EVENTS: Monterey Historics, Part 02 — The Auctions

We’re going to do things out of chronological order because we felt it was important to report on the auctions of four significant Japanese cars as they happened. Now that we’ve recuperated from the madness, here’s how it went down, and how it felt to be in a room full of multi-millionaires as J-tin crossed the block. 

The first thing to know is that there isn’t just one “Monterey auction.” Several auction houses are spread out across the peninsula cities of Monterey, Carmel and Pebble Beach. Each runs on their own schedule, often simultaneously with other auctions, and it’s impossible to see everything.

Before the J-tin crossed the block we went to Bonhams. The sole purpose was to witness a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta break a world public auction record by selling for $36.65 million. After Bonhams takes its commission, that’s $38.1 million.

The sale of this car should put into perspective how the one percenters choose their toys. First off, rarity: Ferrari built just 39 250 GTOs, and this is the first time this particular example has been offered for sale in 49 years. Secondly, racing pedigree: This GTO competed in many events, everything from the 1962 Tour de France Automobile to various hillclimbs to supporting races at the Italian F1 Grand Prix. Thirdly, history: This is the car that killed French driver Henri Oreiller, an Olympic gold medalist skier and national hero. It has been crashed, rebuilt by the factory, and the other GTOs like it all have motorsports history behind them.

Now Skyline GT-Rs are obviously rare (though at 832 sedans and 1,115 hardtop coupes, they’re comparatively common), have loads of racing provenance, and occupy a historically significant place in Japanese history. They’re given even more of a halo by the continuation of the current GT-R bloodline, one that’s achieved supercar status. However, they’re also somewhat diluted by the fact that boatloads of single-cam and four-cylinder models were manufactured. The biggest hurdle, however, is that they are almost completely unknown amongst collectors of Ferraris and Hispano-Suizas.

That sentiment is changing though, with the appearance of the first KPGC10 GT-R to be sold at such a high profile event. During preview days RM Auctions had it parked on the promenade of Monterey’s Portola Hotel, where potential bidders could examine the car. Some of the small issues JNC readers pointed out when we reported on the car initially had been addressed.

From our causal observations, which consisted of milling about the car for an hour, it received far more attention than the pagoda Benz or Alfa GTA 1300 Junior Stradale nearby.

Friday night we went back to look at the car again, and a team of bidders, from what seemed like Brazilian or Portuguese origin and wearing Ferrari polo shirts, was going over it with a fine tooth comb and flashlights.

The GT-R was Lot 01, meaning it was scheduled to be the first car across the block that day. Unfortunately, 6pm on a Saturday evening was, according to our friend Tom Knudsen, one of the worst possible times for a car to be sold.

Still, we arrived early to secure a good seat, just in case. On the way in we saw the hakosuka ready to drive across the stage, ahead of a Hertz Shelby Mustang, Aston Martin DB5, and Ferrari 275 GTB/4.

Finally it was time to see what a quintessential Japanese classic would do on the world stage. As we reported, the hako ended up blowing the estimated $125,000 to $175,000 estimate right out of the water with a $220,000 winning bid, or $242,000 once RM adds their 10 percent commission. That’s the highest price ever paid for a KPGC10 at public auction.

The room was comprised of two types of people. Those who, like us, came specifically to see the hakosuka make history consisted of about 5 percent. The rest had no idea what was going on. Gasps of “What? Why?” were heard when the bidding broke $200,000. Nevertheless, the climate of the room was electric and the surprise of a Nissan surpassing (low end) Ferrari prices created a palpable buzz. You can relive our live-blogging of how it went down on JNC‘s Facebook page.

Amusing side note: The auctioneer, who could twist his tongue around the longest Italian words you’ve ever seen, started out by pronouncing hakosuka correctly (ha-KOH-ska), but got flummoxed midway through the bidding — perhaps by the high price? — and reverted to HA-koe-SOO-kah.

This is the “salon” area of the RM Auctions during preview days. It’s where the headline cars are displayed for inspection before bidding, and unlike the promenade where the hako was parked, you needed a special wristband to get in.

With the Toyota 2000GT firmly established as a million dollar car, it was placed among good company. The silver car in the foreground was RM’s star car, a 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale, which went on to fetch $26.4 million.

Other cars in the salon included a $3.3 million Bentley 8-Litre, $2.4 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse ‘Le Ciel Californien’, $1.7 million 427 Cobra, and $1.65 million Aston Martin DB5.

The Solar Red 2000GT itself was what the owner called the best restored 2000GT in the world.” In fact, the car was so perfect that it was better than what emerged from the Yamaha coachworks 47 years ago. In the collector world, that’s called an overrestoration. Everything, from the paint to the chrome to the glass, gleamed flawlessly. For someone who wants a work of art, this is the 2000GT to get. 

As reported, the hammer came down at $1,045,000 including commission, which we think is relatively low considering the effort that went into the restoration. If there was one 2000GT that could have broken the $1.2 million record set by the Belatrix Yellow example last year we would’ve thought this was it, but as it turns out that record still stands.

As the red 2000GT was staging, we made a decision to miss its sale so we could dart across town to Gooding & Co. In fact, we posted the news about the hakosuka‘s sale from the back of Tom’s Nissan Titan en route. We arrived shortly before another 2000GT crossed the block.

While the “It’s JDM, yo!” crowd fetishizes anything RHD, among these collectors USDM 2000GTs appear to be more desirable, since only 62 were originally imported to the US through official channels.

The Gooding event is a lively affair, with an auctioneer who, like a British Tony Robbins, encourages you to deplete your bank account as you love every minute of it. In this case, at least when it’s all over you get a car.

The bidding stalled for a moment at $900-something-thousand, at which point British Tony Robbins excoriated the bidders for not using round numbers. When they succumbed and dropped the price of a new Camry to make it a nice, even $1 million, applause erupted from the crowd.

From there, the bids kept flowing, until the gavel dropped at $1,155,000 inclusive of Gooding’s 10 percent. With five specimens now having been sold at similar prices, it’s safe to say that the 2000GT is definitively a million dollar car. Still, we overheard at least one confused cry of, “But it’s just a Toyota.”

The 1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport came from the same owner as the 2000GT, a collector who was also divesting himself of a BMW 507 and 1969 Camaro Z/28. It didn’t take the Mazda long to reach its high bid of $264,000, even more than that of the GT-R.

The top-notch restoration, quite possibly the finest in the world, and the fact that it was a highly desirable Series I short wheelbase model contributed to the record price for the model.

Another high-profile Toyota at Gooding was Juan Manuel Fangio II’s 1992 Toyota Eagle Mark III GTP racer. Built by Dan Gurney’s All American Racing, the car won 14 of 23 races entered and was winner of the 1992-93 IMSA GTP championships.

The listing called it the most dominant Prototype in US racing history. Though the market for all-out race cars can’t really be compared with that of production cars, the expected sale price was $700,000 to an even $1 million. Watchers were pleasantly surprised to see it exceed that by a tick, with a final sale price of $1,045,000.

The third and final Toyota at Gooding was a 1980 Toyota Land Cruiser “showing” less than 2,000 miles on the odometer. Note their usage of the word showing, which means the mileage isn’t verified. However, the low odometer reading isn’t entirely unbelievable, as the condition is outstanding.

According to the listing, it was stored for over three decades and is an unrestored survivor. FJ40 prices have been on a steady rise, and this one continued the streak with a high bid of $137,500.

Incidentally, the long wheelbase FJ40 we saw in Part 01 also broke the six-digit mark, selling for a very respectable $110,000. Though we didn’t attend the Mecum auctions, a not very original or well documented Honda SM600 sold for a whopping $41,000.

Throughout the week, the consensus was clear: Japanese cars have arrived. Even the LA Times’ coverage concluded with a blurb about the rise of rising sun cars. So why the sudden interest? Perhaps the video above of Don Rose of RM Auctions will explain why.

The short answer: it’s because of us, the new generation of classic car enthusiasts and our interest in Japanese marques. What that also means is that though these prices may seem astronomical now and already far beyond the reaches of most of us, this is just the beginning.


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8 Responses to EVENTS: Monterey Historics, Part 02 — The Auctions

  1. Dan says:

    Thank you guys for your great coverage of JNC stuff. I was wondering what kind of mileage do these cars have on them and how much does it affect the bid/sale price?

  2. mister k says:

    fascinating! so…

    genuine R spec (acc. to Wikipedia):

    pgc10 & kpgc10 – 1,945
    kpgc110 – 197

    a small fraction of these still exist i expect

  3. matt says:

    gt-r vid on youtube

  4. Dandy says:

    Just wait till the 117s get here… 😀

  5. Sedanlover says:

    Great coverage Ben & team!

    I’d just like to comment on the second video there of the GT-R in auction. The room is full of people walking around, scratching their heads, waving to other people of camera, signaling the waiters… WTF! (clearly I’ve never been to an auction, but don’t all of these actions equal bids in the movies?)

    It seems there is only two or three serious bidders in the room, and the auctioneer does a great job of spotting them.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Thanks! At this particular auction, bidders had to hold up a small white plastic sign with a number on it in order to bid. The ultimate winner was a phone bidder and never stepped foot in the room.

    • xs10shl says:

      This is also why you really don’t want to be the first lot- people are still getting settled, and the room is fairly devoid of any sort of vibe. In this case, it didn’t appear to matter, because the bidders for the car knew exactly when it was crossing the block, and were ready for it. It actually helped set the tone for the night, with all the spirited bidding and a high result. “Auction mojo” matters- sometime some small happening can totally change the mood in a room (like a delay, or a car that takes forever to sell) and suddenly nothing sells for the next half hour.

      Going last in an auction is arguably the worst spot, because everyone just wants to go home. Also bad is going right after a huge car, because there is so much chatter and euphoria that few people are paying attention.

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