Auctions

Market Watch: 1962-1964 Ferrari 250 GTO

The Ferrari 250 GTO might well become the first $100 million collector car

By now you have probably heard the news: A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction in August for $48,405,000—a world-record price for a car sold at any auction. Why would anyone spend the better part of $50 million on a car? The short answer is because they can. The long answer is more complicated.

The End of an Era

If you read Automobile, you are likely at least aware of the rarefied air the 250 GTO inhales through its six downdraft Weber carburetors. Across the last decade, the car, with its distinguished aluminum bodywork and a 3.0-liter Colombo V-12 engine, has continued to establish itself as perhaps the premier collectible postwar classic car. Ferrari built just 33 Series I 250 GTOs with the original and more traditional early bodywork, in addition to three more Series II cars with revised sheetmetal for total production of just 36 cars.

Superstar Car: All eyes (and cell phone cameras) were glued to the front of the room as this 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO became the most expensive car to ever sell at auction.

The 250 GTO’s legacy is the stuff of legend. Essentially the last of the true dual-purpose road racers, able to compete on a track and drive home afterward, the 250 GTO (250cc of displacement per cylinder, and Gran Turismo Omologato designating its competition-homologated status) was the ultimate evolution of Ferrari’s front-engine 250 GT series. These 250 GT cars were sold in both road and race spec, but their basic engines and chassis were very similar, and the series really put Ferrari on the map as a credible production carmaker. Today Ferrari as a marque is often said to be the most recognized worldwide.

“You’ve got a roadgoing race car that won many of the big events in Europe and the United States in its day, and it was a romantic time in racing—we loved all the drivers,”

But make no mistake, the 250 GTO, in contrast to the brand’s 250 GT/L or Lusso road car, was made for a single purpose: to contest and win the 1962 FIA GT 3.0-liter international racing class. Which it accomplished. And then it did so again in 1963, besting competition from Jaguar’s new E-type Lightweight and Shelby’s AC-based and Ford-powered Cobra. Its successor, the mid-engine 250 LM, began a motorsports era in which serious race cars drifted ever further away from any premise of road use.

Our subject car was given new Series 2 sheetmetal in 1964.

“You’ve got a roadgoing race car that won many of the big events in Europe and the United States in its day, and it was a romantic time in racing—we loved all the drivers,” says Wayne Carini, owner of classic car dealership F40 Motorsports and host of Motor Trend Network’s “Chasing Classic Cars.” “Until recently, not many GTOs have been sold at auction; they’ve all been traded very privately.”

Like MacNeil’s GTO, this one still has its original engine and gearbox and it was never crashed severely.

Southern California-based classic Ferrari specialist and broker Michael Sheehan adds, “The most prestigious [collector car] club is, of course, the GTO club, which buys access to rub shoulders with Lawrence Stroll, the McCaw brothers, Rob Walton, Nick Mason, Anthony Bamford, Charles Nearburg, Chip Connor, and the [rest] of the international super-rich who have their [GTO] owners’ meetings and literally jet from very private collection to very private collection to show whose is indeed bigger.”

A Recent High-Water Mark

One of those private sales occurred several months ago when a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO, chassis No. 4153 GT, entered the collection of American David MacNeil, founder of WeatherTech, a large automotive floormats business whose advertisements you’ll find in this very magazine. The sale price was widely reported as being upward of $70 million, a new world-record sales price for any automobile in any venue. As GTOs go, many experts deemed No. 4153 GT as one of the finest. It is believed to retain its original Series I bodywork and its original engine, rarities for cars that have raced extensively. Its history includes an overall win at the prestigious 1964 Tour de France road race and fourth overall at the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans. Its sale price was instrumental in our subject car arriving at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction.

“The GTO that sold for more than $70 million was a different body style but still the same thing: a GTO,” Carini says. “That prompted this owner [businessman and vintage racer Gregory Whitten] to come forward because of the price of the previous sale, and he thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s time to sell mine while the market’s hot.’ The gentleman certainly didn’t need the money, but it was a decision based on many things. He was at a point in his life when he thought he wasn’t using it properly and it was time to cash his chips in.”

And yes, we can verify MacNeil’s GTO wears WeatherTech floormats.

A New Auction Record

Our subject car, chassis No. 3413 GT, was originally a Series I car, built in 1962, then rebodied in 1964 with the more streamlined but less iconic Series II panels. Like MacNeil’s GTO, this one still has its original engine and gearbox, and it was never crashed severely. With its Series I bodywork, it was driven at the 1962 Targa Florio by Phil Hill, just after he became the first American Formula 1 World Champion in 1961 at the wheel of a Ferrari. It then changed hands and went on to win its class at the 1963 Targa Florio, and, with new bodywork, it did the same in ’64.

RM Sotheby’s estimated No. 3413 GT would sell for between $45 million and $50 million when it crossed the block in August; bidding opened at $35 million. Over the course of about 10 minutes, a handful of bidders, mainly on the phone, calmly raised the price by increments of $1 million, then $250,000, until the car was resolutely announced sold at $48,405,000 including RM Sotheby’s commission. The bid soundly beat the previous auction record of $38,115,000, also set by a 250 GTO, chassis No. 3851 GT at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge sale in 2014.

So did MacNeil overpay for his $70 million GTO?

“I think MacNeil’s car was probably one of the best ones,” Carini says, “and the difference between a good car and a superb car, as we’re seeing, is about $25 million.

“[This latest] car had been rebodied in the day; I really like the body, but a lot of guys have a vision of what a GTO should look like, and this wasn’t that vision,” Carini continues. “This is sort of a cross between a [mid-engine 250] LM and a front-engine Ferrari. I think that held it back slightly in value.”

It’s no surprise that at the values these cars command, GTO buyers are a picky bunch.

And the Crystal Ball Says …

Is a $100 million 250 GTO in the near future? The odds are favorable.

first $100 million car,” Carini says. “I remember when one sold [long ago] for $2.5 million, and that was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s crazy!’ And then $10 million, and it was, ‘Oh my god, these can never go any further!’ So we just keep going. There are a lot of wealthy people in the world, people who have been very successful, and they like to reward themselves with something nobody else can have. And with 36 GTOs having been made, your chances to buy one are slim.”

WeatherTech founder David MacNeil paid more than $70 million for this 250 GTO with its most desirable Series 1 bodywork.

Sheehan’s take is similarly bullish: “At the peak of the price-point pyramid, the rich just keep getting richer and so the minuscule market for the best-of-the-best eight-figure trophy car remains strong.”

The rich do indeed get richer, and so do their buying habits. Last year, a painting of Jesus holding a crystal orb, dubbed “Salvator Mundi” and believed to be painted by Leonardo da Vinci around 1505, brought in $450 million at a Christie’s auction in Manhattan. On such a scale, a 250 GTO that can be experienced through driving and racing versus being hung on a wall can seem to be a good value.

No End in Sight

Known 250 GTO sales since 2010

2010: 4675 GT, $17 million
*Private sale, reported price

2012: 4675 GT, $25 million
*Private sale, reported price

2012: 3505 GT, $35 million
*Private sale, reported price

2012: 5095 GT, $52 million
*Private sale, reported world record

2014: 3851 GT, $38.1 million
*Bonhams auction, world auction record

2017: 3387 GT, $56 million
*Private sale, reported world record

2018: 4153 GT, $70+ million
*Private sale, reported world record

2018: 3413 GT, $48.4 million
*RM Sotheby’s auction, world auction record

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