Market and auctions

2020? Bugatti high stakes poker

What, where and how much were the most expensive cars of the year sold for. Cliff Goodall’s view

Photo Credit: RM Sotheby’s, Gooding, Bonhams, Artcurial

I’ll hardly be revealing any secrets if I said that 2020 was a year to forget, but this phrase doesn’t apply to everyone. Below, you’ll find the seven most expensive cars sold at auctions in 2020 and, surprisingly, given that last year the most expensive car from the brand was ranked fortieth among those with the highest “capitalization”, the top five were all Bugattis. What about the Alfa Romeo BAT cars that went for $14,840,000? It’s worth mentioning them but remember, there were three of them!

Shall we begin?

The seventh most expensive car of the year was the 1971 Lamborghini Miura SV “Speciale” sold by Gooding at the London auction in September. The SV is already the most sought after among the Miuras but this example was delivered new with a dry sump and a limited slip differential, characteristics that only the famous Jota possessed. Sold for £3,207,000, practically double its minimum estimate (£1.6-2,000,000), it broke a world record: the record for the highest value increase for the seller, who paid €195,000 for it in 2002!

1971 Lamborghini Miura P400 SV Speciale sold for £3,207,000

In a year dominated by online auctions, it’s curious to find only one car sold using this method, and also in sixth place. We are talking about the 2001 Ferrari 550 GT1 Prodrive. Winner of the 12 Hours of Magny-Cours at Spa and Valencia in 2004, it was previously owned by Prodrive, which had developed and raced it. The $4,290,000 it went for is perfectly in line with the $3.85-4,850,000 that the experts estimated it at when they took it to the RM auction in August.

2001 Ferrari 550 GT1 Prodrive sold for $4,290,000

Similar to the Miura SV, the Bugatti Type 35C Grand Prix also came from Hubert Fabri’s collection and was offered by Gooding’s auction at their London “overture.” According to experts, this car participated in the Targa Florio in 1928, most certainly raced at the Monza GP in 1931 and won the Coup de Bourgogne in the same year. With only three owners since 1957 and tons of patina on that paint (redone in the 1930s and never touched again) it was probably the most exciting car I saw in 2020. As I wrote at the time: “if it seems expensive to you, try to find another one in this condition” and I stand by what I said. £3,935,000 its price.

1928 Bugatti Type 35C Grand Prix sold for £3,935,000

We are halfway there and the fourth most expensive car was yet another Bugatti. This time it was sold by Bonhams in Paris in February, during Rétromobile. The car in question was the 1932 Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport (chassis 55221) that participated with the official team at the 24 hours of Le Mans that same year driven by Louis Chiron and Guy Bouriat. In 1933, it was re-painted by Giuseppe Figoni and in the same year it won both the Paris-Nice endurance race and the La Journée de lElegance et de lAutomobile a Bois-de-Boulogne concours delegance. Coming from the collection of Geoffrey St. John – who purchased it in 1963 – it changed hands for €4,600,000, making it the most expensive car sold in continental Europe this year.

1932 Bugatti Type 55 Two-Seat Super Sport sold for €4,600,000

We are now on the podium and the bronze medal goes to… another Bugatti! Once again sold by Bonhams, only this time it happened on Amelia Island in March. The car was the 1932 Type 55 Super Sport, one of 11 surviving with original factory bodywork. The first owner was twenty-two-year-old Nathaniel Mayer Victor Rothschild – of the banking family – but it came from the collection of Dean Edmonds Jr., who had bought it in 1985 (setting a record at the time). The new owner paid $7,100,000, which made it the most expensive car ever sold at an American auction.

1932 Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport Roadster sold for $7,100,000

The second most expensive car of the year was yet another Bugatti: the 1937 Type 57S Atalante, sold in September by Gooding for almost $10 million (£7,855,000). Delivered new to Earl Howe, it had been purchased as a “barn find” in 2009 (for € 3,417,500) by Hubert Fabri who commissioned a conservative restoration, which explains the reason for the “wrong” colour and the existence of a supercharger, installed in the 1950s. The chassis, bodywork and engine were all original. It’s quite easy to get her back to her original state.

1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante sold for £7,855,000

The most expensive car of the year was the 1934 Bugatti Type 59 Sports, once again sold at Gooding’s September auction in London. A unique example, difficult (if not impossible) to evaluate, with an intense and fully documented history that included numerous participations as an official car – victory at the Belgian GP in 1934 with Jean-Pierre  Wimille and for over thirty years owned by the Belgian royal family. King Leopold III is said to have been thrilled to drive it. At £9,535,000, it not only set the record for the highest price paid this year, but for any Bugatti beating all the competition. What’s more, it was sold in a period that’s not particularly easy for sales.

1934 Bugatti Type 59 Sports sold for £9,535,000