No mere hood ornaments, Laliques are works of art
By Larry Edsall
Cars aren't the only stars at the auctions being held this week in conjunction with the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. At RM, a group of 30 hood ornaments -- albeit very rare hood ornaments -- are expected to sell for somewhere north of one million dollars.
The ornaments were created in the 1920s and '30s by Rene Lalique, the Parisian jeweler famed for his glass perfume bottles.
But Lalique also created trophies for the Targa Florio auto races and when hood ornaments replaced radiator-mounted thermometers, Lalique created those that would become the most treasured.
Introduced between 1925 and 1931, Lalique produced 30 glass mascots (well, there was a 31st, but it was produced exclusively for Britain's royal family). Today, only three complete sets of the 30 Lalique hood ornaments remain, and one of them is being offered at RM, complete with two custom-built display cases.
RM specialist Alain Squindo compared the public sale of a complete set of Lalique glass mascots to that of a Ferrari 250 GTO or very rare Bugatti. Such rarities, he said, usually are sold privately.
Lalique's glass hood ornaments are as beautiful as they are fragile Some are very thin and were simply shaken to shards while traveling on rough roads. Even the most robust could be shattered by rocks thrown up by passing traffic.
"Only seven or eight of the Fox mascot are still in existence," Squindo said of the rarity of a complete set (of those complete sets, two are in private hands and one is housed in a museum).
Ele Chesney purchased her complete set at an RM auction in 2000, but then she set out to improve the collection by finding the best example she could of each of the mascots.
"She's accomplished what she wanted to do," Squindo said. Not only has she upgraded the set "to her standards," but she eagerly has shown the rare collection to everyone from local school children to other classic car collectors.
Experts such as Squindo consider Chesney as perhaps the world's foremost woman car collector.
"There aren't many women car collectors," he said, "but they have very excellent taste and a good eye for design, for coachbuilt one-off cars that do very well on the concours circuit."
Chesney grew up far from the concours crowd. She started doing neighbor's tax returns while a teenager in New Jersey, became an accountant, and an entrepreneur whose companies produced electronic components for cellular telecommunications systems and for military use.
She's been a car collector for many years, used to drive to work every day in a 1931 Peerless, and often took her 1917 REO grocery shopping.
Since selling her businesses in 2000, she has assembled a 20-car collection that includes the 1954 Plymouth Belmont concept car and several other vehicles which have won awards at events such as the Amelia Island concours while still cherishing one of the first cars she owned, a 1941 Plymouth she named "Harry."
Renard, the Fox, is the rarest of the Lalique car hood mascots. Cinq Chevaux, Five Horses, was created for Andre Citroen and the introduction of his new 5CV (5 horsepower) model launched at the 1925 International Exposition of the Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. Slightly more than 10 inches in length, Victoire, Spirit of the Wind, is the largest is the Lalique mascots.
Also at the RM Amelia Island auction
In addition to Ele Chesney's Lalique collection, vehicles being offered at RM's Amelia Island auction include the Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky 1929 Cord L-29 special coupe formerly owned by designer Brooks Stevens; a 1956 Ferrari 250 GT couple speciale; one of three existing 1934 Packard Twelve Convertible Victorias; the 1941 Chrysler Newport dual-cowl phaeton Indianapolis 500 pace car; a 1913 "King Alfonso XIII" Hispano-Suiza Double Berline; a 1937 Squire drophead coupe; a 1967 Ferrrari 275 GTB/4 Berlinetta; and a recreated 1930 Bugatti Type 46 Superprofile Coupe expected to sell for more than $1 million.
Gooding also on the island
The RM Amelia Island sale is Saturday, the day before the concours. On Friday, Gooding & Company stages its own auction on the island with consignments that include Andrea Zagato's 1953 Fiat 8V; Mike Hawthorne's 1951 Ferrari 212 Inter; a 1948 Tucker 48; more than two dozen Porsches, among them a 1955 550/1500 RS Spyder and 16 Porsches from the Drendel Family Collection, including the 1967 906E factory racer, 1976 Vasek Polak/Martini Racing 935/76, 1974 Martini Racing 911 Carrera RSR Turbo, 1984 and 1985 Holbert Racing/Lowenbrau 962s, and Sunoco-liveried 1973 917/30 Can-Am Spyder.
Of particular interest will be the sales price for the Tucker, the 34th of 51 built and the first up for bidding since someone paid an astounding $2.915 for a Tucker No. 45 at Barrett-Jackson in January.
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