By David Undercoffler, Tribune Newspapers
1:30 PM EDT, August 19, 2013
The auctioneer opened the sale at $10 million. The first bid pushed that to $16 million. Minutes later the final gavel fell at $27.5 million for the ultra-rare 1967 Ferrari — a world record.
Cheers got louder as the price went up on Saturday night in downtown Monterey, where the Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S N.A.R.T. Spider passed to new owners from the family that originally bought the car. The final price, which includes commission, makes it the most expensive road car ever sold at auction.
The sale was a highlight amid a strong night of sales for RM Auctions, which handled the Ferrari sale, and rival Gooding & Co. In all, $149 million worth of cars were sold on Saturday night alone.Throughout the week, RM, Gooding, and other auction companies like Bonhams, Russo & Steele, and Mecum have sold $244 million in rare sheet metal, a 15% increase over last year.
Yet many collectors and car fans had their eye on RM's sale of the Ferrari 275 N.A.R.T. Spider, one of only 10 ever built. Its single-family ownership only increased interest — and the car's value.
Owner Eddie Smith Jr.’s late father took delivery of the car in North Carolina in 1968.
“This is a bittersweet moment for us,” owner Smith Jr. told a packed crowd before the bidding started. “Ferraris came and went, but this one never went, thank God. We enjoyed it as a family for 45 years.”
He had advice for its new owners: "Drive it, love it, enjoy it, and more importantly share it with others so they can see it."
Smith reminded those in attendance that his family would be donating proceeds from the sale to charity.
At this, the crowd took to its feet to cheer, and many people remained on their feet as the bidding started. After the first bid of $16 million, the figure quickly jumped to $20 million, then $21 million, with each new bid drawing roars of approval from the room.
The final bid was $25 million without commission, and the crowd erupted into cheers and applause as four white-gloved attendants took to the stage to roll the red Ferrari off to its journey to a new home. The auction house has not disclosed the new owner.
Saturday night's sale almost set the world record for any car sold at auction. That figure stands at $29.6 million, set in July by a 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 race car.
The 275 N.A.R.T. Spider is widely considered one of the prettiest Ferraris ever made. A bright-red version was featured in the 1968 film “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
N.A.R.T. refers to the North American Racing Team, a Ferrari-backed venture created in the late-1950s to promote the brand in the U.S. at a time when the name meant little to most racing fans.
This limited run of 275 N.A.R.T. Spiders boast a 3.2-liter V-12 with six Weber carburetors, making 300 horsepower. The engine is paired with a five-speed manual transmission and four-wheel independent suspension. The car also has taller gear ratios than other 275s, to accommodate the longer straightaways of U.S. tracks.
Smith Sr., a self-made millionaire, bought the car for $14,500 when it was new, the equivalent of about $100,000 in today's dollars. Never a Ferrari collector, Smith enjoyed using the car for its intended purpose: driving it. He was known throughout the small town of Lexington, N.C., for giving kids a ride in the car so they should share the experience.
Smith Jr. said the family decided to sell the car because it's been "kept in a prison" without being driven as much as their father would have liked. In keeping with Smith Sr.'s emphasis on philanthropy, the money from Saturday's sale will go to various local charities in Lexington, as well as the family foundation, Smith Jr. said.
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