Just 13 days after the sale of André Trigano, on 27th September, Artcurial proposed a second private French collection, that once belonged to André Lurton, a legendary French winemaker from the Bordeaux area. Born in Château Bonnet in 1924, he died in the same room he was born in some 94 years earlier. He made an impression on me, as without question he was a man from another era, but one with interesting and highly original tastes.
Artcurial did an excellent job managing this sale and for sure the heirs to the estate won’t be complaining. All the lots were offered without reserve and all of them were sold, the cars alone bringing in 255% the estimated value: €1,310,060 against a forecast that totalled €513,100.
Decorated with the Croix de Guerre for fighting in the bloody battle of The Colmar Pocket, Lurton had slowly collected the “vehicles” of his life. In addition to cars, there were also numerous agricultural vehicles (including a 1915 Latil that changed hands for €62,000) and some other military vehicles. Among these, the top lots of the sale included: a 1942 M10 Tank Destroyer, which was sold for €310,000 (against an estimate of €220-250,000) and a 1943 Sherman M4A1 at €198,400, slightly above its estimate of €140-180,000.
But if you don’t think you have a chance of winning a Concours d’Elegance with a Sherman or an M10 (you never know, you could always destroy the competition…) here are the four cars you really shouldn’t have missed.
The first was lot 17. In Europe, the Wankel rotary engine was the main feature of the NSU, but in the 1960s and 1970s Citroën tried to develop their own model with this engine called the M35. To keep costs down, it was derived from the Ami 8, but the bodywork was completely different. As part of what was in effect a live experiment, 267 units were produced and sold to selected customers under what Citroën described as “long term testing at the hands of a Citroën customer”. With the clause that allowed Citroen to buy them back to assess engine conditions. Today there are practically no more in existence. The example on offer was built by Henri Heuliez, one of the last great French coachbuilders, who changed the colour into “his” metallic blue. Despite being unused since 2012, in need of restoration and virtually undocumented, it managed to exceed its estimate of €8-12,000 and was awarded for an impressive €27,900.
Speaking of quirky items, the prize for the most “unidentified object” goes to the 960 Renault Estafette “Plein Air”. It is not clear how many examples of the Estafette Plein Air were manufactured, nor why this particular example is red, or even why it has a flashing light on the roof. Probably because this example was intended to be used as a service vehicle at the Renault factory in Flins. But I am inclined towards a more intriguing theory: among the various documents that came with the car, there was a photo of the then-President of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, on board a very similar vehicle, perhaps the same one. Could it be it was painted red to make the VIP guest feel even more important? Purchased by André Lurton directly from Renault in 2003, it had just 8,321 km on the clock. With an estimate of just €8-12,000, it went for more than 10 times as much: €88,040.
The French have a reputation of being a little chauvinistic, so it was a shock to discover that the car sold for the highest amount was not a French one. They had put the biggest ticket price on an 1898 Fisson 8hp Tonneau (€120-200,000) but in the end it only just reached its minimum, changing hands for €124,000 – in my opinion, whoever bought it is smiling right now. In contrast, the 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom I Boat Tail Tourer 40/50hp more than doubled its estimate of €70-90,000 and went for €167,400. The story? Originally a faux-cabriolet (hardtop) by Thrupp & Maberly it was modified with its current elegant bridged runabout bodywork in the Barker Style and used in 1998 for the Louis Vuitton Classic China Run. As a consequence, unlike the Fisson, it can be used for many more events than a car from 1898 possibly can. Bravo to the buyer of the Fisson for picking a winning ticket, and bravo to Artcurial for the sale of the Rolls Royce.
If the first three choices were objects for refined palates the fourth could bring a few tears of nostalgia to anyone with French blood running through their veins. We know pretty much everything there is to know about the Citroen 2CV from its enormous versatility (it had to be able to carry two dozen eggs in a ploughed field without breaking them) to its incredible longevity. Produced in 1956, back then with a vertically-mounted radiator grille, the example put up for sale came in the typical “Battleship Grey” colour, the most common of the time, in excellent condition with a plaid interior, although this latter was a little frayed at the seams in some places. Being an early example, it still had the roof that opened all the way down to the trunk and the famous ripple bonnet, two features that disappeared in 1960. Estimated at €5-8,000, it went for €13,640. For its historical importance and its “modesty”, this is my favourite car of the auction.