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Pre war cars in depth

 German

BMW 328 at RM

BMW were successful motorcycle manufacturers when they decided to licence production of the Austin 7 and marketed it as the BMW Dixi. Without the capital of the larger competitors BMW decided to follow the incremental improvement method of development and used unitary parts where possible. The 328 was a step forward and the first truly sporty BMW with a 80bhp 1971cc straight 6 and very advanced chassis and suspension, quickly becoming dominant in several grades of motorsport while the car went on to form the basis for post war Frazer Nash and Bristol production. Two extraordinary BMWs are on offer at RM and Worldwide, both glamorous as could be, both with a sporting background and both of enormous appeal. RMs example (85427) is one of a handful imported by Aldington Bros, the forerunner to Frazer Nash although the advent of WW2 meant they gathered dust due to import restrictions. Fitted with Leacroft Roadster coachwork upon the cessation of hostilities, the car was raced by Dickie Stoop and Wilson at the ’49 Spa 24 Hours before disappearing. Later discovered by the Rosso Bianco Collection, the car was sold at Bonhams in ’06 for just under $500k, since then it has appeared at Amelia Island.

BMW 328 at Worldwide Auctions

Worldwide are offering another fascinating example. There car (85133) is supposedly one of three delivered to Touring Superleggera “chassis only” where it was bodied by them with prototype bodywork loosely based on that already developed for the Bugelfalte. This particular example has no claimed race history although its engine was confirmed as being of Spezial race spec. as used on the Mille Miglia in ’40 where the BMW team finished 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th. Sold to Switzerland the car and body became separated with the coachwork fitted to a Simca and possibly refitted to the original chassis along with the special engine. Recently restored by Fran Roxas the car certainly looks the part. Both of these cars are emblemic of the collector car market, both having large holes in their histories with plenty of supposed and claimed and both have unique, glamorous presentations. Standard BMWs 328s have recently been $500k – 1 million depending on presentation and originality with the Bugelfalte selling post sale for $6 million plus at RM Monaco in ’10. As for the two at Monterey, RM are asking around $500 – 700k while Worldwide are asking $1.5 – 2 million which makes sense but only if the Worldwide car checks out and one would think if that were the case they would have explained the lot in a much more concise manner. Either way too superb cars and if I had to make a pick the $500k 328 at RM would be my pick.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class at Gooding & co

Mercedes-Benz merged in the mid 1920s and hired Prof. Porsche as chief engineer and he gained fame for developing the gargantuan S, SS and SSK series of grand sporting saloons with their big blower driven engines although he left when the Daimler-Benz board wouldn’t support his small, rear engined projects. Mercedes S Type was available with standard works supplied bodywork or chassis only for supply to the purchasers chosen coachbuilder, with Castagna, Corsica and Murphy three of the more famous foreign examples although most were sold and bodied by German Karrosserie. Two examples of the S-Type are on offer at Monterey in ’17, both fitted to the standard 134 inch wheelbase chassis with a 180HP supercharged 6.8 litre straight 6 engine, pretty much as raced by Daimler-Benz to great success in 1927. Gooding & Co are offering an example (35920) that was purchased new by a German, Louis Delling and fitted with Glaser Sports Tourer coachwork. Sold by pioneer Mercedes collector Bunny Scott-Moncrieff in ’38 the car had a short tenure in the UK before passing through a small series of US owners. The current vendors family purchased the car in ’64 and retained it within their estate.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class at RM

Restored soon after purchase the car was widely used and well maintained before a more recent restoration by D.L. George, ensuring the car comes to market in near perfect condition. The other example is the Sindelfingen Sports Tourer on offer at RM (35947) that is a slightly more staid but equally exciting car with supposed use by Rudy Caracciola when new. Supplied to Mercedes-Benz New York, the car soon passed to early show biz star Al Jolson and later to pioneer collector Brooks Stevens who kept the car on Museum display until 1990. Sold to the vendor that year, he commissioned Mike Fennel to restore it to its original form and the car remains in excellent condition. Both of these amazing Mercedes have everything, provenance, history, documented originality and condition are all ticks. While the market may not be as hot as it was 2 – 3 years ago, it is still well worth investing and these cars are not likely to lose money any time soon. As to which one to buy Gooding has an ask of $5 – 6 million while RM is going for $3.5 to 4 million and while I slightly prefer the Glaser coachwork, they are both such magnificent cars, buy both.

Mercedes-Benz 500k at RM

Mercedes-Benz soon developed the new Independently suspended chassis for the 380K when fitted with the supercharged 3.8 litre straight six. This car was soon fitted with the 5 litre straight 8 in supercharged 160HP format. Available in a range of standardised coachwork from highly luxurious Cab C to very sleek Spezial Roadster although Chassis only was still available as was the option of paying Sindelfingen a tremendous amount of cash to build a special car. The ultimate 5.4 litre 540k was available from 1936 and this offered 180HP although it was otherwise only changed by the use of oval section chassis tubes rather girder types. Two very special examples of the 500/540K are on offer at RM Monterey and both have an interesting story to tell. The first is a Tourenwagen, one of a handful built with bodywork similar to that seen on S-Types and other vintage Mercedes. This car (123723) was later sold to the USA where it remained on display in the Ralph Cox museum from the 1950s until 2014 when sold by Bonhams for $1.43 million. Restored by Jim Friswold since, this car is one of 4 with this style of bodywork and has since won its class at Pebble Beach.

Mercedes-Benz 540K at RM

The second car is an example of the 540K in what might be considered its ultimate form, the Cabriolet A, with only the very rare Roadster more valued. This example (154146) was built in the 1937 style and supplied to a French customer who took the car to the USA where it remained until the 2010s when it returned to Germany for a restoration. Shown at Pebble in 2014 it has since been a concours award winner and a truly glamorous car in its Burgundy over Tan livery. 500/540Ks were a truly bankable commodity and every example offered seemed to sell for record amounts pre 2016. Bonhams hosted a disastrous auction at Stuttgart in 2016 and sold none of the six examples on offer while every further offering was disastrous with the next actual sale at RM Monterey a year ago (at $1.8 million ~ well below the $3 million peak). Since then there have been few offerings including (154146) which failed to proceed at Bonhams Greenwich sale in ’16, although Bonhams sold a Roadster at Chantilly in ’16 for $5.9 million and RM sold a 540K Spezial Roadster at Scottsdale in ’17 for $6.6 million, both top market amounts. It could be that most Mercedes-Benz are simply too common and they will continue to struggle unlike their roadster brethren. RM don’t offer any estimate for either but I would think $1.5 – 2 million would be about market and either would be good buying at that rate, neither likely to lose nor gain much, the 500K should be at the lower end of my estimate, the 540K at the higher.

 

Belgian

Minerva at Gooding and co

Minerva were a quality producer of automobiles and were noted for being a range that Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce fame offered to the British market. Later reaching their zenith in the late 1920s, early 30s with the AK, AL, AM and AP ranges of large luxury automobiles although the depression meant that they merged with Imperia in ’34 and ceased production for good in ’37. The AM on offer at Gooding is one of the largest cars ever made with a 180 inch wheelbase and 363 cui straight 6. Fiendishly expensive, this example was supplied to the USA in chassis only format where Hibbard and Darrin Dual Windshield Convertible Sedan bodywork was commissioned and fitted for an unknown owner. Later passing through a small series of owners the car was later parked from the 1960s until this year when it was disinterred and mechanically recommissioned. A star for any preservation class anywhere, this car is very well worth the $500 – 700k but I implore anyone interested to leave it as it is and drive the thing.

Italian

Alfa Romeo 6C1750 at Gooding

Alfa Romeo were formed in the 1900s and built some rather grand automobiles before the Merosi period in the post WW1 period where they began to develop the RL series which won the Targa Florio in ’23. Vittorio Jano joined Alfa Romeo where he linked up with Enzo Ferrari and set to design and develop the 6C models beginning with the 6C1500 in ’27. While lower in power than the big RLTF, these cars were much lighter and the model marked Alfa’s shift from the vintage to the modern. Improved with supercharging and developed into the 1750cc 6C1750 in either blown or non blown form these cars were bodied by the best Italian Carrozzerria, most notably Zagato who produced several series including the SS works team racers and the GS which had 85 – 100hp from their supercharged engines. Gooding are offering an example of the Zagato Spider that has known history in Switzerland and the USA beginning in the 1940s. The very best examples with ultra clear history and provenance are very rare and priced at $3 million or more, the more common examples have plenty of assumptions and this model is (with the S-Type Mercedes) one of the most replicated of all cars. For a car with confirmed history the $2 – 2.5 million estimate is a little cheap, Bonhams selling excellent examples for $2.8 – 3.1 million in recent years while cars sans provenance and full fakes are around the $500k – 1.5 million mark. Goodings example (10814349) is in excellent condition, has been accepted by the Pebble Beach organisers and if it checks out possibly the buy of the sale, my advice is too check the documents that will be available prior to the sale or take an Alfa Romeo expert.

Alfa Romeo 6C2500 at Mecum

The Alfa 6C was developed into the 2300 and finally the 2300B with its advanced IFS and 95bhp engine. Alfa had immense success with the model and developed the final 6c model, the 6C2500 that continued its forebears in being offered chassis only for the customer to specify the carrozzeria of their choice to body as they wished. The best of these was definitely Touring Superleggera who had patented their method of building lightweight alloy bodywork fitted to very small tubes that ensured rigidity without the weight. Worldwide are offering an example of the very rare Touring Berlinetta built on the long 3 metre chassis that was delivered to Italy although taken to the USA shortly after WW2 by a GI and passed through very few hands before a restoration by Touring themselves. Today this is a perfect example in beautiful condition and well worth the $1.8 – 2.4 million estimate, it is after all comparable to the 8C2900B which would be ten times this price. One of my favourite cars at Monterey.

Fiats early production automobiles cars were very expensive luxury vehicles. Like Rolls-Royce, Fiat opened a Poughkeepsie, New York plant in 1910. priced at $4 – 7k these cars were targeted at the upper class and they became popular with the exclusive families on the North East. Worldwide are offering one of these rare US built Fiats, a very large car with a 75HP straight 6 that was supplied to the Mohank Mountain House Hotel. After passing through a very limited number of owners the car ended up getting restored to Pebble Beach standards. Several comparable very large cars including Fiats have been offered and sold at higher values and this is a very good value. It must be said that large Edwardian Tourers and Limousines are not flavour of the month so perhaps not the greatest investment but they offer much of interest and if cars were sold by the pound, kilo or tonne this would easily be the best value.

Maserati were established by the Maserati brothers in 1926 after Diatto stopped producing racing cars, they all left Diatto en masse and began making very similar cars under their own brand. Alfieri was the designer and the other brothers took various roles with the nascent firm and they had instant success with the Tipo 26 winning the Grand Prix class at the 1926 Targa Florio. Multiple variants of the Tipo 26 saw action over the following 5 years before the success of the 8CM and 6C/34 although the death of Alfieri rocked the firm and the mid 1930s advent of the Silver Arrows formed the deathknell with the firm sold to the Orsi brothers in ’37. Before the sale, Maserati realised they could actually support their racing program by selling cars for use in the Voiturette series then popular with Italian amateurs. Based on a pretty basic chassis with a 1.5 litre supercharged straight six engine these 180HP car these cars were very popular and provided much needed capital. The example at Gooding was raced by Giovanni Rocco with much success including a win at the Coppa Acerbo before passing through various UK owners. Restored by Sean Danaher for pinnacle US collector Sam Mann, the car is both eminently usable, relatively qualm free and in excellent condition. Not perhaps as easy to use as a 6 cylinder road car ala Alfa Romeo or a big touring Mercedes, purchase requires a purpose as it would be easy for the car to become little more than a garage ornament. Plenty of fun as a track day toy, it would be an entry to lots of fun track days and $1 million would be about right.

British

Aston Martin Ulster at RM

Pre David Brown Aston Martin had a torturous history with multiple ownership changes and more than a whiff of the meddling aristocracy. Initially centered on voiturette racing production and race Astons were constrained to 1.5 litre spec through the late 1930s and the ultimate specification was the Ulster. A certain pecking order exists within the 30 odd cars made with the works team cars (LM chassis prefix) easily the most valuable and strictly 2 seat racing cars with little concession to usability. Next are the 2 seat works replica’s that were sold to privateer racers and finally are the 2/4 seat road racers. RM are offering the Eddie Hall race car (B5/549/U) that they claim could have been a works team car although offer no proof as such, although it was raced at the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Targa Abruzzo and RAC TT in ’35/36 with some success. After passing through a limited number of connoisseur ownerships the car has immaculate provenance, great condition and impeccable capacity for use. Although it failed to sell for $2.4 million at Bonhams in ’14, I would have to say it would be great buying at the $2.5 million low estimate and not bad buying at the $3 million high. Great stuff Bertie.

Bentley Speed Six at RM

Bentley had much success with their original 3 litre model although by the mid 1920s their wealthiest clients were specifying ever grander bodywork and this lead to the development of the new 6.5 litre. Based on an agricultural but strong frame and much larger 6.5 litre straight 6 engine this car was very successful and something of a competitor to the Rolls Phantom although not initially sporty, the 3 litre and new for 1927 4.5 litre were used for racing although the need for extra pace soon changed things. Woolf Barnato was one of the original Bentley Boys and he lobbied for a new supercharged model which W.O. Bentley vetoed preferring to create a sports model from the big 6.5 and in 1928 the works launched the Speed Six with 180 – 200BHP engines and chassis of various lengths from sporty 132 inch to 152 inch formal. RMs particular example is one of the best Speed Six with wonderfully sinister looking Coupe bodywork by Corsica, the highly regarded London coachbuilders. With excellent provenance, originality, presentation and style that is second to none this car is well worth up to $5 million and a potential Pebble Beach BOS winner.

Rolls Royce new Phantom at RM

Rolls Royce replaced the 40/50HP Silver Ghost type with the new Phantom although the chassis was carried over from the earlier model, the engine was all new. British cars continued to be offered chassis only for the client to specify their own bodywork or with a selection of bodies from the grand British coachbuilders while the Springfield MA built cars were offered with various styles of Brewster built bodywork. Among the most ostentatious of all was the Riviera which was a town car bodywork with Limousine compartment for the passengers and open driver compartment. Even here a wealthy purchaser could specify various additions and in the case of the car offered at RM (S390LR) the wealthy purchaser had cane embellishments along with gold plated trim, thus creating the most elegant and exclusive automobile available. Built at a cost of $19,965 in 1929 this must have truly been a sight to behold and remained in the New York area for decades before a concours winning restoration in the late 1990s. This fabulous car was sold for $733k at RMs Villa Erba sale in ’11 and has since won its class at Pebble in ’14 so its qualities are evident. Compared to other quality brands this Rolls is remarkably cheap at $750 – 950k and well worth a look for a real grandee.

American

Cadillac 355A at Mecum

Cadillac were the luxury division of the General Motors conglomerate and they used the GMC C platform for the all new longer, lower 355A in 1931. No less than 10,737 examples were built in the single year of production with six different bodystyles available and motive power from the 95HP 353cui I8. Mecum are offering a four door Saloon (#808127) at their Monterey auction in notably original specification fresh from long term storage. Showing 67,214 miles from new and displaying original paintwork, wheels/ tires and parts there is little more that could be asked for in a 1930s car. Possibly too common to gain entry to the finest concours, this car is still a CCCA full classic and likely successful entry for any regional event and at $25 – 45k is good buying.

 

Duesenberg Model J at RM

Duesenberg are today one of the great collectable marques and noted for both their size and power although such is there fame, they coined the term its a doosy. RM are offering a fantastic Murphy Convertible Coupe with a fabulous story that only adds to the buying package. Originally fitted with Le Baron Dual Cowl Phaeton bodywork to Leslie Atlass, he was friends with Philip Wrigley of chewing gum fame who owned a Murphy Convertible Coupe and they chose to swap bodywork. This fabulous J further lost historical purity when the engine and firewall were swapped with parts from others by Doosy expert John Troka after frost damage in the 1950s although this was remarkably common practice for Duesenbergs. Restored by Al Pruiett, the car is excellent condition as shown by an award win at Amelia Island in ’11 and ideal for show or go. While this car is not a disappearing top Roadster nor is it as valuable as a full matching numbers car it is still a very grand automobile and well worth a look at less than $1.5 million.

 

Hacker Craft at Mecum

Hacker Craft was established by John L Hacker and is today the oldest producer of mahogany boats in the world. Mecum are offering a very special example that was the last of a series of 8 sold to Henry Ford. Fitted with a WW1 Liberty aircraft V12 that produces 450bhp, it later won the 1926 Harmsworth Regatta against the Gar Wood “Miss America” amongst others, this is a fantastic boat, well restored and an important piece of history. Mecum estimate this boat at $1.25 – 1.75 million which seems a lot but this is a very rare example and as already noted its true blue American history.

Packard 745 at Bonhams

Packard are one of the more famous US automobile producers and they made their name like Cadillac as the producers of the most luxurious automobiles. Various 8 and 12 cylinder models followed and the latter are acclaimed as the impetus for Ferrari to develop his own V12. While most Packards were bodied by the works in various basic forms or offered in very expensive chassis only form for custom bodywork, mainly by Dietrich. Bonhams are offering an example that was supplied to France where Maurice Proux was commissioned to fit unique Convertible Victoria boywork and the car passed through several sets of ownership. Today restored to good if not perfect quality the car is an excellent example of a full custom, full classic and ideal for any concours or tour and the $400 – 600k estimate seems reasonable although a further restoration can’t be too far away so somewhere around the low estimate would be the go.

Thomas-Flyer at Bonhams

Thomas-Flyer were one of the many pioneers of the US automobile scene and quickly became noted for their large luxury cars before winning the one and only 1908 New York to Paris Race although they were one of many firms that were rationalised out of existence in the 1910s. William Harrah accumulated the largest collection of classic cars ever seen including several Thomas-Flyers including the race winning car and the the rolling chassis that formed the basis for the car that Bonhams are offering. The chassis passed to an unknown collector who rebuilt the car with an ex Wolfgang Gawor 6-70 engine and new bodywork with the car completed using period components in 1993. Like so many great Edwardian cars, Thomas-Flyers have been rebuilt with various levels of originality and this is no different with parts from different cars built into a single entity although the engine and chassis are stated to be legitimate. It would be recommended that anyone interested in the car investigate any documents in existence that offer support to these claims but if it checks out this is one of the grandest of all grandees and well worth a look. Like so many other great  pre-war cars this would be a ticket to any event, anywhere and good buying at the low estimate.

French 

 

Bugatti Type 35C at RM

Bugatti are among the most famed of all automobile brands and despite being arch traditionalists they were able to marry artistic sensibilities and engineering purity to create some very special cars. The Type 35 was launched in 1924 and went on to be the most successful racing car of all times, an example is offered at RM and covered elsewhere. The technology developed in the multiple iterations of the Type 35 was used in multiple guises as Bugatti went up and down market over the following decade although with the depression biting and the transition to Jean Bugatti sped up a modernising for the firm. To achieve the rationalisation Jean developed a new unitary model, the Type 57 that would be based around a 3.3 litre straight 8 and although the prototype featured IFS, Ettore vetoed all further use and the production examples otherwise followed Bugatti process. A full sporting model was launched in 1936 when a new underslung chassis was fitted with the Type 57 engine and produced in racing Type 57G and Touring Type 57S forms while 160HP Roots supercharged engines were available for either model and they wore the C moniker.

Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet at RM

RM are offering two Bugatti at their Monterey sale, the first a fascinating early Type 35 (#4572) that has works team history before passing through a series of private owners. It is clear that the car is authentic and was later rebuilt to full Type 35C spec by Bunny Philips (one of the original Bugattiste and doyen to US Bugatti fans). It is arguable that during its rebuild some parts were fitted from other Bugatti although this example still more original than many. Offered in excellent mechanical condition this particular Type 35 is fantastic buying at $1.1 to 1.3 million and while there may be little upside it will present a great ownership proposition. RMs other Bugatti is the 55th Type 57 (57-156) and yet it is nothing of the sort in a manner atypical of Bugatti. This particular car was sold to Belgium with fairly boring Galibier Sedan bodywork and remained there for three years before it suffered some form of accident.

 

 

Bugatti Type 57C Cabriolet at Gooding & co

Returned to Bugatti the car was rebuilt around a new frame before it was returned to Bugattis Belgium dealer, d’Ieteren who either bodied it themselves or commissioned Paul Nee, either way it received a dramatic Cabriolet body. Post war the car passed to Jean de Dobbeleer before passing to a series of US owners including one who stored it for 40 years, ensuring it was original when passed to the vendor who commissioned Alan Taylor to restore the car to concours winning form.  Providing a useful bookend to the early car at RM is Goodings Type 57 (57-841) which was the final example built and equally historic. Produced in very late ’39 the car existed as a complete chassis sans bodywork until 1956 when the owner commissioned Letourner et Marchand to fit a contemporary body and the car soon made its way via Germany to the USA where it was barely used and remains effectively as new. These cars are an aesthetic delight and it is in the eye of the beholder to decide which is more beautiful, I prefer the RM example and RM have estimated it at $1.2 – 1.5 million while Gooding are asking $1.5 – 2 million which supports it as my pick of the two.

 

 

Delahaye 135M at Worldwide

Delage and Delahaye are two companies with vastly different beginnings before the 1930s, Delage the maker of fabulously sporty French cars and a dominant force in 1920s Grand Prix while Delahaye were known for their luxury automobiles. Both firms launched new models in the early 1930, Delage following the 8 cylinder path with the 4 litre D8 while Delahaye began their series of straight 6s with the 3.2 litre 134. Delage was hit very hard by the depression and their small D6 was built with some Delahaye tech which foretold the post ’35 Delage which were rebadged Delahaye with Delage engines fitted. This period may have seen poor sales yet it was also a period of design prowess with streamlining, art deco and modernism all converging to produce arguably the greatest automobile designs ever seen, many of which were fitted to Delahaye and Delage chassis.

 

Delage D8S at Bonhams

Worldwide are offering a Delahaye 135M with Dubos bodywork that followed the Teardrop idiom with a rollback style Cabriolet roof. This car features unique bodywork, excellent provenance and tremendous usability. It is noted that this Delahaye has never been shown at any concours and offers any purchaser much skope for future use. The Delage at Bonhams is a D8S with Letourner et Marchand conduite intérieure Coupe bodywork that is perhaps a little staid but does have an amazing roofline and otherwise has superb provenance and excellent condition. Both of these cars are great examples of rare 1930s Grand Routiers, both will gain entry to any concours yet one (the Delahaye) is estimated at $1.7 – 2.1 million and the other (Delage) $700 – 800k. Both from a quality and value perspective the Delage is hard to beat.

 

Peugeot 402 at Gooding & co

Peugeot are one of the major European Automobile manufacturers today known for their reliability and emissions. In the 1930s the firm managed to survive the depression by introducing the 201 which was the cheapest car on the market while the later 402 series saw various bodystyles, all with a strong art deco theme. The most extreme of these was the 402 Darl’mat Legere Roadster of which some 53 were built on the new wider, shorter sports chassis although they retained the basic 70HP 2 litre engine. The extraordinary art deco styling may not have been matched by the engineering but the car still ticks all of the boxes, Goodings example has several additional value features including great provenance, authentic presentation and race history at both Montlhery and Brookslands.

 

Voisin C28 at RM

Voisin is one of the greatest ’30s marques with a reputation for using aeronautics expertise to design avantgarde automobiles and RM are offering a typical example in the C28 Saliot Cabriolet.  Good looks, good provenance and an interesting story provide value as does extreme rarity, perhaps a handful of C28s were built and only two with this bodywork. Perhaps the only negative is the bodywork which was fitted in ’46 so while not original it is old enough to be authentic. Both of these cars are estimated at less than a million dollars and considering the number of events that they can be used on (Villa d’Este or Pebble etc.) I would say both are fantastic value.

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