The gilt dust of the Monterey auctions has settled, but not before the credit cleared on a wild $469 million worth of sales—a new record. The reason for big number is pretty simple: There was a higher quantity of high quality cars than we’ve seen here in a long time. Whereas in recent years the most significant and expensive models have traded hush-hush between private parties, all the talk of a hot market encouraged many sellers of the very best cars to test the auction waters. So, even though there wasn’t a single sale that smashed records, á la the Ferrari 250 GTO that sold here back in 2018, there was more than enough high-dollar metal here to blow by the total sales from that (or any) year.
It’s also notable that the upper echelon of the Monterey auctions did not consist of the modern exotics that have been driving appreciation of late. You can bet plenty of those were in attendance, and many sold for wild sums—we saw a record price for a Ferrari F40 and an F50 last week—but the biggest bucks of all went to prewar greats and older Ferraris. And eye-watering as some of these top sales are, they were in almost every case very close to what we expected.
In other words, for all of the incredible change we’ve seen in the collector car market in the past few years, the very top of it looks pretty much like it did before the pandemic. That’s probably a good thing, since high-dollar speculation on seven and eight-figure cars is the sort of behavior that could make the market crash and burn (see, Ferraris in the 1990s).
So, with this in mind, the top sales of the 2022 Monterey auction block tell us the very top of the market is still dominated by discerning (and, yes, very wealthy) enthusiasts who have been here before and will still be here whenever the latest market peak turns into a trough. Here are the top eight sales to demonstrate what we’re on about.
1955 Ferrari 410 Sport Spider — $22,005,000
Our first-round pick for the weekend king proved correct; the 1955 Ferrari 410 Sport Spider built for Juan Manuel Fangio and campaigned by Carroll Shelby roared across the block for a skosh over $22 million. Honestly, we would have been stunned if the title went to anything else in attendance. A big Ferrari opens checkbooks like nothing else on the market (save, ahem, for a certain Mercedes) and RM Sotheby’s 410 was no slouch.
Why not more than “just” $22 million? A lack of significant racing pedigree probably explains it. Mind you, “significant” is relative only to other eight-figure Ferraris. Any Ferrari 410 Sport Spider—of which there were four made—is considered a noteworthy F-Car by merit of its very existence and intention. Yet the 410 S family was only ever entered in one race as a works effort, with the rest of the numerous wins and podium finishes racked up under privateer banners. No crowning Le Mans victory, Sebring sweep, or Targa Florio triumph burnishes the 410 S.
It’s a moment in time from Ferrari’s storied race ledger, but it’s not much more than a desperately pretty shape carrying a big-ass V-12 from a historical perspective. But, that’s just history—from a modern view, this was a $22 million ticket to just about any historical race, tour, or concours on the planet.
1937 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante Coupe — $10,345,000
At less than half the 410 S’s sale price, Gooding’s Bugatti Type 57S Atalante is a distant second. That doesn’t make this Bug any less significant within its niche. This is one of just 17 Type 57Ses done-up in the stunning Atalante bodywork, with two destroyed and only nine examples circulating outside of the immutable Musée National de L’Automobile collection.
This particular example has a numbers-matching chassis, coachwork, and drivetrain, not to mention this is one of just two such cars fitted with a supercharger straight from the Molsheim factory. There are a few Bugattis bigger than this, but just a few, and we haven’t seen them at auction recently. Indeed, the car’s very presence here attests to the confidence sellers and auction companies feel at the moment.
1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster by Sindelfingen — $9,905,000
Of the twelve Mercedes-Benz 500K and 540Ks offered on the peninsula this year, it was RM Sotheby’s 1937 540K Special Roadster that stood above the other Mercs to claim the third spot on the power list.
We reckon its status as one of just three surviving longtail “Special” roadsters coaxed much of that price out of bidders. Amongst prewar Mercedes cognoscenti, this is a known and cherished car; delivered new to the then king of Afghanistan, the car has “seldom” been spotted in public since 1990, having passed through a number of significant prewar collections until the previous owner offered it up for sale.
500Ks and the later 540Ks are the consummate blue-chip classic car; the strength of this sale cements the continued demand for some of the most significant classic cars in existence, even as we arrive at the point where few of the people who originally lusted after them are still with us.
1924 Hispano-Suiza H6C Tulipwood Torpedo by Nieuport Astra — $9,245,000
This one was kind of a sleeper hit. The Tulipwood Torpedo is one of the most magnificent and recognizable grand classic cars of the prewar era, thanks in every part to stunning lacquered mahogany coachwork that has the power to paralyze from 50 feet.
It’s the subject of numerous photographs, models, posters, articles, books, and dreams. First commissioned by a sportsman and aperitif heir with mechanicals from Hispano-Suiza and coachwork from aeronautics company Nieuport-Astra, this is one of the most well-documented cars of the marque and one of the best ways to attract attention, well, anywhere. $9.3 million seems a bit low.
1957 Ferrari 500 TRC Spider — $7,815,000
We’re surprised the second Ferrari on this list comes in at a relatively low fifth spot on this list. Also surprising is that it was this Ferrari, a four-cylinder 1957 500 TRC. Yet it hustled past several twelve-cylinder brethren last week. Strong race provenance and a well-documented motorsports history is our best guess for this strong sale: This svelte stunner packs a showing at Le Mans, two SCCA championships, and 18 podium finishes in its journal.
1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Coupe — $7,595,000
This Ferrari 275 GTB/C held our attention long before it crossed RM Sotheby’s block. Simply put, it was one of the cooler Ferraris here, one of just 12 GTB/Cs built for privateer racing. Scaglietti approximated the standard 275 shape in hyper-thin riveted aluminum, a 331-pound reduction over the standard car that complemented a suite of big brakes, upgraded suspension, and a 250-LM-spec engine.
The last 275 GTB/C coupe we saw cross a public sale changed hands for $14 million, and we surmised earlier this never-raced example would have trouble matching its extensively raced counterpart. Even the impeccable condition wasn’t enough to make up the difference. We’re left unsure as to who got the better end of the checkbook, but we can say for sure that the buyer got a very neat car. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?