5 star cars we’re watching at the Arizona auctions

by Conner Golden
14 January 2022 6 min read
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Break out the sunblock, dry clean that blazer, and liquidate some assets—it’s gavel-banging season in Arizona! The Copper State’s annual week of sales—part of what we call the January Auctions, involving Mecum’s massive Kissimmee, Florida auction—returns for the new year. It’s an event that sees the biggest auction houses rolling out the finest four-wheeled wonders this side of the Monterey Peninsula. Well, it’s back in some way, at least; a caravan of high-value chrome is set to cross the various blocks—virtual or otherwise—but a shorter sale schedule and a comparably lower volume of lots compared to 2020 tamps our excitement a tad.

Still, we’re stoked for the stuff that will make the trip out to the high desert, and there are a few standout cars we’ve got our sale calendar earmarked for. They’re cars we’re keeping a close eye on because they’re significant to the market, because they so rarely come up for sale, or because they’re simply downright interesting. Let’s take a gander at Scottsdale’s stars.

RM Sotheby’s

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Aluminum Gullwing — RM Sotheby’s

There are Mercedes Gullwings, and then there are Mercedes Gullwings. As we enumerated in a more detailed spotlight of this Sindelfingen stunner, this ain’t your average B-tier hedge fund manager’s 300SL; after all, RM Sotheby’s pre-sale estimate falls within a range between $7- and $9-million compared to the roughly $1.4 million traded for garden-variety Gullwings. Much like a Rolex hewn from white gold, even moderately knowledgeable passersby will have trouble immediately identifying what commands all that extra cash, considering this is nearly visually identical to a “standard” 1955 300SL.

The secret is under that thick coat of iconic Silver Gray Metallic paint. Where the vast majority of regular production 300SLs carried steel body panels, this rare bird floats around with aluminum dressing, one of just 24 alloy cars produced during the 1955 model year. Aluminum was tricky to work with back in that era, and automakers usually only crafted alloy-bodied cars for the sake of competition; with some 209 pounds left on the garage floor, it was a natural predator for hot motorsports stuff from Ferrari, Maserati, and Aston Martin.

For extra icing on this potentially eight-figure pastry, this alloy 300SL rolls around with additional rare hardware, including sport suspension, high-speed 3.42 rear-axle, belly pans, and those cooler-than-cool Rudge knock-off wheels. (Y’know, just in case you were on the fence.)

This could be a record-setting sale. Seven years have gone by since collectors had a crack at an alloy 300SL on a public stage, and a cool decade since a completed sale that claimed $4.62 million. The market was quite a bit different in the early 2010s, and with the full force of 2022’s cash-drunk collectors hunting for new-to-market cars, this Gullwing could be the most expensive road-going postwar Mercedes-Benz ever sold at auction.

And hey, if you fall a few mil short, RM Sotheby’s is bringing both a steel coupe and a steel roadster to Scottsdale. Enjoy your worse, heavier blue-chip automotive icon, peasant.

Barrett-Jackson

Burt Reynolds’ 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am — Barrett-Jackson

And now for something completely different. In a complete change of pace from that hoity-toity, concours-baiting mid-century Mercedes, we’ve also got our bidding binoculars pegged on Barrett-Jackson’s 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am SE. Yes, another Trans-Am owned by the late, great Burt Reynolds is up for grabs; it’s one of a handful we’ve seen come to market in the years since his starring role in Smokey and the Bandit.

Star cars (and motorcycles) are hardly a rare find on Barrett-Jackson’s stage, and we’ll be watching other celebrity and movie cars up for grabs in Scottsdale this year, including several cars used in the Fast & Furious franchise and Dean Martin’s Rolls-Royce. But this Pontiac packs considerable star—and likely bidding—power. None of the Trans-Ams used in the film ever escaped the movie lot, as they were all crushed following the completion of the movie for liability reasons. Of course, Reynolds drove a Trans-Am around during the promotion of the film, and was later gifted this 1977 example for his work.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a rather long list of ex-Reynolds Pontiacs from which to draw comparisons. His 1979 Firebird movie replica hammered for $317,000 back in 2019, preceded in 2018 by $192,500 paid for his 1978 Trans-Am “Bandit” replica. Back in 2016, a 1977 Trans-Am used as official promotion for the film commanded a stunning $550,000 at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale—and as far as we can tell, that car wasn’t even owned by Reynolds himself.

Even after watching all previous Reynolds’ Pontiacs go for big bucks, this one has us curious as to how high the winning bid will spin. This is one of the only “correct” 1977 Trans-Ams owned by Reynolds, matching the model year of the film’s star car; furthermore, the cachet presented by the half-million Trans-Am sold in 2016 is here in spades, considering this car was also used for promotional purposes before being transferred to the actor. He didn’t sell it for a quick buck, either—the car remained in his garage all the way through 2014 when he sold it at an auction of various memorabilia from throughout his career. Don’t feel too bad at Reynolds missing out on this white-hot market—at the time, he netted $500,000 for this promotional Trans-Am.

For many Smokey and the Bandit aficionados—of which we’re sure there still are quite a few left—this is likely as good as it gets. We’ll make sure to crack a cold Coors as the car rolls onto the stage.

RM Sotheby’s

A Pair of Apollo GTs — Bonhams and RM Sotheby’s

One Apollo GT on the bidding table is an uncommon sight, but two in one week? We can’t wait. As far as we can tell, collectors haven’t had a crack at multiple Apollos since Worldwide Auctioneer’s trio of cars in 2019.

Never heard of Apollo? Well, the American start-up only managed 88 cars before the workshop doors shut for good, so we’re not surprised your local cruise-in isn’t peppered with these ultra-handsome GTs. That’s not for a lack of effort from founders Milt Brown and Ned Davis, however; the two intrepid enthusiasts envisioned their new Apollo as the perfect homegrown alternative to overseas exotica, working with Art Center of Design graduate Ron Plescia to design the sumptuous shape and Intermeccanica founder Frank Reisner to produce it. With refinements from design legend Franco Scaglione, the profile of the Apollo is an excellent approximation of a Jaguar E-Type Coupe and Ferrari 275 GTB combined by nuclear fusion.

Apollo 5000 GT front three-quarter
Bonhams

Hardly a bad thing. What might have looked derivative in its time now looks downright stunning. All this hand-formed steel sat upon a chassis of Brown’s own design, with power coming from a dead-reliable Buick V-8. Contemporary reviews were positive, but production never entered full swing, with only 88 cars produced under various nameplates and through various sources before the supply of the extant Apollo bodies dried up.

Of the two up for grabs in Scottsdale, Bonhams’ green 5000GT likely has a shot at the heaviest sack of gold. It’s one of the few Apollos fitted with the upsized 5.0-liter (300 cubic inches) Buick V-8, and is backed by a four-speed manual transmission. RM Sotheby’s gorgeous dark blue 3500GT is no less stunning, but its 3.5-liter Buick V-8 is less potent, as is its ultra-rare two-speed automatic transmission.

Bonhams estimates its 5000GT at a high estimate of $225,000, while RM Sotheby’s 3500GT carries a high estimate of $165,000. We’ll take both, please.

Mike Maez | Gooding & Company

1961 Maserati 5000 GT — Gooding & Company

Gooding & Co.’s 1961 Maserati 5000GT and RM Sotheby’s alloy Mercedes-Benz 300SL are two sides of the same rare-ass coin. For marque-focused collectors, each could rightfully serve as the crown jewel of a collection; Maserati handcrafted just 34 5000GTs, with a not-insignificant portion purchased by royalty, celebrities, and titans of industry.

Depending on who you ask, the 5000GT is Maserati’s most significant road car, and that’s not due to some mega-exotic technology or some competition-crushing race history. The formula behind the 5000GT is quite familiar; big engine, small(ish) car. In the late 1950s, the Shah of Iran commissioned Maserati to cram an upsized, roadworthy version of its new race-spec, quad-cam 4.5-liter V-8 from the 450S race prototype into the existing production 3500GT’s engine bay. Carrozzeria Touring provided sleek, streamlined jet-age styling for the modified chassis, immediately shipping the finished car to the Shah before whipping up a second 5000GT for promotion and display at the 1959 Turin Motor Show.

Gooding’s 5000GT is one of just three 5000GTs bodied by Carrozzeria Touring between 1959 and 1966. It cycled through a series of private owners since the 1970s, this month being the first time it’s appeared at public auction. As we’ve previously outlined, new-to-market cars often carry a premium over those that semi-regularly trade hands, so predicting the value of this special Maserati is a bit of a toss-up.

Gooding bills the high estimate at $900,000; this might seem a smidge conservative given the rare Touring bodywork, but the car is presented in “partially restored” condition, suggesting the new owner might have to dish out a hefty lump sum to bring this to a concours-ready state.

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