Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Highest auction prices ever paid for cars (at Pebble Beach auction by Gooding & Company), for any car ever (1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa factory racer), for an American car (Duesenburg Model J), for a Porsche 911 (Steve McQueen's)

the most ever spent that I've learned about was 35 million US dollars for a Bugatti Atlantique, but the 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rosa designed by Sergio Scaglietti, chassis number 0666, just sold for $16.4 million USD. It began life as a test bed for the rest of the Testa Rossa race-car line, and it's auction started with a bid for 10 million, then grew at million dollar bids.

Gooding recorded 37 world record prices paid for cars at the Pebble Beach auction... it's the venue, and the selection of the best cars to be auctioned at this particular venue (Pebble Beach Concours De Elegance) that combine the power of one of the worlds finest car shows with the richest car enthusiasts.
photo by

The previous high dollar auction sale was also a 1957 250 Testa Rossa. That one sold for $12.4 million in May 2009 at RM Auctions

This one has a couple other reasons for such a high price, it won two best-in-class titles at the Pebble Beach concours, a Platinum Award and the TR Cup at Cavallino, and it is one of only two factory Classiche-certified TRs in existence.

It's only had two owners in 40 years, have piloted this Ferrari, including Dan Gurney and Phil Hill, who had the car up to fifth place at the '58 Le Mans and tested the car in prototype form when he was a factory driver for the Scuderia in the late '50s respectively.
info from

The Steve McQueen Porsche
The 911 wasn't just owned by McQueen; it also featured prominently at the beginning of the film Le Mans as the lead character, played by McQueen, drives through France reflecting on the realities of racing, and was used as McQueen's personal transport during the movie's production, later joining his own stable of extraordinary cars in California.

He didn't keep it long, as it's 41 yrs old, and spent 34 years with the second owner who used it as a daily driver for 20 years, plus 2 owners after that and prior to this auction... so it seems it's flipped at auction twice in the last 5 years or so. Steve sold it with an ad in the LA Times

It was built to the highest specifications offered by Porsche to non-racing customers in 1970, and came loaded with options including the rare factory air conditioning and leather interior.

It was bought by an un-named person in Germany, and it only has 116000 miles, and sold by a New Jersey Porsche aficionado... Jesse Rodrigues owned it in 2008, and let the Octane magazine writer drive it while he wrote this article on it:
The sale of the 911S at RM's annual sale at Monterey marked the company's 200th million-dollar-plus automobile sold at auction.

The 1931 Duesenburg Model J bodied by Murphy has less miles than most one year old cars, and for a 80 year old luxury car that has likely never lost value when resold, but been pampered... how it only has 12,500 miles is a crime. Why own a car you don't enjoy driving? 5 owners just left it stored long term

It sold for $10,340,000 at Gooding. Largest auction price for an American car ever. Even Carroll Shelby's personal dual supercharged 427 AC Cobra only went for 5 million.
Ordered new by one of history's rare Bon Vivants, Captain George Whitell... he was the only living son of a San Francisco Nob Hill family wealthy from the gold rush, and amassed a fortune of over 50 million at the time of the great depression, but was brilliant in cashing out his stock holdings before the stock market crash. He was a pilot, a lion tamer, an honorary fire marshal, and a decorated war hero.

He bought 2 Deusenburgs new in 1929, and owned a total of 6.

Born into great wealth, Whittell barreled through life at full-throttle, collecting exotic animals, elegant automobiles and boats, beautiful women, contentious lawsuits and 27 miles of Lake Tahoe's Nevada shoreline along the way. He was one of the more notorious playboys of California and Nevada, indulging in a succession of marriages and liaisons that fueled the region's gossip mills. A recluse in his later years, Whittell shunned publicity, and, in doing so, inspired speculation about his every move. By the time of his death in 1969, he had become the stuff of legend.

One grandfather invested in the gold rush claims, the other opened a merchants bank. Both made an incredible amount of money and passed it along to their heirs. When his mother inherited she received 9 million. That was a hundred years ago money.

George graduated high school and joined the Barnum and Bailey Circus, met Frank Buck, and bankrolled the both of them with his allowance. Yes, his allowance. This was more than enough to get these new partners into the African Safari business, sideline of animal capture for American circus supply.

Just before the 1906 San Fran earthquake, George was back in town, and with great automobiles... and a friend that later went on to own Seabiscuit, Charles Howard, became heroes by saving friends and family and possessions during the subsequent fires that destroyed San Francisco

Just before WW1, George was in Europe, learning 7 launguages fluently and enjoying Paris and universities.. .his parents purchased him a captaincy in the Italian Army. He served as an ambulance driver on the front, transferring later to the French Army and to the U.S. Army when the United States entered the war in 1917. Distinguishing himself for "valor under fire", George was decorated by the Allied governments.

His father left him a 30 million dollar inheritance, in 1926 money.

The stock market crash, which his 50 million dollar withdrawal may have influenced, left many selling property, and George took advantage of the sale of Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company and other landholders who had not fared well in the stock market crash. Eventually acquiring from them over 40,000 acres of land on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, including 27 miles of the shoreline. He had the Thunderbird Lodge built, and the 55 foot speedboat Thunderbird commisioned (Only getting 83 hours of enjoyment of it in a half dozen years before storing it for 25 years, and then selling to to Harrah), and a small guest house was built for card games with his friends like Howard Hughes, and Ty Cobb

Among his collection of vehicles of note were a DC-2, outfitted for his private use, a Grumman Duck seaplane, six of the most uncommon Duesenberg motorcars, a 145' pleasure yacht and the legendary 55' speedboat, Thunderbird. The latter is certainly one of the most unique and elegant wooden vessels crafted in the Twentieth century and, like his Duesenbergs, is as much a work of art as a means of transportation.

Biographical info from

One of his Duesenburgs

Whittell's 1933 Duesenberg, a Weymann Fishtail Speedster, was amazing, but because he was told it looked like a Holstein cow, George drove it only once in 30 years. Yup, just one ride in the car. The 2nd owner was the Harrrah collection

update, Oct 2017, Autoweek ran a feature about George Whittell

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