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Divine Machinery

Though prices on Ferraris and Alfa Romeos can race into the millions, collectors can find classic cars starting at $20,000
Judd Tully
From the Print Edition:
Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00

Start your engines!

That familiar refrain from racing lore may set some hearts racing. For others it's the auctioneer's crisp phrasing of "Sold!" as a vintage racing machine from the 1930s or a classic luxury car from the '50s finds a new owner.  

This August 19 at Quail Lodge, the posh golf resort in Carmel, California, auctioneers Brooks USA will offer a stunning array of high-end motor cars, some race-proven and others never intended to exceed the local speed limit. It caps a motor car enthusiast's dream weekend on the Monterey Peninsula that also includes a Concorso Italiano--a show-car exhibition and competition for Italian-bred cars.  

For Brooks USA specialist Mark Osborne, race cars are in his blood, as his father was an amateur racing driver in Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  

"My interest in cars stems from when I was going with my father to the Grand Prix races in Britain and Germany," he says. The younger Osborne will make his U.S. debut as an amateur racer at the Zupan's Historic Races at Portland (Oregon) International Raceway on July 7 and 8, driving his 1965 Alfa Romeo Sprint GT.  

Osborne's high-speed hobby dovetails nicely with the current driver-dominated market, one markedly different from the mostly bygone days of collectors buying vintage cars and simply garaging them as a kind of mothballed fleet to gloat over in private. Today's buyers often rally and even race their cars in specialty events tailored to their vintage machines in the United States and abroad. The events typically take place over several days and include first-rate lodging and dining.  

One such event is the Monterey Historic Automobile Races at the Laguna Seca Raceway, taking place the weekend of August 19.   Passion for motor sports in general, or a long-harbored obsession for a particular marque, are what drive this super-charged market. A 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 Berlinetta and a 1959 Mercedes-Benz 300d Four-Door Cabriolet, for example, sold in Geneva at Brooks Europe on March 6 for $240,608 and $144,545, respectively--serious money in almost any collecting field. (All prices in European auctions are converted from the local currency to dollars.) Last year the 11-year- old Brooks Group had $54.7 million in overall collectible car sales.  

The top car offered at Quail Lodge this season is a meticulously documented 1936 Supercharged 2.9-liter Alfa Romeo 8C-2900A Sports Racing car from the famed Scuderia Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari's racing team (est. $3.5 million-$4.5 million). The machine won the rugged 1936 San Paulo Grand Prix, driven by Scuderia Ferrari racer Carlo Pintacuda. "The pre-war Alfa Romeos are certainly some of the most sought-after sports racing cars you can buy, and they're at the top of a collector's hit list, if you like," says Osborne.  

(At rival Christie's Pebble Beach California sale in August 1999, a 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C-2900B Cabriolet in gunmetal gray, known as the "Immortal Two-Nine," fetched a record $4,073,000.)   The Alfa Romeo 8C-2900A "is a hugely important car with a wonderful history," Osborne says. The car includes the prancing horse badge that branded all the Scuderia Ferrari-prepared cars and which later became the vaunted symbol of the Ferrari automobile company, once Enzo Ferrari began manufacturing a marque in his own name in the 1940s.  

The provenance (ownership trail) of a car can be even more complex and twisted than that of a high-priced Impressionist painting. "It's very important that the car should be authentic and that you can trace its history," says seasoned car collector Myron Schuster of Bedford, New York.  

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