The concept of a televised classic car auction is really a fairly recent phenomenon. Some of the greatest or most significant sales of all time exist only in stills and in the memories of the people who were there. Here are ten for the ages:
1. RM Auctions - Monterey, CA (2013)
It's a tough choice between the first and second auctions on our list. Both set important records. RM sold a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spider for $27.5 million, which makes it the most expensive road car ever sold at auction. Although it was a bit less than the absolute record that Bonhams achieved with a competition car, the overall strength of the rest of the RM's Monterey 2013 sale makes this one of our top earth-shaking auctions.
Rob Sass is the Publisher of Hagerty Classic Cars magazine. He is a regular contributor to the automotive section of the New York Times and is the author of "Ran When Parked, Advice and Adventures from the Affordable Underbelly of Car Collecting."
Related Gallery1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spider: Monterey 2013
2. Bonhams - London, England (2013)
In perhaps one of the most anticipated and hyped individual sales of all time, Bonhams achieved the overall record for the most expensive car ever sold at auction, the 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix car raced by Juan Manuel Fangio (above), which sold for $29.6 million.
3. The Lambrecht Chevrolet Sale (2013)
In terms of attention from the general media, this sale in tiny Blair, NE was the equivalent of an F-5 tornadoes that regularly tear up the great plains. Eccentric Chevy dealer Ray Lambrecht would hold on to cars that he couldn't sell, depositing them in fields and ramshackle buildings, many with nearly no miles on the odometer and still unregistered on their original MSOs. Sadly, the state of preservation was often not very good, but where else in 2013 could one buy a new 1958 Chevy Cameo pickup with fewer than two miles?
4. Barrett-Jackson – Scottsdale, AZ (2007)
Barrett-Jackson 2007 was the highwater mark of the US collector car market to date. The easy-credit, real-estate-booming, pre-great-recession atmosphere propelled muscle car values to dizzying heights, and B-J smashed the $100 million mark in overall sales for the first time at any auction with a total of $112 million. They haven't surpassed it since (although at $109 million, last year's Scottsdale sale came close).
5. RM Auctions Weiner Microcar Collection (2013)
Billed as the biggest collection of tiny cars, this sale, while not the media phenomenon of the Lambrecht Chevy sale, nevertheless garnered its share of publicity. On a price-per-pound basis, some of the cars sold may have been among the world's most valuable. The hardbound catalog (also tiny) might have been the best ever produced for a collector car auction.
6. Gooding and Company – Pebble Beach, CA (2004)
David Gooding grew up in a classic car family and cut his teeth with auction houses like Christies and RM, where he essentially blew his former employer Christie's out of the North American collector car auction market. Completing the circle, in 2004, he launched his own company and took over the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elégance auction that had been Christie's sale. He was an immediate success with a very strong first sale and hasn't looked back since. Gooding and Company will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year.
7. Rick Cole Auctions - Monterey, CA (1991)
Rick Cole auctions was the West Coast auction house in the 1980s, with a huge celebrity clientele, and its sale at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Monterey was legendary. In the insane run-up of Ferrari prices that took place in the wake of Enzo's passing, Cole's auction drew the most attention. And so it was in 1991 when speculators finally suffocated the market. It was a bloodbath, with retail buyers nowhere to be found, and the market finally declared that '86 Mondial Spiders weren't $100,000 cars. Fortunes were lost, bankruptcy attorneys had a field day and the collector car market took 15 years to come close to staging a recovery.
8. Kruse International – Auburn, IN (1984)
Casino magnate William F. Harrah was perhaps America's greatest automotive collector. In addition to being the Ferrari distributor for the Western US, Harrah amassed a collection of almost 1,500 cars that he housed in public display in Reno, NV. Sadly, when he died at just 67 years old in 1978, it was found that he had made no provision for keeping the collection together, and when Holiday Inn bought his hotel and casino empire, they decided to sell it off. Due to public outcry, some of the collection was preserved in Reno in what became the National Automobile Museum, but the balance was sold in a series of auctions by the old Dean Kruse organization Kruse International, starting in the Fall of 1984.
9. Bonhams Preserving the Automobile at the Simeone Foundation (2012)
Classic car auctions have the reputation of showcasing the prettiest and shiniest cars available. This ground-breaking sale was the first in the US to feature preservation class, unrestored cars. It's a harbinger of where the market is going.
10. RM Auctions Milton Robson Sale - Gainesville, GA (2010)
Over the course of 25 years, Gainesville, GA collector Milton Robson had amassed one of the greatest assemblages of American muscle and 1950s classics that the world had ever seen. The 55 cars, including a 1969 Chevy Camaro ZL-1 and 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge Ram-Air IV, brought almost $10 million in total.