RM Sotheby's Villa Erba: Record-breaking auction

  • 01 June 2023
  • 3 min read
  • 9 images
RM Sotheby's Villa Erba: Record-breaking auction image

Photo credit: RM Sotheby’s

It’s difficult to define the sale of Villa Erba with just one word.

First of all, the impressive numbers, which in this case are truly remarkable: only 55 cars offered and 47 sold (85.45%). But as we know, RM is a force that annihilates its competitors: €66,385,000 in pre-sale estimates, equivalent to over €1.2 million per vehicle, and a final turnover of €54,178,100 (an average of €1,152,726 per sale).

The best result ever for the Villa Erba sale and likely among the top 10 European auctions of all time.

In light of this, let’s see if there were any mosquitoes in a room filled with fresh air.

Discussing this sale without commencing with the Ferrari 312 PB would be unthinkable: officially entered by the Scuderia, it clinched victory at the 1,000 KM of Buenos Aires and the 1,000 KM of Nürburgring with Ronnie Peterson and Tim Schenken at the wheel, while securing second and third positions at the 1,000 KM of Monza. The significant points amassed were instrumental in Ferrari’s triumph in the 1972 World Sport Prototype Championship. Just three years later, it changed hands and promptly made an appearance at the Monterey Speed Week. Essentially, it transitioned from being super competitive to a top-tier historic car without wasting any time. After passing through the hands of several distinguished collectors, it arrived at auction with an estimated value of €14m-€18m, a price tag that was more than justified. However, Villa Erba is not Le Mans, and for the first time, the 312 P faltered, selling €2 million below its minimum estimate, at €12,042,500.

1 1972 Ferrari 312 PB sold for €12,042,500 ($12,920,000)

However, my attention was focused on the 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB Berlinetta, the road version, not the competition aluminium model. Suitable for both track and concours events, it fulfils the desires of many collectors for various purposes. Paradoxically, it was highly intriguing precisely because it lacked anything exceptional, yet everything was where it should be. Certified by Ferrari Classiche in 2008, although its documentation had been lost and required a new inspection, it was estimated at €7.5m-€8.5m, an indefinable value as no SWB had appeared at auctions for the past four years. Like the entire Aurora collection, it was offered without a reserve, and the winning bid came in at €6,586,250.

2 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta sold for €6,586,250 ($7,055,750)

Things went far better for a Jaguar XK120 Roadster with an illustrious past. The first owner was the renowned actor Clark Gable, who famously starred in “Gone with the Wind” in 1939. After passing through another ownership, the car eventually ended up in the seller’s family in 1982. Then, in 2011, they embarked on a meticulous restoration project, culminating in 2016 with its participation in the prestigious Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance event. Now, let’s do some calculations: a standard XK120 typically fetches around €110,000-120,000, but the “Clark Gable factor” commands a remarkable 150% increase over the normal value—although still lower than Steve McQueen, given his prominence in the ‘40s. My estimation fell within the range of €275,000-€300,000. However, RM had a more optimistic estimate of €350,000-€500,000. So, who was right? The final price was €387,500—congratulations! Can I say it? It truly went “with the wind”…

3 1952 Jaguar XK120 Roadster ex-Clark Gable sold for €387,500 ($415,125)

I was also highly interested in following two thematic collections. The first was dedicated to the Testarossa and all its derivatives, all of them in black, while the other focused on the BMW M3/M4 with the rarest specifications: from a Sport Evolution (E30 series) to a recent M4 CSL. Now, I won’t go into describing each individual car, but out of the ten – equally divided between 5 prancing horses and 5 Bavarians – only one exceeded the maximum estimate, which was slightly disappointing. Considering the notably reasonable estimates and the hype surrounding these models, I was expecting fireworks. We’ll try to understand the reasons behind it.

4 1977 Lamborghini Countach LP400 "Periscopio" ex-Rod Stewart sold for €989,375 ($1,059,900)

Let’s move on to another preview that we had mentioned prior to the sale. The 1977 Lamborghini Countach LP400, formerly owned by Rod Stewart. A quick recap: originally a right-hand drive model, it was converted to left-hand drive and was purchased in 2021 for €775,625. It then underwent a restoration at the Lamborghini Polo Storico, costing €60,500 (which suggests that the work carried out was relatively minor). Because the restoration was not yet complete, it missed out on the Paris sale. However, this time it entered the auction with the same estimated value of €950,000-€1,050,000. It was sold for €989,375, deducting the €775,625 purchase price and the €60,500 spent at Lamborghini…

5 1973 BMW 3.0 CSL "Batmobile" sold for €286,250 ($306,650)

No more mosquitoes, let’s see the rest!

In chronological order, the first car that exceeded its estimate was the 1973 BMW 3.0 CSL Batmobile. With only one owner until 2021, it underwent a restoration between 1992 and 1996, with more than a few “poetic licenses” taken: sporty Recaro seats, a mixed leather interior, a different gearbox, and various engine modifications. Despite these alterations, the estimate of €180,000-€240,000 seemed ambitious but not out of reach. However, the final price sent it into orbit: €286,250.

6 1997 Ferrari 550 Maranello sold for €286,250 ($306,650)

The model that captivated the room was the Ferrari 550 Maranello. There were two stunning examples in the Aurora collection. The first was a 1997 Maranello, with only one owner since new and a mere 3,263 km on the clock. But it was the colour combination that truly enticed me: Blu Pozzi with cognac interior. The other was a 2001 Barchetta, red with a black interior, also barely driven, with just 901 km under its belt. The Maranello came with an estimated value of €100,000-€150,000 and sold for €286,250, while the Barchetta was estimated at €250,000-€320,000 and, after a fierce bidding war, skyrocketed to €635,000. The owner and their nine children are still celebrating…

7 2001 Ferrari 550 Barchetta sold for €635,000 ($680,265)

After this crescendo, I would like to highlight a unique case: the Bentley Speed Six Le Mans Tourer, with a fascinating history. Originally crafted as a Weymann Saloon in 1930, it received a brand-new body by HJ Mulliner – a renowned name in the industry – and made its debut at the Olympia Motor Show. In 1995, it underwent a transformation and was reimagined in its current Vanden Plas-style configuration, offering enhanced usability – a decision that will prove its worth over time, much like the Batmobile. Purchased in 2016, the current owner attempted to sell it for the first time at Goodwood in July 2018. With an estimated value of £800,000-£1,000,000, however the offers peaked at £700,000, which the owner declined. Fast forward five years, and the Bentley arrived at Villa Erba with a revised estimate of €550,000-€900,000. However, the market had shifted, and the offers stagnated at €450,000, once again sent back to the sender. Now, it is listed for sale on the RM website at €575,000, with room for negotiation.

8 1930 Bentley Speed Six Le Mans Tourer in the style of Vanden Plas went unsold at €450,000 ($482,075)