Top-end Ferraris, it turns out, are just like London busses. You wait ages for one to turn up, then suddenly many appear at once.
Last November, RM Sotheby’s sold a 1962 Ferrari 330LM/ 250GTO for an open-market marque record of $51.7M (£42.2M). It was an unusual event, just the third public auction of one of the 37 examples of the 250 GTO in the past 10 years, and it drew a great deal of media attention from motoring press and national news outlets alike. It seems that a select element of their readership – owners of the very top Ferraris – may have taken note.
First to show their hand was the owner of s/n 3527GT, a Series 1 250 GTO, who placed their car for sale with British dealer Tom Hartley Jnr just before Christmas, right around the same time as the Ferrari movie hit cinemas. Previously offered by Hartley Jnr four years ago when reportedly owned by philanthropist Irvine Laidlaw, and more recently entered in various top US concours events by Dr Rick Workman, the car is recorded as retaining matching numbers.
At Mecum’s season-opening auction extravaganza in Kissimmee, Florida, two of Workman’s other cars crossed the block: a 1963 Ferrari 250 California Spider selling for $17.85M (£14M), well in excess of the top Hagerty Price Guide value, and 1967 275 GTS/4 NART Spider that bid up to $23.5M and was reportedly sold in a post-auction deal. A third eight-figure Ferrari, a 275 GTB ‘Le Mans Speciale’ bid to $23M but failed to sell.
Next, Sotheby’s announced a 250 Testa Rossa, the pontoon-fendered 0738TR, which would be sold through its Sotheby’s Sealed auction process in late February. Not to be outdone, Gooding & Company announced on 26th January that it had brokered the sale of another Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, the extremely original 0704TR ex-Scuderia Ferrari works car that was driven in period by some of the biggest names in motor racing, including Phil Hill, Peter Collins, and Mike Hawthorn. The sale price wasn’t announced, but the car ticks all the boxes that point toward Hagerty’s top ‘concours’ price of $46M.
Then came Rétromobile Paris. Rumours indicated there would be some special cars at the show this year, and visitors were not disappointed. Girardo & Co unveiled 250 GTO s/n 4675GT on its stand, one of an extraordinary group of nine cars. Previously owned by British DJ Chris Evans, the car has not been displayed in public since it was shown at Ville d’Este in 2014. Later that day, the ex-Roy Salvadori/ Graham Hill/ Jack Sears 250 GTO, s/n 3729GT, was unveiled by Simon Kidston on his stand. Kidston had previously displayed the car last autumn at the Hampton Court Concours of Elegance.
Three 250 GTOs for sale simultaneously through British dealers is extraordinary, but it doesn’t end there. At the Paris auctions, the tale continued with RM Sotheby’s offering a 1966 275 GTB/6C a lloy long-nose and a 1960 250 GT SWB, while Artcurial had another 275 GTB and a 1958 long-wheelbase California Spider, plus a 250 Pininfarina and a 250 Lusso. Meanwhile, the Classic Motor Hub announced the sale of 250 SWB s/n 2177GT, a steel-bodied Competizione car.
That’s a heck of a lot of big Ferraris for sale at the same time and, other than the Mecum cars, they’re all on the European side of the Atlantic. Sure, the auctions of The Amelia are shaping up to adjust that balance in March, but this still doesn’t reflect the US powerhouse that usually drives the top of the market. So, what’s going on?
Firstly, public auction sales, while strong, aren’t in the realms of the unheard-of. Although we've seen the highest number of elite Ferraris offered in the months of January and February since 2017, there have been two other years when the number was higher (2014 and 2015). Then, as Hagerty recently reported, growth of the Scottsdale auctions, once the winter yin to Monterey’s summer yang, has changed direction recently, with six of the top 10 cars sold there this year built since 2005, and Kissimmee and The Amelia may be attracting the older Ferraris.
What makes 2024 unusual are the number of top Ferraris being sold publicly by dealers. These are the sorts of cars that tend to change hands out of the glare of publicity, but this year it seems sellers are happy to show their hand. Previous strong public results may be a motivation behind this trend, according to Max Girardo. ‘Good prices achieved for other top cars can suggest it’s a good time to sell,’ he told me. ‘Many top cars are selling well, especially those that have competition history but are able to be driven on the road.’ Other dealers suggest that the age of the current owners may be a factor. ‘Many of these cars have been owned for a long time,’ Martin Chisholm of the Classic Motor Hub told me. ‘They have had their fun in them and have driven the cars; they may consider it a good time to sell now and pass them on to the next generation who can enjoy them.'
Fundamentally, though, it probably comes down to where a seller is most likely to receive the best return, and what the top dealers do very well is publicity. Look at the fanfare surrounding the unveiling of the 250 GTOs on both the Girardo and Kidston stands at Rétromobile and the extraordinary social media buzz they created, reaching tens of thousands of followers and prompting discussions on WhatsApp groups and forums. That buzz builds confidence, which in turn attracts other sellers of similar cars, and that allows the dealers to be selective. Such freedom enables them to push the deals harder, gaining higher prices… and the circle continues.
So, what of the outlook? Old rivals Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Bugatti (especially with more modern cars) make up a European trio where values of the very best models seem to be immune to the financial worries of the rest of the world. This strong start to the year suggests more is to come. Will another Ferrari sell for over $50M on the open market this year? I wouldn’t be surprised.