Arizona Auction Week Reflections

Last week the collector car auctions descended on the Valley of the Sun in Arizona, and every year these several days serve as a gauge for what the year will hold. Based on what I saw, 2012 should be a good one for collector car values. The “asset class” trend continues (first discussed here), with the right “no stories” cars bringing very healthy prices. Some examples were an open headlight Ferrari LWB Cal Spyder for $3.9m; a Ferrari 410 SA at $1.8m; an alloy-bodied Mercedes Gullwing at $4.6m [yikes!], a Maserati Ghibli Spyder at $880k [another yikes!], and numerous Jag E-types regularly bringing $100-200k+.

I sampled several cars prior to the auctions starting. First up was a Ferrari 275 GTB/4 that was mechanically super tight but needed a cosmetic redo, and it was an absolute sweetheart of a machine! The way a 4-cam sounds, the smoothness of the engine, the delicacy of the steering, the suppleness of the ride that still keeps you connected to the road, all that and more once again reaffirmed my opinion this model remains the greatest road car Ferrari has ever made—especially in alloy body configuration.

Some day I will likely own a Pontiac GTO, an opinion this fantastic original low mile example helped to reinforce.

Some day I will likely own a Pontiac GTO, an opinion this fantastic original low mile example helped to reinforce.

Next up was a 1966 Pontiac GTO with low miles in untouched, all-original condition. The only thing lacking was the desirable Tri-power carbs, and did I ever fall for it hook, line and sinker! The GTO has what so many cars today lack—an incredibly effervescent personality that screams Lets go have FUN! The way the engine pulls, running it through the gears, the cushy ride, the airy greenhouse, you really get a sense of the gleeful joie d’vivre that America had at the time.

I tried another Sixties icon, a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28. The car looked great, sounded wonderful, but I came away somewhat underwhelmed. It didn’t have the grunt I was expecting, the suspension may not have been dialed in as the front and rear seemed to have minds of their own, and the brakes felt a bit mushy.

As this was the first ’69 Z/28 I’ve ever driven, I wondered if it was the car or model specific so I asked Colin Comer, a well known muscle car expert. He said based upon what I was describing, it was most definitely the car, and I look forward to trying a properly sorted Z/28 some time in the future.

The final car was a 1965 Ferrari 500 Superfast. It rode beautifully, the engine made a great sound but felt liked it needed one good tune up, the seats and surroundings were incredibly comfortable. In other words, back in the day this was the perfect way to blast from one side of the continent to the other at 130 mph. It also brought good excitement to my week as I ended up purchasing it for $1.1m all in (hammer price plus buyer’s commission) for a friend who is slowly building a nice collection.

And speaking of bidding, one of my favorite memories came when the Pontiac GTO was on the block and the action slowed down. At the time I was sitting near the front row and did David Gooding ever give me the eye from the podium, a silent “Come on pal, get that paddle up in the air and place a bid!” I was very tempted, but I’ve told myself I am not buying anything until the novel is in print.

Even more tempting was a 1968 Shelby GT500KR at Bonhams. The fastback coupe was in decent shape, would likely have cleaned up very well, had the 4-speed tranny, and sold for what I thought was a bargain price of a shade over $70,000.

Over at RM, I saw a fabulous 1971 Dodge Hemi Challenger R/T with 5,000 original miles on the odometer, and the car was completely untouched. Making it even better was it had been tuned by Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge dealership when new. Just as enticing was the 1967 Nickey Camaro several cars down. Nickey was another Chicago dealership known for its tuning capabilities, and they stuffed a 427 under the hood.

One of the ultimates of the mid-1960s was Ferrari's 500 Superfast. This car was originally owned by the Aga Khan, and I ended up buying it for a friend.

One of the ultimates of the mid-1960s was Ferrari’s 500 Superfast. This car was originally owned by the Aga Khan, and I ended up buying it for a friend.

Both cars were made for one reason: to annihilate whoever pulled up next to them at the stoplight or drag strip Christmas tree. This got me wondering which one would clip the quarter mile first, so I posed the question to Colin Comer. He thought for a moment and said, “If it was tuned properly, the Hemi.”

Back over at Goodings, when that beautifully presented Maserati Ghibli Spyder brought $880,000 all in, a dealer bud was quickly on the phone, and buttoned down a deal on another Ghibli Spyder for a fraction of that amount. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that car turn up at auction some time soon, where it will probably be a better gauge on what the “real” market is.

In other words, don’t take a one-off sky-high aberration as gospel; wait for prices to confirm the market had indeed reached such heights.

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