were installing steering wheels rather than tillers on the cars they were producing.

Today, steering wheels are covered — even cluttered — with all sorts of switchgear designed to make it easy for the driver to adjust everything from a vehicle’s audio system to its HVAC, with paddles to change gears and buttons to make telephone calls.

But such things really are nothing new. Once upon a time, not only the direction in which a car traveled but such things as gear selection and fuel supply (and you thought cruise control was a new-fangled invention) were controlled from the steering wheel, or at least by levers or switches attached to the wheel or steering column rather than by pedals mounted on the vehicle’s floorboard.

Today’s Eye candy presents some vintage — and in some cases quite colorful — steering wheels we’ve seen in recent weeks.


Did someone really pay half-a-million for dirt and grime?

Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

What do we do when we erase patina, when we cover over the historic evidence of the object’s travel through time to the present day? What do we do when we eliminate the very finger prints of the past by restoring cars to “original,” or “improving” them to make them better drivers or more successful racers? Once the evidence of an object’s travel through time disappears, history disappears. For an historical object to lose its history is to lose its reality, the only thing of any great value in the first place.

Miles Collier, The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles

If you’ve ever watched Antiques Roadshow on your local PBS television station, you no doubt have seen the reaction when one of the Keno brothers tells someone their family-heirloom, circa-1750 Queen Anne cherrywood bookcase on desk is worth $5,000 —  its value would be $120,000 had grandpa not refinished it.

Can you imagine one of them saying the same thing to the owner of a classic car while it is displayed on the fairway at Pebble Beach, where the brothers — experts not only in old furniture but in old cars — serve as judges?

Don’t laugh. It could happen.

In fact, it already has, perhaps not at Pebble Beach but at the recent Arizona auctions.

We quote Miles Collier, automotive historian and passionate preservationist, and mention that cherry-wood case and desk in the aftermath of the recent classic car auctions in Arizona. At Gooding & Company’s Scottsdale auction someone paid nearly $1.9 million for a dirty, dusty 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL “gullwing” with ripped interior and torn headliner that had been found after being parked for several decades in a garage. At that very same auction, someone, presumably someone else, bought a seemingly identical, black-with-red interior ’56 gullwing, except this one had been completely restored with gleaming paint, gorgeous interior and was ready for the road — and yet it sold for a mere $1.4 million.Did someone really pay half a million dollars for dust and wear and tear?

Which car is with more: Unrestored or restored?
Which car is with more: Unrestored “barn-find” or fully restored version?

“It was a very significant car in that it was an ‘unknown’ car to the collecting hobby and that’s certainly worth something,” said Garth Hammers, a car specialist at Gooding. “It had its original paint, and that probably should be in boldface print. They made 1,400 gullwings, and how many still have their original paint? Twenty, maybe 25.

“We have pretty stark and equal comparisons at this auction,” he added, noting the pair of black-and-red gullwings in the same catalog.

“The fact is, the original car is less replaceable than the restored car.  I drove the restored car more than 100 miles and it is the best-driving Gullwing I’ve ever been in. Everything was perfectly attended to and dialed in.

“But the car originally was red with a plaid interior. There’s a premium for original black cars, just like there is for original Rudge cars. Black was not as rare a color as you might think, I think they made around 100 of them. But over the years, a number have been painted other colors. Now, more and more are going back to their original color combinations (which can add $100,000 to the vehicle’s price when it is sold).”

Combine originality and rarity with a car that had been forgotten in storage for several decades and collectors get excited.

“It was the market speaking on an iconic car that has not been restored,” Hammers said.contrastgooding

And that dusty gullwing wasn’t the only unrestored car that drew a lot of attention — and money — at Goodings’ Scottsdale auction. A dingy (can any Ferrari really be termed “dingy?”) 1967 Ferrari 330 GTS that had been parked in a garage in Pennsylvania since an engine fire in 1969 sold for more than $2 million.

The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles was published in 2012 by the Simeone Automotive Foundation and presented the case for preservation instead of restoration. Collier and the Keno brothers wrote chapters for the book. Last fall, Collier and Leslie Keno were part of a panel that spoke about the Art of the Automobile before the RM/Sotheby’s auction in New York City.

As Collier noted in New York, “The vast majority of restorations are not original restorations. They are re-restorations of cars already restored once, twice, three times.”

What Collier and others like is the growing trend in the classic car hobby to apply “archival standards” that preserve rather than recreate history.

At that same seminar, Peter Mullin, who in addition to his own collection and museum is chairman of the Petersen Automobile Museum, said that in the last few years, collectors in the United States have “awakened to the fact that you ought to preserve things if they’re still in their original state.

You put your hands on the steering wheel that Rene Dryfus set a record with and you don’t want to change that.”

— Peter Mullin


“You spend a quarter-of-a-milion or $350,000 restoring,” Mullin said, “and it’s worth less than if you hadn’t done anything to it.

“We’re very much in the mode of appreciating originality, provenance. Original leather smells different. You put your hands on the steering wheel that Rene Dryfus set a record with and you don’t want to change that.

“But,” he added, “(unlike collectors in Europe) the U.S. has come to the table slowly on this subject.”

Slowly, but surely. Hammers noted that judges at a major concours d’elegance, the Elegance at Hershey, last year awarded best-in-show honors to an unrestored car, Robert and Sandra Bahre’s 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300B Touring Spider. The car was repainted in 1950 but otherwise had been left as is.

It was only the third time such a car had won such honors. In 1989, another Bahre car, a 1934 Packard 1108 sport phaeton with LeBaron bodywork, was best American car at the Meadow Brook concours in Michigan. In 2010, yet another of the Bahres’ cars, a 1940 Duesenberg SJ with Rollson coachwork, was honored as the best “domestic” car at the Fairfield County (Conn.) concours, where Mullin’s 1931 Bugatti Type 54 got the other Grand Prix d’Honneur award as best “foreign” car.

Bob Bahre, said Jeff Orwig, curator of the Bahre Collection, “has a philosophy that a great car is a great car regardless of its condition, and if it’s an unrestored car, that makes it greater yet.

“He had the foresight to figure this out some 30 years ago. When he found cars, their lack of perfection didn’t phase him.”Orwig said Bahre had a group of cars that didn’t leave the building because the hosts of shows and concours didn’t find them pretty enough. “Anyone else would have restored or sold them,” Orwig said.

Instead, Orwig said, when others also began to see the beauty through the dust, “suddenly, he (Bahre) is a hero.

Orwig said the cars are cleaned and kept in good mechanical working condition and can be driven.

“You change fluids and belts, the normal mechanical maintenance,” he said. “If a component fails, you make it functional without impacting its outward appearance unless you absolutely have to.

“They’re only original once,” Orwig said of Bahre’s philosophy.alfaconcours1

Or maybe not… The inaugural Arizona Concours d’Elegance was held on the eve of Arizona Auction Week. Among the cars arrayed on the lawns within the Arizona Biltmore was the world’s oldest remaining Alfa-Romeo, a 1921 Alfa-Romeo G1, that looked like it had just completed the Mille Miglia race (see photo).

In fact, the former racing car had been converted for regular road use after its racing career and later served as a farm implement in Australia. But when Tony Shooshani of Beverly Hills, Calif., bought the car in 2012, he thought its history should be preserved so he asked Craig Calder of FastCars Ltd. in Redondo Beach to do what Shooshani calls a “destoration” to return the car to its original look and operating capabilities.

The Alfa won an award last summer in the pre-war open-wheel racing class at Pebble Beach. Shooshani hopes to drive the car on the modern Mille in Italy, and to continue show it for several more years before letting it live out the rest of its life in an Italian car museum.


Mercedes underscores ‘value retention’ of sports cars it introduced 60 years ago

Mercedes-Benz display at 1955 Frankfurt auto show | Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz
Mercedes-Benz display at 1955 Frankfurt auto show | Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz
SLs introduced at 1954 NY moto sports show
SLs introduced at 1954 NY moto sports show

Automakers spend millions of dollars on commercials that proclaim the joys of driving their newest vehicles. But one of them has gone out of its way to draw attention to a pair of cars it introduced 60 years ago, cars it now proclaims as the “value retention” champions.

The cars are the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL and 190 SL, which were introduced to the public — the 190 in prototype form — in February 1954 at the International Motor Sports Show in New York City. A few years later, a 300 SL roadster replaced the gullwing coupe.

“Experts and the public were equally enthralled,” Mercedes proclaims in its news release, adding that, “Today, the fascination with the first two production vehicles in the exquisite SL sports car linage is more alive than ever. No wonder then that both SL models are especially valuable classics.”

How valuable? The cars, Mercedes continues, “count among the most valuable historic vehicles in the world. This is underlined by the presence of all three at the top of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Index (MBCI) published by Historic Automobile Group International (HAGI).  Originality and authenticity are particularly important here.”

The Historic Automobile Group International ( is a London-based investment research house that focuses on classic cars as investments. Its monthly index is published on the Financial Times website.

According to HAGI, Mercedes notes in its news release 60 years after the release of the original SLs, “the average increase in value of the 190 SL is around 10 per cent per year since 1980; however in the last 10 years it was even higher at over 11 per cent. For the 300 SL Coupé, the average since 1980 is 11 per cent, but for the last 10 years the figure is almost 18 per cent, which corresponds to a quadrupling of the value since 2004.

1955 300 SL brochure
1955 300 SL brochure

“In the case of the 300 SL Roadster, the rise in value since 1980 is almost 13 per cent.

“For the 29 Gullwings that were built with aluminium bodywork, cars which are seen extremely rarely in the market, an average increase in value of more than 16 per cent can be demonstrated.

“A vehicle’s performance is predicated on it being maintained in first-rate condition or having been superbly restored, both of which are associated with substantial costs,” the automaker adds, and then continues:

“The main difference between the 190 SL and its larger cousins is its absolute price, which is not yet much different to that of a complete restoration. A perfect example is valued by the MBCI at just under the 200,000 euro ($271,694) mark.

“It’s a different story with the 300 SL: cars that are complete, but in poor overall condition, still trade for sums as high as 500,000 euros ($679,237). With one of the rare aluminium-bodied coupés, the price is always in the order of several million euros, regardless of condition.

“In the MBCI, the 190 SL ranks directly behind classics such as the 300 SL Coupé and Roadster, the S-Series of the 1920s and the legendary 500 K and 540 K. It is also worth noting that prices for the 230/250/280 SL “Pagoda” model series W 113 are increasing massively.”

The news release goes on to note that classic cars annually generate 14 billion euros ($19 billion) a year in business just in Germany.

It also reminds us that Mercedes built 1,400 300 SLs gullwings between 1954 and 1957, 1,858 roadsters from 1957-63. It also built 25,881 190 SLs from 1955-63, and 16,500 of them had removable hardtops.

Design drawings of 190 SL by chief body designer Walter Hacker
Design drawings of 190 SL by chief body designer Walter Hacker









Mercedes for sale


Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Blue Bird ‘flies’ again

A crank and a cloud and the Blue Bird lives again | National Motor Museum
A crank and a cloud and the Blue Bird lives again | National Motor Museum

The famed “Blue Bird” Sunbeam that Sir Malcolm Campbell drove to several land speed records returned to life Wednesday at the National Motor Museum in England.

The car was the brainchild of Sunbeam chief engineer and racing team manager Louis Coatalen and was constructed at the company’s works in Wolverhampton in 1919 and early 1920.

After World War I, cars powered by aircraft engines vied for speed records. The Sunbeam was equipped with a modified 18.322-liter Manitou Arab aero engine, a type typically used on naval seaplanes.

Campbell bought the car from Kenelm Lee Guinness, who drove it to a record speed of 133.75 miles per hour at Brooklands in 1922.

Campell had the car painted and gave it its nickname. In 1924 he drove it 146.16  mph at the Pendine Sands in South Wales. He returned the following year and reached 150.76 mph.

The car moved into the then-new National Motor Museum in 1972. Its engine was tested in 1993 but a blocked oil line caused it to seize. It went back on display with a hole in its engine where the piston and connecting rod had exited the block.

In 2007 the ’93 damage was examined. The rod had gone through the side of the crankcase, scoring the crank shaft and damaging three pistons and valves. Volunteers did much of the manual work, which took 2,000 hours and donations from several suppliers.

“This project has been a long-running labor of love for the whole team,” said Doug Hill, the museum’s chief engineer. “There is huge satisfaction in seeing it finally completed.

“However, there is more that we still want to do and our next objective is to research the design of the original gearbox – all original drawings and records were lost when the Sunbeam factory was bombed during WWll — so that we can restore the car to the full 1920s specification, as driven to two world land speed records by Sir Malcolm Campbell at Pendine Sands in 1924 and 1925.”

The Sunbeam’s engine will be run again at the Retromobile classic car show in February in Paris. Afterward, the car returns to the museum as part of a new display, For Britain & For The Hell Of It – the story of British land speed records. That exhibition opens Easter weekend.


Beetlemania: It began 65 years ago

2014 and 1949 Beetles | Photos courtesy VW Group of America
2014 and 1949 Beetles | Photos courtesy VW Group of America
Ah, such simplicity

February 9 marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The ensuing British invasion certainly had an impact on American youth culture.

But it was the arrival of another type of Beetle that not only arrived first, but that had a larger impact, perhaps not on American youth culture but on American car culture and drivers of all ages.

It was in January 1949 that the first Volkswagen Type 1, the car that would be beloved by the nickname it gained from its beetle-like shape, arrived in the United States.

That first Beetle was shipped to New York City by Dutch businessman Ben Pon Sr., the first official Volkswagen importer. Believe it of not, only two such Beetles were purchased that year by American drivers,. Yet before the end of the year, Volkswagen of America had established its U.S. headquarters on the East Coast, and by the mid-1950s more than 35,000 Beetles were on American roads.

Inexpensive to buy and to operate, VW Beetles became popular with economy-minded drivers and by Americans who saw Detroit as part of the stifling Establishment. By the end of the ‘60s, more than 400,000 “bugs” were being sold each year in the U.S.

An anniversary news release from VW notes that, “from custom paint jobs to open-top Dune Buggy bodies, the Beetle fit perfectly into the counter-culture of the 1960s.”

“Since its arrival in the United States 65 years ago, the Volkswagen Beetle has preserved its reputation of being more than just a car, but a symbol of uniqueness and freedom,” Michael Horn, president of what now is known as Volkswagen Group of America, said in the anniversary announcement.

“The Beetle has become part of the cultural fabric in America and we are proud that its rich heritage continues to live with fans around the States,” he added.

The original Beetles with their air-cooled and rear-mounted engines continued to be offered in the U.S. marketplace through 1977. Other, more modern cars replaced the “Bug” as the mainstay of the VW lineup. But 21 years later, a New Beetle, a contemporary car with its engine in front and with five-star safety protection for those riding inside — but also with delightfully retro styling — relaunched the Beetle brand and presence in the U.S.

Beetlemania was back.

Even with its Arizona sales down, Gooding & Company sees strength in classic car marketplace

Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

Gooding & Co. Arizona 2014 at a glance

Total sales$49.46 million
Catalog117 automobiles
Sell-through rate94 percent
High sale$6.16 million
1958 Ferrari 250 GT cabriolet
Next 9 price range$1.53 million to $5.28 million
Next auctionMarch 7 at Amelia Island, FL

What everyone seemed to be talking about during Arizona Auction Week was the sale on the opening day of the Gooding & Company event of a garage-found 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “gullwing” coupe for just shy of $1.9 million. We’ll also be discussing that sale, and with Gooding car specialist Garth Hammers providing his perspective, though not right now, not in this article, but in another we’re working on for later in the week.

Here, with Hammers’ help, we want to put the overall Gooding sale in perspective, and thus must point out that Gooding & Company was the only one among the six auctions in Arizona to take in less money this year than it did at its sale the previous year.

Nonetheless, Hammers said, “We were very satisfied, very happy, and we see all sorts of strength in the market. We just saw a slightly smaller number, (although) not a negligible amount.”

In Arizona in 2013, Gooding sold 101 classic and collector cars for $52.6 million. In 2014, those figures were 110 vehicles for $49.5 million. Gooding’s 6-percent drop is all the more noticeable when you consider that the other five auctions enjoyed a 16-percent increase in sales at their 2014 Arizona sales.

But things are far from bleak at Gooding. For one thing, its Scottsdale catalog in 2013 included a 1958 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder that sold for more than $8 million (making it the eighth-most expensive car sold at any auction anywhere on the planet in 2013).

For another, one of the high-dollar cars that did not sell during Gooding’s 2014 Scottsdale auction, a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB, already has sold during the 30-day post-auction sales period, which probably boosts Gooding’s Scottsdale total by another $2 million.  There is at least one other similarly valued car from the auction for which Gooding specialists are working to close a deal.

“We’ve had a good number of 100-percent sold sessions at Scottsdale,” Hammers said. “It needs to be expected that something won’t sell. It always comes down to the bidders in the room, not the day.”

Though a Cal Spyder at RM led all sales in Arizona this year, Gooding did post the Nos. 2 and 3 cars, getting $6.16 million for a 1958 Ferrari 250 GT cabriolet and $5.28 million for a 1997 McLaren F1 GTR racer. The $3.3 million paid for a 1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica gave Gooding three of the top-5 sales at Arizona, a very strong showing indeed.

gooding1Gooding’s Scottsdale sale has become so consistently strong that this year it moved to a larger piece of ground on the other side of Scottsdale’s Fashion Square mall so it could set up its new and enlarged set of auction tents — four of them arrayed around an open, courtyard-style display area.

That same setup will be used later this year at Gooding’s big Pebble Beach auction, but they also were needed at Scottsdale where the big auction-block tent was packed to overflowing both days of the sale.

“A couple of times I had to race to the back of the auction room to affirm bids back there and it was tough to get back there (through the crowd),” Hammers said.

Not only the size of the crowd but its composition brought a smile to Hammers and the other Gooding’s staffers. That’s because many of the faces Hammers saw in the room were unfamiliar, and that’s a good thing.

New bidders, he said, are “a great indicator of strength in the market. The cars are not just trading among people we’ve known for a number of years. There are new bidders with new enthusiasm. Some are younger, but they’re not always younger. But we’re seeing bidders in their 30s and 40s, coming into their own.”

Hammers said some of those new bidders have grown up in car-collecting families, but many others have not. Many, he said, have friends with classic cars who have talked about how much fun they have on vintage vehicle tours and rallies being staged all around the country and even overseas.

“They’ve heard about this rally or that one and they say, ‘I want to go next year,’ and now they’re turning into real enthusiasts,” Hammers said. “The events, and the popularity of events, that have taken place over the last five or six years has driven this.”

Ayrton Senna’s personal NSX headed to auction

Senna's NSX goes to auction | Photos courtesy Silverstone Auctions
Senna’s NSX goes to auction | Photos courtesy Silverstone Auctions

Do more modern racing heroes lend the same provenance to cars as did the sport’s pioneer drivers? We may get an indication in late February when a 1992 Honda NSX formerly owned by three-time World Driving Champion Ayrton Senna goes to auction in England.

The car was purchased new for Senna by his manager Antonio Carlos de Almeida Braga for the Brazilian racer to drive while staying at his home in Portugal. After Senna’s death in 1994, the car was parked in Braga’s garage and remained untouched until it was sold two years later to the current owner.

“Very rarely does a car with such pedigree and provenance come to market, especially with such a powerful and personal link to arguably the greatest F1 driver of all time,” said Nick Whale, managing director of Silverstone Auctions, “and as such, we’re incredibly excited to offer it for auction.”

The car, in Senna’s original choice of black with black leather interior and manual transmission, has 31,800 miles on its odometer. It will cross the block at Silverstone Auction’s Race Retro & Classic Car Sale to be held Feb. 22-23 at the historic British race track. The auction house’s pre-sale estimate for the car is around $135,000.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Senna’s death and the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the NSX, sold in most countries as a Honda but in the United States as an Acura, Honda’s upscale division. Senna was involved in the development of the car as part of Honda’s partnership with the McLaren F1 team for which Senna drove.

The NSX is among this blog’s choices for “Future classics.” The Hagerty Price Guide lists the 1992 NSX in world-best condition as being worth some $42,300.


Memorabilia sale does $276,300 for Auctions America

Photo courtesy Auctions America
Photo courtesy Auctions America

Auctions America’s first online memorabilia sale did $276,300 in business with bidders from 45 states and 10 countries. Not only was the sales total pleasing to the auction house, but so was the fact that nearly 80 percent of the bidders were new customers.

The sale included more than 800 lots, around half of them from the Wally Arnold Collection.

The high-dollar sales of the event were $6,785 for a United Motors double-sided porcelain outdoor sign with its original neon lighting and $6,325 for a 15-inch Mohawk Gasoline metal-body globe complete with both lenses.

The sale included a variety of collectibles. A Rexall Drug Store double-sided outdoor sign with new neon sold for $4,887.50, a 1940’s Fosters Old Fashioned Freeze porcelain California drive-inn menu sign went for $4,715.

“The variety of collectibles available at our debut memorabilia-only sale clearly appealed to a wide and international audience,” Auctions America president Donnie Gould said in a news release. “The format of the auction proved very successful and was a great jump start to the expansion of Auctions America’s memorabilia division.”

Auctions America returns to its more familiar in-person auction of classic cars March 14-16 at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where more than 450 vehicles are expected to cross the block at the Broward County Convention Center.


Bonhams proves less is more, sometimes much more

Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

Bonhams Arizona 2014 at a glance

Total sales$23.5 million
Catalog100 automobiles
Sell-through rate85 percent
High sale$3.19 million
1951 Ferrari 212 Export Coupe
Next 9 price range$467,500 to $3.08 million
Next auctionFebruary 6 in Paris, France

No doubt, you’ve heard about how “less is more.” Well, Bonhams’ third annual Arizona classic car auction provides evidence of the truth in that statement.

Bonhams may be the world’s oldest auction house (it was established in England 1793), but it is the youngest in terms of its participation in Arizona Auction Week, which is didn’t join until 2012, and when it sold 40 cars for $5.7 million. It did much better in 2013, when it sold 91 classic cars for $13.4 million, but that still left it deep in the shadows when compared with the results posted by rival high-end classic car auction houses — RM, Gooding & Company and Barrett-Jackson’s Salon Collection.

Such results didn’t sit well with a company known for the quality of its catalogs, whether they showcase fine art or fine automobiles. Note that the all-time at-auction record for a classic car occurred last July at Bonhams’ Goodwood auction where an ex-Fangio 1954 Mercedes-Benz W19R sold for $29.6 million.

But Bonhams’ classic car auctions in the United States hadn’t been nearly as successful, so the team regrouped and replenished its roster and decided to try the less is more format, but with less applied only to the number of cars in the catalog. The quality of those cars, however, would be significantly improved.

The first effort for the new plan was the company’s annual sale at The Quail (lodge and golf course) on the Monterey Peninsula. The result? Instead of $12 million in sales in 2012, the 2013 auction did more than $30 million, and with fewer cars.

Fast forward to Scottsdale in January, 2014, where 101 cars were offered and where 86 sold — for $23.3 million! Not only did overall sales nearly double when compared with 2013, but the average price per car went from $147,000 to nearly $273,000.

“The prices car by car probably were more important than the overall sales,” said Jackob Griesen, who was hired last year not only as a car specialist but as head of business development for Bonhams’ American motor car department. “The prices car by car were some very outstanding numbers. We set a lot of world records. Cars brought as much or more as they would anywhere else, I think.

“We all worked really hard,” he added. “We had a clear focus and mission. We’ve built a lot of momentum globally. We handled some important cars in 2013 that put us in the headlines. That means more great cars for us and more success. To some extent it feeds on itself.”A 1951 Ferrari 212 Export coupe known as “the Tailor’s car” sold at Bonhams’ Scottsdale event for $3.19 million and a 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport Spider brought $3.08 million, significantly more than its pre-auction estimate of $2.4-$2.7 million.bonahams2

Not only did the Alfa bring double what another one sold for a year ago, but, Griese noted, a 1968 Ferrari 300 GTC went for more than $800,000, “a very strong number.”

He also saw strong, even “huge” numbers being bid on 1970s and ‘80s European sports cars, whether a Ferrari 308 or Testarossa or a Porsche 911S.

Such cars, he said, have strong appeal to younger buyers, people in their mid-30s to mid-40s who may be new to classic car auctions and who bring fond memories of cars they saw when they were kids. Now they are able to buy them, provided, Griesen said, those cars have relatively low mileage and have been properly cared for. Both the cars and the money, he said, are “young tigers.”

“I would say there is a new generation coming in, and you also can see it in the (prices on) 1930s cars being a little soft unless it’s something truly spectacular that has stood the test of time, like the Alfa or a good Duesenberg or a Marmon 16.

“We saw a lot of new buyers, a lot of new clients, and they were buying cars at several different levels.”