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Resource Guide
Auction Central
By Larry Edsall
Back to Community

Record Setting Bugatti Was a Real Power Purchase
By Larry Edsall

Classic Car Articles by Larry Edsall As I write this, we still do now know who paid a record price - somewhere between $30 and $40 million -- to buy what is now the world's most expensive classic car, the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic formerly owned by the Williamson Family and Trust.

As the "official broker" for the sale, all Gooding & Company has reported is that it has "found a devoted connoisseur who will become the guardian of this treasured piece of automotive history."

Treasured, indeed! Only three such cars, based on the Bugatti Aerolithe Electron Coupe displayed at the 1935 Paris Auto Salon, were built. Of the three cars, only two survive (the other collided with a train). One of the survivors is owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren. The other was owned by neurologist and epilepsy specialist Dr. Peter Williamson, who died in 2008.

Williamson purchased his car in 1971 for a then-record price of $59,000. After restoration, his car was judged best-in-show at the famed Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2003.

It was widely reported that the Williamson car was purchased by the new Mullin Automotive Museum in California, but the museum said emphatically that it was not the buyer, although it remains eager that the car might be displayed, although perhaps only briefly, in the museum.

So who bought the car?

We've heard some very interesting rumors/speculation/informed conjecture, but so far the new owner(s) has not acknowledged the purchase. Nonetheless, a recent article in the Sunday edition of The New York Times provides some prospective on such sales. "The Coy Art of the Mystery Bidder" is the title of the article by Times art critic Roberta Smith, whose subject was another recent and record-setting purchase -- Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" painting that sold for an auction-record $106.5 million to an anonymous telephone bidder.

"For a minute or two, I felt that the insistence on anonymity might qualify as mildly admirable behavior under the circumstances," Smith wrote. "It suggested that buying the picture… wasn't done just, or even primarily for the attention. I thought of the relentless legacy opportunities that museums are pressed to create, slapping the names of trustees and donors on galleries, wings, auditoriums, facades, directorships, curatorial positions."

However, she added, debating her earlier statement, "Strictly enforcing one's privacy - at a time when so much goes public so fast as it happens - may be the ultimate public display of power, and thus the most erotic. The buyer is the puppet master whose puppets are the in-the-know few…"

And what of the rest of us?

"The rest of us don't even need strings to be jerked around," she added.

The buyer, she writes, seemingly is in total control and "therefore derives the greatest pleasure from the actual transaction. Anonymity only makes it that much more pleasurable and voyeuristic."

Smith closes her article with a statement about the art world that may also apply to the world of automotive art, the collector car marketplace which for these past many months has seen prices falling with the world economy.

"The art world and the world at large are now back in their boom-time positions regarding auctions, which is watching the money, oohing and ahhing and making the spending of it that much more a turn-on," she concludes.

Radio hosts buys ferrari GTO

While the owner(s) of the Bugatti remain silent, the buyer in another private sale, this one coordinated by RM Auctions, has stepped forward. Chris Evans, who radio program is the most popular in England, says he paid $12 million pounds (some $18.5 million) for a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO. Evans collects Ferraris and reportedly sold three from his collection to buy the GTO, one of only 36 such cars ever built.

Good deeds from the Goodguys

The Goodguys Rod & Custom Association holds its fifth annual Bridgestone Nationals this weekend at LP Field in Nashville. In light of recent flooding in the area, the Goodguys are joining with Hands on Nashville, a local volunteer network, to raise money for flooding victims. Flood relief donation stations will be set up at all entrances to the car show and the Goodguys say they will match every dollar donated.

July 9 is Car Collector Day

Responding to encouragement from SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, and ARMO, the Automotive Restoration Market Organization, the U.S. Senate has passed Resolution 513 designating July 9 as "Collector Car Appreciation Day."

The resolution's goal is to raise awareness of the role automotive restoration and collection plays in American life. Backers of the resolution hope many communities will stage "Collector Car Appreciation Day" cruise-ins, car shows and other special events the weekend after the Fourth of July.

Mark Your Calendars

Now that has launched its gigantic classic car calendar, instead of listing a few upcoming events here, we're simply closing with a link to the searchable calendar with all the bells and whistles, including maps to guide you to the events: Click here for event calendar


Click here for more articles by Larry Edsall.

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