At the end of last year, when Gooding & Co. announced the sale of some important pieces from the Hubert Fabri collection, David Gooding, founder of the famous eponymous auction house, made a remark that really left an impression on me: “Ever since our first sale (2004, editor’s note), many people have asked me when we were going to organize one in Europe, and I told them: “When something special comes along””. He certainly meant what he said!
A line-up of 15 cars was offered for sale. It was anticipated that they would together fetch in excess of £37,620,000, with a mean price per car of £2.5 million, more than twice the figure recorded at Pebble Beach. The results of the auction were as phenomenal as predicted: 14 of the cars changed hands (93.33%) for a total of £34,048,900 (90.51% in value terms), and the average price per lot was close to £2,432,000. Absolutely jaw dropping!
There is one thing worth bearing in mind: even though Gooding held a completely virtual auction in August (and is lining up another for October), the type of car offered in London would not have been appreciated by the usual internet bidder. In fact, a totally different approach was required. This took the form of a flesh-and-blood auctioneer (none other than Charlie Ross, the protagonist of all Gooding’s sales), an auction house team on hand to receive telephone bids, and a carefully selected group of bidders, seated at tables — duly spaced out — and ready to take part in the bidding. In short, it was like being at a 2019 (or, fingers crossed, 2021) sale.
As regards the cars, having to pick out just four left me feeling rather like a mother asked to choose her favorite child! After all, how on earth could I leave out an Aston Martin DB3 S (£3,011,000) or a Bugatti 57S Atalante that once belonged to Earl Howe (£7,855,000)?
In the end, though, my choice came down to the four cars described below.
My first pick was the auction’s top lot. The Bugatti Type 59 is the ultimate Grand Prix Bugatti and this specimen (chassis 57248) is the best of the entire production. Raced as a works car during the 1934 and 1935 seasons, it came third at the Monaco GP and won the Belgian GP, on both occasions driven by René Dreyfus. In 1937, minus its supercharger and driven by Jean-Pierre Wimille, it became the fastest sports car in France, winning that year’s Sports Car Championship. The following year, repainted black, it was sold to one of the biggest fans of Bugatti cars, King Leopold III of Belgium, who kept it for nearly 30 years. Described by the auction house as “the most important Bugatti we have ever offered”, it was assigned an estimated price of over £10,000,000. The car easily set a new record for a Bugatti, selling for £9,535.000. Should this be considered a good or a bad sale? Since it concerned a unique piece, we have no points of reference.
The 1971 Lamborghini Miura SV Speciale did wonderfully well. Every Miura SV is special, but this one is particularly so. Its first owner was Jacques Dembiermont, at the time one of the brand’s main customers, who had already owned one of the very first Miuras. Being such a prominent customer, Dembiermont was in a position to request that the car be built to certain specifications, namely with the very same dry sump lubrication and limited–slip differential that, at the time, were features of the unfortunate Jota. At the auction, the bidding for this car seemed to go on forever, with the result that, after a pre-sale estimate of £1.6–2 million, this Gold Metallic Miura finally came under the hammer at £3,207,000 — practically double the previous record price for a Lamborghini. It is worth noting that in 2002 this same car was sold for €195,000.
Nevertheless, had I had more than £3,000,000 in my pocket, I wouldn’t have spent it on the Miura but on my own personal favorite of this sale: the 1928 Bugatti Type 35C Grand Prix. Fitted with a supercharger —hence the “C”, for compressore, in the model’s designation —, this is the very car that, according to renowned Bugatti expert Hugh Conway, was entered by the works team in the 1928 Targa Florio. Thereafter, in the hands of different private owners, the car continued to race, winning the Coupe de Bourgogne and competing in the Italian GP. Since 1932 it has had just four owners (three in the past 63 years) and it is in spectacular condition. If we exclude the repaint job done at the start of the 1930s, and various work on the mechanics (done by leading experts of course), the car has never been touched, and can therefore be considered perhaps the most original Bugatti I have seen at auction in the past 10 years. I really fell in love with it! With an estimated price in excess of £3 million, it actually sold for £3,935,000. As with the Bugatti 59, if this price seems high, all I can say is, try finding another in such exceptional condition!
While it might seem strange to define the sale of the 1959 Lancia Flaminia 2500 Sport a bargain, in the context of an auction in which over half of the cars offered fetched more than a million pounds, £310,500 (moreover, after a pre-sale estimate of £ 400–500,000) seems like peanuts. Although the estimate was spot on — most of the latest specimens have indeed sold for amounts in the above range —, the car’s value was brought down by its non-original color (dark gray over black, whereas originally it had been white with red interiors), together with a serious question mark over the originality, or otherwise, of its faired headlights. If this doubt were to be dispelled and the car returned to its original conditions, I am confident it could fetch a price at the high end of the estimated range.
Here are the complete results of the sale: