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Exceptional Motor Cars


Greenwich (Connecticut) Concourse D'Elegance

Noon, Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sale 1863

1931 Bugatti Type 49 two-door sports coupe

Lot 20, 1931 Bugatti Type 49 Two-Door Sports Coupe, cover illustration of catalogue

By Michele Leight

Say "Bugatti" to a car aficionado, and there is reverential silence, followed by a torrent of laudatory comments. For anyone that loves legendary cars, Bugattis will be amongst the choice offerings at Christie's "Exceptional Motor Cars" sale on Sunday June 3rd, to be held at one of North America's most elegant venues - Greenwich's "Concourse d'Elegance, at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park, located on a peninsula at the head of Greenwich Harbor in Connecticut.

At a glance through the catalogue, Christie's will be offering "choice" cars designed and manufactured by Bugatti, Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Ford, Mercedes, Porsche, as well as several post-war trucks in superb condition, amongst other legendary car manufacturers.

Having had the appetite whetted by Steve McQueen, "the king of cool's" sublime Ferrarri on display in the lobby of Christie's Rockefeller Center showrooms in New York, during their blockbuster Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale to be offered in the Monterey sale in August, it was hard to imagine anything that could top such a glorious car, but the catalog was extremely inspiring, and the Greenwich sale is bound to generate a great deal of interest.

1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante Coupe

Lot 39, 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante Coupe

Leading the sale will be two 1930s Bugattis, one of them a genuine "barn find," from the collection of Mr. John W. Strauss, Lot 39, a 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atlante Coupe, covered in the dust of ages, untouched in the garage in which it has been parked since 1962. It has been there for 45 years, when it was only 24 years old, which is quite remarkable in a country where one can turn a familiar corner and find the old neighborhood deli replaced by a chic gourmet food store overnight.

This dust-smothered gem is a magnificent piece of mobile sculpture, created in 1938 by the legendary Jean Bugatti, himself a superb, hands-on body maker who perfectly complemented a legendary engineer father in a family of famous racing car creators. Christie's catalog is extremely informative, but there is also the magic in the commentary that great cars inspire:

"At least as brilliant and gifted as his precocious and talented father, descended from a line of opinionated, creative, driven individuals, Jean Bugatti had already at the young age of thirty, established himself as capable, indeed as destined, to build a new generation of Bugatti automobiles on the legacy of his father, the legendary Ettore. Jean Bugatti grew up surrounded by the fastest and most beautiful cars of their era and counted among his acquaintances their most accomplished and fearless drivers."

Jean Bugatti was also fearless, and died while test-driving a Type 57 Tank Body Bugatti that had just won at Le Mans, when he lost control of the car not far from the factory in Duppigheim. He was only 30 years old. It can only be imagined what he might have achieved in car design if he had lived a normal life span. This car is bound to generate considerable interest and is estimated at $300,000 to $400,000.

1938 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Coupe

Lot 39, front of 1938 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Coupe

This was the day of the Bugattis with Lot 39, the 1938 "barn find," finally selling to a determined phone bidder after an intense bidding war with a gentleman in the room - or rather elegant white tent, strategically positioned on the peninsula offering a scenic view of Greenwich Harbor dotted with boats.

At one point the auctioneer said wittily:

"Ah, a proper bid," at the $700,000 mark, drawing lots of applause, but it kept going until it reached a staggering $825,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time next to this wonderful car, all the more endearing for its unrestored appearance, and holding its own besides Steve McQueen's superb Ferrarri parked right next to it, which will be auctioned in Christie's flagship sale in Monterey in August. Nearby were Lot 6, an un-restored E-Type Jaguar, which passed at $3,850, Lot 4, an Indian motorcycle, which sold for $2,090, and Lot 5, a superb 1949 Jaguar Mark V, which sold for $11,000, all identified by their dusty appearance as coming from the same barn as the Bugatti, the collection of Mr. Strauss.

Also in this sale is Lot 20, a fully restored, supremely elegant French blue and black 1931 Bugatti Type 49 Two Door Sports Coupe, with coachwork by Bugatti to Jean Bugatti design, illustrated on the cover of the Christie's catalog and at the top of this article. The coachwork was designed by a young Jean Bugatti for the Berlin Motor Show, where it appeared on the Bugatti stand. In immaculate condition and an absolutely show stopper, this Bugatti is also estimated at $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $396,000. Seeing it "in the flesh" was a reminder how sleek and modern the Jean Bugatti design must have been when it was created. The bodywork was by his father, Ettore and the car has been exquisitely restored.

The auction, which totalled $2,398,825, was also an excellent sale for Porsches.

1965 Porsche 911

Lot 10, 1965 Porsche 911

There are four Porsches in the sale that illustrate how one of the longest running and most successful car designs in motoring history has attained, and retained, its formidable reputation - a 1964 Porsche 356SC Cabriolet with hard top, Lot 38, estimated at $35,000 to $55,000; Lot 10, a 1965 Porsche 911, estimated at $25,000 to $35,000; Lot 24, a 1970 Porsche 911 E, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, and Lot 28, an edgy silver 1974 Porsche 914 2.0, estimated at a modest $14,000 to $18,000, which does not have the sinewy lines of the classic Porsche, but which is gets the pulse going.

1974 Porsche 914 2.0

Lot 28, 1974 Porsche 914 2.0

Lot 10, the green 1965 Porsche 911 sold for $71,500. Lot 28, the 1974 Porsche 914 2.0 sold for 24,200, and a winsome white 1964 Porsche 356SC Cabriolet with hardtop sold for $56,100.

At the end of the sale I observed the buyer of the 1964 model, a middle aged man, with his new "toy." His excitement was reminiscent of a young boy with his first bicycle, or puppy, a moving reminder of the thrill and passion that goes with car collecting, a magical, priceless emotion far deeper than the buzz of investments or money - although clearly money helps and is absolutely necessary.

1937 Ford Model 78 Deluxe Station Wagon

Lot 18, 1937 Ford Model 78 Deluxe Station Wagon

"Tudor cottage on wheels" was how I once heard a car described that had any part of it created from wood, which could easily fit the description of the 1937 Ford Model 78 Deluxe Station Wagon, estimated at $120,000 to $160,000 offered at Christie's sale. Called a "Ford Woodie Wagon," this wonderful vehicle was in an exhibit at the Captain Paul House Model A Museum in Union, Connecticut until the museum was disbanded in the 1970s.

The personality packed 1937 Model 78 Deluxe Station Wagon or "Tudor cottage on wheels" did well with a crowd that had an obvious fondness for pre-war trucks and wagons. This stunningly well-preserved model sold for a hefty $159,500.

The Post-War trucks are straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration, in pristine condition, lovingly restored, a nostalgic flashback to an America with few cars, and almost no roads compared with the densely packed highways of today.

An even closer relative to the modern pick-up truck is a green, 1955 Chevrolet First Series 3100 Pickup Truck, Lot 23, fully restored, it is in full working order and estimated at $35,000-45,000. It sold for $77,000.

1957 Chevrolet Corvette roadster

Lot 29, 1957 Chevrolet Corvette Fuel Injected Roadster

If I could choose one car to drive home from this auction it would be the stunning Venetian Red with red interior 1957 Chevrolet Corvette Fuel Injected Roadster, estimated at $90,000-120,000, and it would be necessary to purchase a private road to go with its magnificent V-8 engine. Its greatest competition was Ford's legendary "T Bird" but this "Fuelie" is accurately described in Christie's catalogue as a "rare and wonderful car," and it will be interesting to see how much more than its estimate it fetches.

The 1957 Chevy Corvette, Lot 29, exceeded its high estimate significantly, selling for $199,000, which is to be expected with such a stunning car, one that would look perfect in a Hitchcock or Bond Movie.

1959 Jaguar XK150 3.4 Litre "S" Roadster

Lot 19, 1959 Jaguar XK150 3.4 Litre "S" Roadster

The innovative, streamlined Porsche design is more dramatic when compared with a beautiful black 1960 Jaguar XK 150 Drop Head Coupe, estimated at $80,000 to $120,000, which is absolutely magnificent but looks like it is from a different era. One of the classiest cars in the sale is another Jaguar, this time a racy black 1959 X K 150 3.4 Litre "S" Roadster. In immaculate condition, with red leather interior and sand top, this car, Lot 19, is fit for the movies, and is estimated at $150,000 to $175,000.Lot 19, the black Jaguar, passed at $140,000.

1949 Jaguar Mark V

Lot 5, 1949 Jaguar Mark V four-door saloon

Lot 5 is a 1949 Jaguar Mark V four-door saloon from the collection of John W. Straus, who also owned Lot 39, the 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Atalante Coupe. The catalogue notes that the Jaguar Mark V "enjoys the distinction of being the first new model to bear the "Jaguar" name exclusively," adding that it "represented an important evolution from pre-war design." "The Mark V's new coachwork," it continued, "featured headlights faired into the front fenders, a more gracefully raked windshield and smaller wheels." The lot has an estimate of $6,000 to $12,000. It sold for $11,000.

1911 Rolls-Royce Roldes-Belges Tourer

Lot 35, 1911 Rolls-Royce 40/50 HP "Silver Ghost" Rol des Belges Tourer

The Rolls Royces on offer at this sale are so mouthwatering it is hard to choose which one to describe, let alone illustrate. A magnificent white limited edition 1911 "Silver Ghost" Roi Des Belges Tourer is the most photogenic, fit for kings and queens, but in fact its first owner was a Mr. G. F. Smith of Southport, England, near Blackpool, a down-to-earth soul who specified that his car have a long chassis, with seating for "an average of 5" and a maximum of 7. It is comforting to think of this regal motor car stuffed to the gunnels with a family comprising many children and possibly a couple of dogs, taking a drive through the English countryside on a summer afternoon. They must have made quite a picture! The car is a masterpiece of design and engineering, in flawless condition, and with the highest estimate of any car in the sale: $600,000 to $700,000. It was commemorated in a limited edition model by the Franklin Mint.

The wonderful white Rolls Royce passed at $580,000, just short of its reserve price of $600,000, which was a disappointment because it was the most physically gorgeous car in the sale.

1949 Chrysler Town & Country Convertible

Lot 26, 1949 Chrysler Town & Country Convertible

Lot 26, an elegantly bourgeois 1949 Chrysler Town and Country Convertible with "Tudor Cottage" or "woodie" detailing, estimated at $90,000 to $140,000. Surprisingly, it failed to sell and was passed at $70,000.

1909 Chalmers-Detroit Thirty Touring

Lot 31, 1909 Chalmers-Detroit Thirty Touring

A wonderful Royal Blue 1909 Chalmers Detroit Touring, Lot 31, is the earliest car in the show, estimated at $40,000 to $60,000, and one of many superb American models spanning several decades. It sold for $38,500.

The 40s are well represented, with three 1940s "mega" cars that belong in film noir movies, peppered with gangsters and fur-clad molls in high stilettos: Lot 7, a 1949 Hudson Commodore 8 Convertible Brougham, estimated at $40,000 to $50,000, that was featured in the movie, "The Two Jakes". It sold for $41,800.

Lot 33, a show stopper, a 1949 Delahaye 135M Cabriolet, with coachwork by Antem, estimated at $200,000 to $260,000, failed to sell.

1954 Austin Healey 100 BN1

Lot 14, 1954 Austin Healey 100 BN1

There are several highly desirable cars with reasonable estimates, which will undoubtedly be the "collectibles" of the future, including a luscious red 1959 Mercedes Benz 190 SL Roadster, Lot 12, estimated at $55,000 to $65,000; and Lot 14, a 1954, mint condition Austen Healey 100 BN 1 in natty spruce green, a color not frequently seen today, estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. Lot 12 sold for $60,500. Lot 14 sold for $66,000. Two 1966 Chevrolet Corvairs, Lot 21, a 500 coupe, estimated $8,000 to $12,000; the other a convertible, Lot 36, estimated at $10,000 to $20,000, are a nostalgic reminder of how American cars used to be built, how wonderful it was not to have to think about the quantity of gas they guzzled, or that parking them required half a city block. Those were the days, and they were not so long ago. Lot 21 sold for $4,620. Lot 36 sold for $17,600.

The magnificent dusty Bugatti padded out the sale total, more than compensating for cars that failed to reach their reserve. The cars that stood out from the elegant pack were undoubtedly the Bugattis, the Porsches, the post-war trucks, and the car with the "all- American" attitude, the Fuel Injecting Chevrolet Corvette, just longing for Route 66.

The sale also includes an historic 1941 Indian Model 741 Scout Junior in olive drab, also from the collection of Mr. John W. Strauss, estimated at a modest $2,000-4,000, but should go for much more. It sold for $2,090. In 1939, in the midst of World War II, the United States military began to gather up arms to join the fight, initially supplying the British, French and Commonwealth forces, inevitably preparing for its own involvement in a rapidly escalating war. Motorcycles were hot commodities, as the Germans proved only too well, so the US Army Quartermaster Corps asked motorcycle manufacturers to build bikes that were simple, lightweight, and agile enough to ford small streams and not be too demanding on the gas tank. The result was the 741 Scout Military, which today is more commonly found outside the US.

Christopher Sanger, Head of Car Sales, Christie's Americas, said:

"With an emphasis on quality and diversity over quantity, Christie's International Motor Cars is dedicated to offering collectors well-curated and focused sales that represent the history of the automobile, and reflect the wide taste of the international collecting market."

Also of interest to buyers is Christie's new flat rate buyer's premium of 10% on all sales of Exceptional Motor Cars in the United States that reduces the final cost of a car at auction.

Christie's Monterey Flagship Exceptional Motor Cars Sale will take place on August 14th at the Monterey Jet Center. The star lot in that sale will be Steve McQueen's 1963 Ferrari 250GT Lusso. There will probably be even more glittering Ferrarris and other world- class cars in that parking lot than there were in Greenwich, which is hard to imagine.

The Christie's auction was a wonderful experience, complemented by tented "showrooms" featuring the latest brand name models in the auto industry - Hummer, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes, Dodge, Chrysler, Cadillac, to name a few - and gorgeous cars from bygone eras with proud owners eagerly describing their restoration. There were beautifully restored show pieces from the not so distant past, like a row of 1960s Porsches in pristine condition, and a few mouthwateringly restored "half a city block long" Chevys, with a long line of admirers eager to discuss particulars with the sales rep.

In the parking lot there were several cars on offer for a "test drive," including a canary yellow Ferrari. It was so low to the ground it would have required a crawl-in entry, but that did not diminish the enthusiasm of the long line of eager individuals patiently waiting their turn. Car shows and auctions are fun for the entire family.

As I left the auction, a gentleman was talking quietly, but audibly, on a cell phone directly outside the auction tent:

"I just bought a Bugatti........(pause) the one you think it is," he said.

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