WORDS: NATHAN CHADWICK | PHOTOS: BARRETT-JACKSON, BONHAMS, RM SOTHEBY’S, WORLDWIDE AUCTIONEERS
While Arizona’s Scottsdale sales might not be the true start to the US auction season – Mecum’s fortnight of sales in Kissimmee, Florida takes that honour – the battle between the four main auction companies will provide a fascinating barometer of what the year has in store.
Barrett-Jackson, Bonhams, RM Sotheby’s and Worldwide Auctioneers have all taken slightly different approaches. Barrett-Jackson has a vast array of home-market cars, as you might expect. However, you’ll also find several potentially fascinating results from established European marques, as well as Japanese modern classics; there’s celebrity interest, too, among the 1900 lots available. Worldwide Auctioneers, meanwhile, offers a smaller number of lots but a similarly wide spread of interest.
Bonhams has brought in three fascinating collections; the Lindley Bothwell Collection, the Maine Classic Car Museum Collection and the automobiles of Clive and Janet Cussler. Of the 84 lots available, five hold a pre-sale estimate of more than $1m, compared with the 12 of RM Sotheby’s 81-strong selection. RM Sotheby’s array is more international in terms of marques, although the very first 289ci Shelby Cobra is a home-grown highlight. We’ve picked out three lots from each of the four auction houses below – but what are your potential highlights?
Few auction companies can match Barrett-Jackson for glitz and glamour, and that’s reflected in this 1997 Lamborghini Diablo VT. One of just 132 Diablo VTs built for the US market between 1997 and 1999, this is a unique specification for the year, ordered by none other than former US President Donald Trump. Trump was a long-time customer of Lamborghini, and was often loaned cars for promotional purposes; however, this Diablo was specifically ordered in Le Mans Blue (unavailable in 1997, although later added to the model catalogue) and driven by him for four years. Offered at no reserve, no estimate was released at the time of writing.
If you prefer your celebrity-owned cars to come from actors, there are a few to choose from in Barrett-Jackson’s sale, including Tom Selleck’s personally restored Dodge Power Wagon. The above 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda counts Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage among its previous owners, but it’s a special car regardless of provenance. It’s number 128 out of 284 426/452 Hemi Cudas built in 1970 with four-speed manual transmissions. Certified by Mopar experts Frank Badalson, Roger Gibson and Galen Govier, it’s been treated to a full restoration. Offered at no reserve, no estimate was available at the time of writing.
This 1963 Chevrolet Corvette is one of only 199 examples built with the Z06 package, which included a 327/360bhp RP L84 fuel-injected engine, four-speed manual transmission, posi-traction rear end, upgraded dampers and springs, uprated brakes and a beefed-up front anti-roll bar. It’s had a full restoration by D&M Corvette Specialists in Illinois, it won a NCRS Top Flight award and it was Bloomington Gold certified in 2010. Offered at no reserve, no estimate was available at the time of writing.
Leading Bonhams’ event on pre-sale estimates is this 1931 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Sedan, one of two cars bodied by Franay for the 1931 Paris Salon. This car, chassis 2465, was originally delivered to Her Majesty Queen Maria of Yugoslavia. It was later owned by Antonio Chopitea of Lima, Peru, who kept the car in Paris. It would have another Parisian owner before making it to North America in 1941. It passed through several US hands, winning several concours awards. It’s estimated at between $2m and $3m.
This 1936 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Sunroof Coupé is one of only four factory-built sunroof-top cars known to survive, and was first delivered to Marseille jeweller Charles Olivera. It’s believed to be the first Atalante to be specified with telescopic dampers and hydraulic brakes, which will have come in useful when Charles competed in the Rally des Alpes, Monte Carlo Rally and Rome-Liège-Rome event. It was later sold to French aviator Léon Givon in summer 1939; it would not be seen again until 1948. In later life it would head to the Belgian Congo, where it would help its then-owner and recent restorer make a hasty escape from civil war in 1963. It later formed part of the Bernard Mérian collection; he restored the car during the 1980s and 1990s. It passed to Victor Müller and then to another Dutch collector in 2003, who kept it for the next 20 years. It’s estimated at between $1.5m and $1.8m.
This 1958 Ferrari 250 GT Ellena Coupé, chassis 0855 GT, was first delivered to New York City for Henry Gibson. It’s believed to be the only Ellena specified with a dual-brake master-cylinder pedal box and vented racing drums. Over the next 50 years it called Pittsburgh, San Francisco and California home, before entering the vendor’s ownership in 2014. It was restored with Azzurro Metallizzato paint and a Pelle Rossa leather interior; since then it’s been a star on the concours scene with prizes at the 2020 Cavallino Concours, Casa Ferrari and the Concours in the Hills. In 2022, it won Best in Class at the Arizona Concours d’Elegance. It’s estimated at between $1.1m and $1.3m.
RM Sotheby’s leads its sale with a 2020 McLaren Speedtail (estimated at $2m to $2.5m) and a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder (estimated at $1.9m to $2.2m). Next up, however, comes this 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster in the style of Sindelfingen, which is being offered from the Open-Touring Collection. Originally a Cabriolet B and delivered to a buyer in Bochum, Germany, it was later returned to the factory and sold again in August 1946, this time to Wiesbaden. It later formed part of the Dr Bitgood collection of pre-war supercharged Mercedes-Benz cars, before changing hands to another owner who restored it in the manner of a Special Roadster. It would change hands again in 2015 to the current vendor, with mechanical fettling following. It’s estimated at between $1.75m and $2.25m.
This 1963 Shelby 289ci Cobra is chassis CSX 2044 – the first 289 Cobra built from new. It was first ordered by Stanford University computer scientist (and future Steve Jobs collaborator) Dr Harrison Horn, who’d actually begun his order when Shelby was still using the 260ci V8. However, by the time the hand-written correspondence between Shelby and Horn had come to fruition, the 289ci engine was available. Although the 1962 show car CSX 2025 was upgraded to 289ci specification, 2044 is the first Cobra to be fitted with a 289ci V8 from new.
Horn accumulated 23,000 miles over the next six years, until he dislodged the muffler on his garage threshold. With his attentions elsewhere, the Shelby would spend 30 years in the family garage before entering the stewardship of Lynn Park in 2001. It’s since been repainted its original colour and received an updated carburettor. It changed hands again in 2013, and has covered 200 miles since. It’s estimated at between $1.2m and $1.4m.
This 1988 Porsche 959 is number 121 of 207 Komfort models built, and was originally supplied to Hamburg-based real estate investor Ursula Boemann. She specified an interior-to-sample black-leather interior complete with heated adjustable sports seats. It passed to collector Klaus Troche in 1990, and he set about adding 22,000km to the odometer over the next ten years. The Porsche then moved to the US, initially to Ohio and then to Los Angeles in 2008, under the care of Bill Fleischman. It received extensive mechanical servicing during the first four years of ownership. In 2019, it underwent an engine-out service. It’s been with the vendor since 2023, and has been treated to Canepa’s 959 SC suspension upgrade. It’s estimated at between $1.7m and $1.85m.
This 1940 Packard Darrin 1807 Convertible Sedan is one of 11 built, and was originally used by Packard as a show car at the Auto Club of Southern California spring show in downtown Los Angeles. Photographic evidence points to the car, chassis 1807-2010, being on the West Coast for much of its life; one such image shows society gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and opera singer and entertainer James Melton as driver and passenger. It entered the collection of Lee and Bob Belf in the 1970s, and would be treated to an extensive restoration by Henry Seitz in Detroit. After 27 years in the Belfs’ collection, it was acquired by Steve Chapman in Texas. He would restore the car again, and would subsequently win an award at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. No estimate has been released at the time of writing.
This 1969 Ferrari 365 GT 2+2 is one of 809 models made, but it is believed to be a rare US-specification model. Chassis 12633 was originally delivered to Ferrari’s official West Coast distributor, Bill Harrah’s Modern Classic Motors in Reno, Nevada. The car was first owned by Robert Vertte of Arizona, who quickly had the engine rebuilt. He kept it until 1977, when it was bought by Texan Grant Elms. He’d own it for ten years, before passing it to Walter Keith, who would keep it for 20 years. During this time, the 365 GT 2+2 had a sympathetic restoration and a mechanical overhaul, and was returned to its original combination of Azzurro paint and Rosso leather interior. The chrome is original. It’s been with the current vendor since 2014. No estimate has been released at the time of writing.
This 1934 Packard 1104 Super Eight Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton is one of just three known survivors of the five originally built. The first documented history begins in the early 1960s, when it became part of Bill Wolfsberger’s collection. It would remain there until 2006, when it was acquired by Don Sears. He set about performing a body-off-frame restoration of the car, but the Packard would pass to pre-war car collector Larry Nannini in 2013. Once the restoration was finished, the Sport Phaeton became a regular on the concours circuit, most notably picking up a class award at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It also won Best in Show at the Ironstone, Forest Grove and Ferndale concours events. The current owner acquired the car in 2018. No estimate has been revealed at the time of writing.
Barrett-Jackson: Saturday, January 20 to Sunday, January 28 at Westworld of Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Arizona. More details here.
Bonhams: Thursday, January 25 at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa Pittman Lawn, Scottsdale, Arizona. More details here.
RM Sotheby’s: Thursday, January 25 at The Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix, Arizona. More details here.
Worldwide Engineers: Friday, January 26 at Singh Meadows, Tempe, Arizona. More details here.