On Thursday night, 31 rare cars at RM Sotheby’s New York auction house revived the city's love affair with the classic automobile. The showstopper was a Ferrari 290 MM by design house Scaglietti that fetched over $28 million, making it the most expensive car sold this year. The machine was built for the driver Juan Manuel Fangio in 1956 and had a lustrous racing life with F1 champion Phil Hill, among other famous drivers. Still, the high-dollar Ferrari fell short of its high-end estimate, and two Ferraris did not sell at all, suggesting a settling of the red-hot classic car market.
It wasn’t the auction house’s first automotive sale, but the event is still a departure from its bread and butter — selling artwork. They're really not that different, though: I visited the facility Thursday afternoon before the bidding began, where the elegant setting effectively recast the cars as objects of fine art. Spectators milled on the plush red carpets for a close glimpse of the extraordinarily rare makes and models on the Manhattan building's tenth floor. While car auctions tend to attract a more senior set, the crowd also included a younger range of curious car lovers. Peter Wallman, a house specialist for Sotheby’s, told me that bringing in a younger crowd to the car market is one of the house’s goals. "Younger buyers are migrating into classic cars who are attracted to the glamour and the sex appeal. The new buyers appreciate cars up until the 1980s, because the cars of today are cold and lack charisma and personality," he says. "It’s becoming more like a scene, like Art Basel."
When I walked into the exhibition space, a colorful splash of Lamborghinis greeted me, including a 1972 Lamborghini Miura P400 SV — arguably the most beautiful car Lamborghini has ever made. In one corner, behind a beaded doorway, Janis Joplin’s psychedelic 1964 Porsche 356SC was on display. Joplin, who is the subject of Amy Berg’s new documentary, is having a renaissance moment: the notion of owning her Porsche struck a note with a collector on Thursday night who paid $1.76 million — well over its $600,000 high-end estimate. Joplin had commissioned her roadie $500 to paint the car, which she was often seen driving along the West Coast. In the back was my personal favorite, an Aston Martin DB4 by Zagato. It later sold for $14.3 million, a record-breaking bid for a British sports car.
Photos: Amelia Krales