He's a record player

DJ Chris Evans’ £5.6m bid for a piece of Hollywood

As the glitterati of the classic car world gathered for the RM Legende e Passione auction at Maranello in May, very few of them could have foreseen what was about to happen. A couple of the ex-Formula 1 cars failed to sell, which was a surprise considering the popularity of the F1 Clienti. And then, bang. An ordinary 250GT Lusso sold for £609,000 and soon afterwards a rare 1967 275 GTB/4 went for £1.06 million.

What many had come to see, however, was the ex-James Coburn 1961 250GT SWB California Spyder, which the actor bought shortly after filming The Great Escape. Estimated to sell for £2.5-2.8m, the 250GT received much interest, most notably from radio DJ Chris Evans and John Collins – of renowned Ferrari dealer Talacrest – who was bidding on Evans’ behalf. The bids rocketed past the estimate before stalling briefly at 6.3m euros (£4.7m).

“I turned to Chris and said that for the sake of 100,000 euros, we’ve got the record of any car sold at auction. So Chris said, ‘go for it’,” explains Collins, who is not new to world auction records and wasn’t about to turn down the accolade of most expensive car ever sold.

The hammer eventually fell at 6.4m euros, which with taxes and premiums came to a total of 7.04m euros (£5,598,208). The previous highest auction price was for a Bugatti Royale, which sold in 1987 for £5.5m.

The 250GT SWB California Spyder is hailed as one of the most beautiful cars ever built, but was this not a little much to pay, even if it was a very fine example with the ever-popular Coburn as a previous owner?

“I was surprised at the amount we had to pay, but then again, when I reflected on it I thought a lot of people underestimated the Coburn thing and the beauty of the car,” says Collins.

“Coburn and Steve McQueen were great friends, they were a couple of rowdies; they drank, they smoked. They were like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, it was Coburn and McQueen, you know. Now the car’s more famous than any car. That side of it is pretty cool.

“If we’d pulled out and someone else had bought it I guarantee you Chris and myself would have been so depressed. If you miss a car you think, ‘s***, why didn’t I go one more?’

“Someone came up afterwards and offered us another million for it, but Chris said no. Obviously I’m a car dealer, so I did say, ‘why don’t we just take it?’ Of course I would have looked at it, I mean $1 million, and I didn’t even have to pay for the car.” Such was the interest, someone even turned up with a trailer, ready to tow it away.

We’re so used to hearing about cars with an interesting competition history going for large sums at auction that it is always surprising when a road car breaks a record. Especially during the ‘credit crunch’.

“Previously it was the historic racing cars, like the 375, which fetched the big money,” says Collins. “Now it’s iconic, beautifully designed cars such as California Spyders and Lussos. There’s a new kind of buyer out there. They don’t want to go out racing cars like the 512M that sold for $3 million. They were always ahead of California Spyders in the old days but there’s been a role reversal. Now I’d say it’s the 250GTO and then the California Spyder in the areas of desirability.

“I think people are looking at stocks and shares. They might have £20 million in shares or whatever, but if they go down, you end up with a bit of paper. Even if the cars go down you’ve still got something tangible. Cars could go down again because everything is cyclical, but people think, ‘even if the value drops, at least I’ve still got it’.”

The fracas surrounding the RM auction overshadowed various other happenings during the month, most notably the announcement that Steve McQueen’s Porsche 908 has been put up for sale at the Bonhams and Butterfield auction in Monterey on August 15, where it will carry an estimate of £1m.

Kimi Räikkönen paid £157,000 for an ex-Sharon Stone 1974 Chevrolet Corvette in a charity auction at the Monaco Grand Prix (if anyone can wrestle the notoriously ill-handling car round a corner, the reigning World Champion probably has the best chance of doing it). And finally, and most randomly, the 1937 Mercedes used in Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark has been put up for sale for a cool £1.3m.