Historically, Philadelphia is one of the most important cities in the United States. The Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution were both signed here. Its museums are equally as important but for us, there is only one: the Simeone Museum! It’s one of the most important in the world and is home to all kinds of delights: Alfa Romeo 8C 2900, Shelby Cobra Daytona, Porsche 917 LH and the list goes on forever…
At the beginning of every October, in this paradise for car enthusiasts, the English auction house Bonhams organizes an auction whose purpose is to remind us that, even without having millions of dollars to spend, you can take home some magnificent automobiles, often dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. So forget modern hypercars with a Cavallino on the hood or Bugattis fresh from the dealers. Here, the average year of production of the 56 cars up for sale was 1951.
The result? I think it’s fair to say very good but then the Simeone auction is for true enthusiasts – those who know everything about their passion and don’t care about the hardships of the world. The 64.28% sales percentage (36 out of 56 cars) is very good and the $3.188m takings (out of $4,218 on offer), which translates to 75.5%, are the best results ever for the auction house, demonstrating the resilience of this part of the market.
As a result, the four most interesting cars in this auction won’t be for everyone. Maybe at first glance you could say “meh” but I hope that my small notes will help you understand why each of these cars thoroughly deserved an offer.
The top auction lot was a 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Tourer with coachwork by Swallow. This body was not actually fitted until 1962 during a restoration because the car, delivered new as a Bentley Works demonstrator to the dealer of the brand in Paris, was equipped with a stunning, close-coupled Sports Saloon body penned and hand-built by renowned coachbuilder Jacques Saoutchik. In early 1932, the car, still belonging to Bentley’s stock of factory cars, was included in the negotiations and sale of the brand to Rolls Royce. Crossing the Atlantic in the 1950s, it has had only three owners over the last 70 years. Estimated at $775-875,000 it changed hands for $885,000. Compared to 1962, the preference for originality is much more pronounced and – considering also the beauty of the lines created by Saoutchik – I would take it back to its original configuration. And as if by magic, the million barrier would no longer be just a mirage.
This time choosing my favourite was easy: as soon as I saw her I fell in love. It was the 1935 Mercedes-Benz 290 Cabriolet A with original coachwork by Sindelfingen (for those who do not know, Sindelfingen was Mercedes-Benz’ renowned in-house coachbuilder) that looks like a miniature 540K of extraordinary beauty. In the eyes of the “mere mortals” this was just an old car to be restored, but in truth it was a completely original barn find. Brought to the United States immediately after the war, it was recently discovered by experts from the Petersen Museum. Estimated at $175-225,000, after a flurry of offers and counter offers, she went for $362,500 and was worth every single one of them.
You fell in love with that Mercedes too but the price was too… much? Well then how about focussing on something slightly more economic? In the same wonderfully original conditions as the Mercedes, another gem was offered at the auction for a fraction of the cost. But it was a Babcock Model H 7-Passenger Tourer, one of the brands that history has swallowed whole. Built in 1912 (or perhaps 1911) with a 32 hp engine, at the time this was a supercar. The 7-Passenger Four Door Tourer bodywork is impressive and paired with that powerplant could be a serious contender for the Preservation Class of any competition. Estimated at $20-$30,000, it was sold or $25,760. The problem with it is this: where do we put the winner’s ribbon from the next Pebble Beach: on the bonnet or on the windshield??
We could say that the Rauch & Lang Model J is a contemporary car that happens to be 107 years old. No, you didn’t misread that, it is in fact from 1913 and was originally equipped with an electric motor. From new. At the time it cost the astronomical amount of $3,100 and was delivered new to Bertha Palmer, one of the most influential women from the early 1900s. Purchased by the pioneer of collecting, Cameron Peck, the current seller came into her possession in 1957 and the car was wholly preserved in adorable conditions. Estimated at $50-60,000 it went for $80,640, or more or less as much as a Tesla Model S. It might not have a touchscreen or autopilot but who cares?
Four pre-war cars, ranging in age from 85 to 108 years old. Three of them went for above their maximum estimates. Who says that pre-wars are out of fashion?