The 1920s and 1930s represent a period of huge leaps forward in automotive design, sophistication, and performance. That said, cars from this era can be a bit of an acquired taste for enthusiasts and collectors alike. Given the dramatically different visual appeal from Postwar cars, their often-unique driving experience, and intensive maintenance regimens, these are connoisseur’s cars—ones gawked over and carefully preserved by those dedicated to the period. As a result, it makes sense that such automobiles tend to do well at the curated auctions in Amelia Island each year. And if you fancy yourself a connoisseur, there’s plenty to peruse at this year’s sales. Duesenbergs, Auburns, Cords and Stutzes are all on offer, but if your tastes are little more, say, European, here’s what we’ll be watching.
Estimate: $1,500,000 – $2,000,000
With a lightweight chassis powered by a double-overhead cam six-cylinder engine featuring hemispherical combustion chambers and a Roots-type supercharger, Alfa’s 6C 1750 was one of the top sports cars to beat on European race tracks in the early 1930s. Though it is often seen with Zagato or Touring bodywork, it wore a wide variety of designers. This is the first of about 30 examples clothed by Giuseppe Figoni of later Figoni et Falaschi fame.
It was reportedly delivered to France and featured in a period Figoni ad, described as a “Phaeton Sport.” Its first owner “may have been” famous racing driver Pierre-Louis Dreyfus, and it was restored in the 2010s.
Estimate: $800,000 – $1,000,000
Developed by Ferdinand Porsche, the supercharged overhead cam six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz 630K is a rare car in any configuration, with just 267 chassis built between 1926-32. Only a handful, though, got this funky coachwork by Jacques Saoutchik. His “La Baule” Torpedo body features a three-position top that can be set open, closed, or with just the driver’s area out for formal use. After being delivered in America, this La Baule Torpedo found its way to the fleet of Pacific Auto Rentals, which supplied prop cars to countless Hollywood films. The Mercedes appeared in the 1943 spy film Above Suspicion. Since its time on the silver screen, it has been in museum collections and wears a 1980s restoration.
Estimate: $2,000,000 – $2,400,000
Although Tipo Bocca roughly translates to “mouth type” and seems to imply some huge round radiator grille, this lovely Lancia is named for the people who commissioned it, the Bocca brothers. Lancia dealers, they convinced Vincenzo Lancia to agree to a small batch of coachbuilt cars on the Astura chassis with its sophisticated overhead cam V-8. The Boccas chose Pinin Farina to do the work, and about half a dozen were built.
After showing off at the 1936 London Motor Show, it fell into disrepair but was eventually restored, bought by Eric Clapton, and wound up back in Pininfarina’s ownership. It won Best in Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2016, which is the most prestigious of awards in this hobby, but it’s not the kind of thing a car wins twice, so we’re curious to see how that impacts the price.
Estimate: $1,100,000 – $1,400,000
This Bugatti Type 57C (C for Compresseur, or “supercharged”) started out as a four-door saloon car, but by the 1960s it had gone into the stable of a reclusive collector who also happened to have a one-of-a-kind body by Vanvooren. This unique body, fitted to another Type 57 chassis, was ordered by Prince Louis Napoléon (not a real prince but a Belgian-born pretender to the Imperial throne of France) using his alias.
In its current form, the car was restored in the 2000s in black and Aubergine over ostrich leather, and in 2012 was featured in ads for the Ralph Lauren Purple Label Fall collection.
Estimate: $500,000 – $700,000
One of the first cars designed with aerodynamics in mind, the Tatra T77 was shaped with input from Czech engineer Paul Jaray, who also designed Zeppelins. See the resemblance? The T77 is so slippery that it can hit 90 mph even though its rear-mounted air-cooled V8 puts down only 60 horsepower.
The T77’s design went on to influence later Tatras (not to mention Ferdinand Porsche and Volkswagen) but just 106 examples were built. Like a lot of Eastern Bloc cars, many Czech Tatras were caught up in World War II and its aftermath, so there aren’t many left—according to RM Sotheby’s, only five restored and drivable T77s remain. This one has to be the best, with a restoration that finished up in 2022 at a reported cost of over $1M. And yet, the low estimate is half that. But, hey, most of us don’t get into this hobby to make money, do we?
Estimate: $500,000 – $600,000
Americans mostly know Vauxhall (if they know it at all) as General Motors’ British brand until 2017. Before the General came in in 1925, however, Vauxhall was known for sports cars like this 30-98. Now, 30-98 may be neither a household name nor a particularly sexy moniker, but it was the first sports car to break 100 mph. That’s a pretty big deal.
Launched right before World War I, it was built all the way up until 1927 and the best-known configuration is the “Velox,” a low-slung, four-seat open tourer. The ultimate configuration is the Velox body with the longer-wheelbase, wider-track OE-type chassis, which Vauxhall introduced in 1922 along with an engine that sported overhead valves and a detachable cylinder head. This example has all that, as well as documented history going back to its original owner, a woman named Amy Walker, who used it on a tour of Europe. It was restored in the 1960s and gifted to retiring GM engineer Charles Chayne, then restored again in 2018. It also retains its original engine and coachwork, which is desirable stuff for a prewar sports car.
Estimate: $10,000,000 – $12,000,000
One of just two Type 57S chassis bodied by British coachbuilder Vanden Plas (not to be confused with Van den Plas, its distantly related Belgian cousin), this Bugatti led quite a life, racing in New York, wowing onlookers at the London Motor Show, and beating Jaguars on track in Trinidad before a restoration in the 1980s. It was still wearing that old restoration when it sold in Amelia back in 2016 for $9.735M. It has been painstakingly restored since, putting it back to its original 1936 appearance with all correct hardware and paint. That can’t have been cheap, so it will be interesting to see if the seller will make their money back.