Classic Cars

The Legend Stands

Not long ago, a Ferrari 330 LM was sold for just under $52 million. This is its story. And a question: How did it come to this, that a car like the Ferrari 330 LM isn’t passionately driven out on the open road but only dusted off and worshipped in a private showroom?

  • Text
    Simon Kidston
  • Photos
    Jeremy Cliff
“For the third and final time, Ladies and Gentlemen, for the Ferrari GTO, it’s going now at forty . . . seven . . . million . . . dollars. It’s yours, sir. SOLD!”

The British auctioneer’s wooden hammer echoed sharply on Sotheby’s rostrum last night here in New York and I went over to congratulate the seller and his family. The single lot in the auction had been dispatched in just under seven minutes and polite applause rippled around the room whose tall white walls were hung with priceless art awaiting its turn later. The voluptuous red Ferrari 330 LM/250 GTO had been billed as “The One, a unique and fleeting opportunity” which the auction house had compared to “a Perseid meteor . . . a flash of lightning . . . a speed machine so celebrated that it qualifies as the very definition of a legend”. Cars guys may smile at the Madison Avenue hype, but the fact that something with an ignition key now qualifies as the pre-title credits to a high brow art auction week is in itself confirmation that a car is no longer just a car. At $51.7 million with commission, it joins an exclusive club with just a few paintings and sculptures that have been auctioned for as much (and a certain Mercedes, but that’s another story).

How did something you could buy for $5,000 in the late sixties and leave casually on the street come to make a story in today’s issue of The New York Times? And what does its future hold? A life of being locked up, politely looked at and fawned over for its value, or the promise of the open road still beckoning with the smell of oil, the sound of an angry V12 snarling beneath the bulges and scoops of its bodywork, the metallic click-clack of gears changing and the adrenalin-filled horizon rushing towards the machine and its driver?
How did something you could buy for $5,000 in the late sixties and leave casually on the street come to make a story in today’s issue of The New York Times? And what does its future hold?

In fairness there have always been cars which were destined to be admired more for their looks than the excitement of driving. Think of the Art Deco-styled Figoni & Falaschi-bodied ­Delahayes and Talbot-Lagos of the late 1930s, whose front wheels could barely turn inside the all-enveloping custom bodywork which gave the impression of doing 200 km/h while standing still, yet limited movement to little more than concours d’élégance parade speeds. Those cars were built more for show than go, and witty British rivals nicknamed them “Phoney and Flashy”.

Yet today you’re just as likely to see a Ferrari 250 GTO, a work horse conceived with little or no regard to aesthetics, carefully disassembled then rebuilt over years with an attention to fit and finish that would have made its original creators – who built it in a matter of weeks with crude welding and heavy hammers – laugh (or perhaps cry) if they’d known it would now be judged by men in blazers armed with clipboards on a manicured lawn, not the heat of battle on the shimmering asphalt at Le Mans or the potholed roads of the Targa Florio.

In fairness there have always been cars which were destined to be admired more for their looks than the excitement of driving.

Who’s right and who’s wrong? And if someone has spent their own money to buy the car, does it matter?

The story of the 250 GTO is probably the most extreme example of an object that went from being obsolete and unwanted to earning legendary status among collectors with the price tag to match, but it’s not alone. Ettore Bugatti couldn’t ( … )

→ You can read Simon Kidston's entire column in ramp #63 "Happy on the Road".

ramp #63 Happy on the Road

ramp #63 Happy on the Road

Glücklich auf der Straße? Sowieso. Für ein anständiges Autokulturmagazin ist so ein glückliches Unterwegssein gewissermaßen nur eine bereits konzeptionell hinterlegte Pflichtveranstaltung. Nach und nach – und mit etwas Glück (was sich hier ja fein ins Thema fügt) – entwickeln sich diese Emotionen in der Summe dann vergnüglich zu einer Affektbasis, ...

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