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AUCTION MANIA IN MONTEREY

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Published on Mon, Sep 18, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

AUCTION MANIA IN MONTEREY

By Rory Jurnecka

One Weekend in Monterey

For one weekend each August, the scenic Monterey Peninsula in Northern California transforms into a Mecca for car enthusiasts. Over the course of three days, the ratio of exotic to "normal" cars seems to be at least even, and one becomes almost desensitized to the remarkable machinery that rolls through the town's streets. A Lamborghini Murcielago parked outside any of the area's fine restaurants becomes "just another Lamborghini" and the more common Porsches, Mercedes, and BMWs simply disappear into the background. Even the Bugatti Veyron that almost runs me over while I'm crossing the street doesn't quite faze me, having seen two other examples the previous day. This is no ordinary automotive experience.

During the Monterey weekend, there are more activities than a visitor could ever possibly hope to attend. Between the Monterey Historic Races at Laguna Seca Raceway, the Concorso Italiano at Black Horse Golf Course, The Quail, a Ferrari-only concours at Quail Lodge, and the Concours 'd Elegance at Pebble Beach, widely regarded to be among the finest concours in the world, it can become difficult to decide which events to attend and which to skip.

And then there are the auctions. Let me suggest that a prospective visitor make a point of attending at least one auction per evening while in Monterey (and I do place emphasis on at least). This year, I decide to attend two auctions Friday and Saturday night and one more on Sunday. Since the Russo and Steel auction and RM auction (both held Friday and Saturday) are located only a block away from each other, I notice that many other auction-goers are doing the same, making for a very busy crosswalk on the street between the two events.

A Bit of Vegas in Monterey

The Russo and Steele auction, hosted at the local Marriot Hotel, is a relative newcomer to Monterey. Now in their sixth year, the event has blossomed into one of the most exciting auctions to attend. In stark contrast to every other auction during the weekend, Russo and Steele is an event which combines amazing cars with a party atmosphere. Disco balls and multi-colored spotlights highlight the crowd and the cars while the auction room itself is one of the smallest I've seen. The cars to be auctioned off are driven down the middle of the room with crowds gathered on either side. The auctioneers are loud and quick with a witty comment, while viewers cluster close to the action, beer in hand, ready to place a winning bid at a moment's notice. Had this been held at the MGM Grand, it wouldn't have been the least bit out of place.

Also unique to Russo and Steele is the large monitor placed outside the Marriot near the street so that the public can view the proceedings without charge. The cars too, are lined up on the street outside the venue prior to crossing the block, completely within public access.

Russo and Steele seems to place an emphasis on American Muscle with numerous vintage Mustangs, Thunderbirds, Camaros, Corvettes, and hot rods crossing the block. But to their credit, the American Muscle market is hot, hot, hot. A 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang sells for $308,000 including buyer's premium, while the same price finds a 1967 Corvette 427/435 Roadster a new owner. The most expensive car to sell is a 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 that is one of the original 22 factory competition models. Russo and Steele is able to secure a high bid of $643,500 for the vintage racer.

One of the stars of the show is the 1989 Walkey LSR Streamliner. The Walkey is a 316 mph land-speed record car that has been campaigned in numerous events in both the USA and Australia. Prominently displayed on the sidewalk outside the venue, the record-breaking car sold for $38,500.

The Wealthy Exercise Their Checkbooks

Meanwhile, across the street at the Portola Plaza Hotel, the RM auction conducts its sale with a distinctly different style. For starters, the venue is much, much larger. Three Russo and Steele events could fit inside one RM auction room. The British auctioneer rather than barking at a raucous crowd, instead calmly urges potential buyers to try "just one more bid" to put that dream car in their garage. The witty comments are, thankfully, still present.

The RM seems to be the refined older brother to Russo and Steele and basks in its exclusivity. Before being auctioned, cars are kept in the nearby plaza, fenced off from the public. Only registered bidders and paying spectators are allowed a close-up view. The auction block is elevated from the floor at the front of the room and most bidders remain seated during the sale. The crowd too is different, with the rich and beautiful sipping martinis and single-malt scotches while perusing the next-door exhibition room where fine jewelry, watches, and exotic cars are displayed for private sale.

Classic European cars are the main draw here, with such some newer machinery as well. A 2004 Maserati MC12 supercar sells at $1,072,500 including buyer's premium, a 1929 Bentley Speed Six Dual Cowl Tourer brings $1,815,000, and a 1994 McLaren F1 goes to a new home at $1,705,000. Hopefully the buyers of such exotic machinery have driving skills as well endowed as their bank accounts. The star of the RM sale, a 1958 Ferrari 412 S Sports Racer with logbooks full of racing history with some of the most famous period drivers, sells for $5,610,000. The RM auction is often where the highest sales of the weekend are located. Simply put, if you like watching the ultra-rich spend some of their hard-earned cash, this is a great auction to attend.

One Last Hurrah at Pebble Beach

The Gooding and Co. auction house has a monopoly on Sunday night sales action. They are the only auction in town and have a strategic location adjacent to the Pebble Beach Concours 'd Elegance. As the concours crowd begins filing off the majestic Pebble Beach golf course, they cross the street and begin filling up the enormous tent housing the evening's auction. Albeit, not before passing through a throng of strategically positioned vendor's booths.

The theme of elegance is continued in the auction tent with most of the crowd wearing the designer clothing they attended the concours with. Although the tent is set up over the Pebble Beach equestrian grounds, every effort is made to make the venue look just-so. A bar is placed on a makeshift outdoor patio area, which is located right next to the staging ground for the cars entering the tent. It is a fantastic spectator area, and a chance to see the cars a bit closer before they cross the block.

Even the portable toilet area is elegant. Enclosed in a nearby trailer which is not so appealing from the outside, the interior is lined with hardwood floors and wood-paneled walls. As one attendee commented while washing his hands, "Boy, this is a nice porta-john!"

Offerings at Gooding and Co. are eclectic. 1930's Delahayes are auctioned in sequence with American hot rods, Ferraris, classic Porsches, and even a brand-new 2006 Fisker Tramonto. The Fisker sale begins with enthusiasm, as all revenue above the reserve price is to benefit charity. Unfortunately, the reserve is not met.

Many cars do meet reserve however, including a 1971 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Coupe "Hot Rod" at $341,000 including buyer's premium. The Daytona is a one-off built for Bill Harrah, of Harrah casino fame. As the story goes, Harrah was unhappy with his new Ferrari 365 Berlinetta Boxer as there was nowhere to stash his briefcase. When he complained to Enzo Ferrari, Ferrari built up a special Daytona that had been lingering at the factory. The car came with a "hot-rodded" engine, as well as suspension, wheel, and bodywork enhancements to appease Harrah. The car became Harrah's daily driver as he shuttled between business meetings, his casino, and his home on a regular basis. The car still retains its original license plate with a single "H" on it.

Also sold is a 1914 Stutz Bearcat racer at $715,000 and a 1958 Ferrari 250 GT LWB "Tour de France" at $1,540,00. By the auction's end on the last night of the Monterey weekend, the crowd is visibly worn out from a three-day car extravaganza.

And so another Monterey weekend comes to a close. With a combined total of over $70,000,000 in sales brought in by the three auction houses over a course of three days, the market is hotter than it has been in years. And already, the planning for August, 2007 is underway.

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