Sunday, June 21, 2009

What's a '57 Ferrari worth? $12 million

1957 Italian racing car sets a record for a public auction. The 250 Testa Rossa is one of only 22 ever made.

NEW YORK - A 1957 Ferrari race car was sold at auction in Italy on Sunday for a record $12 million, according to the Italian automaker. The sale of the 250 Testa Rossa - for 9.02 million euro - blew past the previous auction record scored by a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT, which sold last year for $9.6 million in current exchange rates.

The identities of both the buyer and seller were not made public. "Ferrari prices have absolutely defied gravity for the past few years," said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty Insurance, a company that insures high-value collectable cars in Europe and North America. Private sales of Ferraris have fetched such premium prices before, but this is a record for a public auction. "That is what makes this pretty remarkable. It is a pretty special sale," said Hagerty. Ferrari, headquartered in Maranello, Italy, made only 22 of the 250 Testa Rossa racecars.

The car sold at auction first hit the track at the 1958 Buenos Aires 1000 km, where it came in fourth place. All 22 models of the Testa Rossa were entered in 19 international championships between 1958 and 1961 and won 10 victories, according to a release from auction house RM Auctions. The auction for the race car lured bidders from across the globe. "The historical significance of this car attracted a bidding war as collectors from around the world - both in the room and on the telephone - competed to secure one of the most alluring and iconic of all Ferrari racing cars," said Max Girardo, managing director of RM Europe, in a statement.

Last year, the 1961 Ferrari California Spyder set the record for a price paid at auction. Big-ticket auction sales are usually kept confidential. But last year's Spyder sale was different because the car had been owned by actor James Coburn, who died in 2002, and was purchased by British television and radio personality Chris Evans. The market for collectable cars has been dented by the recession, but buyers are willing to pay top dollar for rare race cars like the Testa Rossa. "It is literally the Van Gogh or Picasso that someone wants to have over their mantle," said Hagerty.

The record-setting auction for the Italian luxury automobile comes in the middle of a global recession that has sent U.S. automakers into a tailspin, forcing them to adhere to strict restructuring plans. Chrysler has had to shutter 789 dealerships, or roughly 25% of the current number, as part of its bankruptcy filing. On Friday, General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) said it would be terminating contracts with 1,100 of its 6,000 dealerships. Chrysler was forced to file for bankruptcy and entered into an alliance with Italian automaker Fiat, which owns 85% of Ferrari. Piero Ferrari owns 10% of Ferrari and Mubadala Development Company, based out of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, own another 5% of the company.

By Catherine Clifford, staff writer

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