Watching The Sale of The $34 Million Ferrari

This is a guest contribution from Lisa Smith. Lisa was in the room in August 2014, when the Ferrari 250GTO was sold at the Bonham’s Quail auction. Here’s her story.

the $34 million Ferrari 250 GTO auction
Every year thousands of automotive enthusiasts swarm to the Monterey Peninsula in Coastal (not always sunny) California for the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance and surrounding events. From Tuesday through late Sunday evening when the final car auction ends, there are more car-centric events than any one person can possibly attend. Regardless of your flavor, there is something to please every automotive appetite. Numerous auctions, gatherings, unveilings, concours, and social events vie for the enthusiast’s attention. For the racing purist the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is the one stop magnet for horsepower fans. Normally the energy builds as the week progresses, but not this year. The balance of power shifted as collector car purists and car racing fans united at the Bonhams Quail Lodge auction of a rare Ferrari 250 GTO.

On Thursday, August 14, 2014 Bonhams opened their auction with dessert first: Ten Important Cars From The Maranello Rosso Collection, all Ferraris. Typically auctions sprinkle their schedule with highly coveted automobiles throughout the day or evening, on this night the star attractions opened the auction.

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For weeks leading up to the event, he internet had been buzzing about “holy grail” of collector cars being auctioned for the first time in recent history. “Bonhams does not set an expected price for the auction but I can see it breaking the €45 milion mark.” – The Classic Cars Blog. Would the now famous Ferrari 250 GTO blow through the $35 million mark or would this car achieve $50 million or more?

As there were only 39 of the Ferrari 250 GTOs built and in recent times only trade hands privately on very rare occasions, having this car at a public auction was a very big deal. Major press such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Telegraph and others from around the globe offered more coverage than usual.

The activity was bustling at the Bonhams tents on Wednesday for the day-long auction preview, noticeably more engaged than previous years. Previews can be a fairly quiet affair, allowing potential buyers to kick the tires and bond with the merchandise without an audience, not this time. The energy percolated throughout Pebble Beach and the Carmel Valley. Everyone was talking about this car.

My first clue at the enormity of the Bonhams auction, was Instagram and Twitter began experiencing slow loading and non-publishing of posts starting about 2:30 in the afternoon prior to the 5:00 p.m. start time on the day of the auction. A subsequent check with other enthusiasts on the Peninsula confirmed it wasn’t just me or one carrier. There was an excessive flood of internet activity from press and automotive devotees surrounding this one event.


Next came the unusual crawl of bumper to bumper traffic into the rapidly growing parking lot, starting an hour prior to the auction. It was all one could do to speed-walk through the gofer-hole field to stake a spot inside the already jam packed auction tent.

The Maranello Rosso Museum Collection
• 1969 Ferrari Dino 206 GT Coupe
• 1969 Ferrari 365 GTC Coupe
• 1962-63 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta
• 1978 Ferrari 312 T3 Formula 1 Racing single-seater
• 1958 Ferrari 250 GT Series 1 Cabriolet
• 1953 Ferrari 250 MM Berlinetta (Ex – Phil Hill, Bill Devin, Count Vittorio Zanon)
• 1968-69 Ferrari Dino 166/246T Formula 2/Tasman Formula Racing single-seater
• 1981 Ferrari 512 BB Bellacanuto LM Endurance Racing Competition Coupe
• 1969 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Berlinetta Competizione Conversion
• 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Speciale Aerodinamica

A fifteen minute delay allowed the already overcrowded room, for those not holding a paddle, to achieve rock concert like status. Fortunately we had a little breathing room wedged behind section for mainstream media crews. The first two cars, a well-preserved 206 Dino and highly original 365 GTC Coupe seemed to crawl to completion as the the room waited for what was likely the most famous car on the Peninsula rolled up on stage.

A hush fell over the vibrant crowd as the auctioneer introduced the car and opened bidding. The car jumped quickly from $10 million to $11 on up through $20 million to $22 million in 14 seconds.

Another 13 seconds passed and the car had quickly reached $30,000,000.00… in the room. Bidders in the room received much more crowd enthusiasm than phone bidders. We were all in this together.

After only a minute an abrupt downshift held the car at $31million which began a treacherous crawl $500,000 at a time where it hung out at $32.5 for a bit before a new bidder entered, the crow roared and it quickly arrived at $33.5 million.

Four minutes later it seemed to stall at $34 million. The auctioneer did his best to inspire more bids, even offering increments of $250,000 which was answered with boos from those in the audience with their hands firmly in their pockets. When the auctioneer tried for $34.1 the audience laughed. Slowly it went back and forth between a bidder in the room and an overseas bidder on the phone.

Ah, the truth was out… an overseas bidder changed the dynamics. The audience tried to help the auctioneer move the bidder in the room to raise his paddle once again. It took a mere, but what seemed like an eternity, 14 minutes to go from $11 million to sold to the telephone bidder at $34,650,000.

After a slight applause the media packed up their gear and departed like a cheap date without a thank-you, along with a fair number of people in the audience. It was quite impersonal, the audience were mere voyeurs. It was about being in the room as a car traded for record millions, nothing more. But the electricity was pretty amazing and as the unofficial start to three more days of automotive events, it was fun to be on the sidelines to the event everyone was talking about.

For the rest of the auction results click here.

Lisa writes about fabulous cars and automotive events every Saturday on By: Lisa M. Smith aka @TheDecorGirl


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