Luigi Compiano is an Italian businessman who inherited a substantial security company from his father, Arnaldo.

Based in Treviso in the northeastern corner of Italy, North East Services was founded in 1929 by Mr. Compiano’s grandfather.

Arnaldo Compiano developed this small business into one of the market leaders in the secure handling and movement of cash and valuables by armored trucks. He died at age 79 in 2010, by which time he was known not only as a successful businessman but also as the benefactor of many charities — and as a collector of paintings and other works of art.

On the death of his father, Luigi Compiano became the head of the business, and in contrast, was known in the Veneto not so much as a businessman but as a high-rolling collector of big boy’s toys. He accumulated many hundreds of collector and racing cars — plus many more racing speedboats, motorbikes, bicycles and automobilia.

Luigi also collected fountain pens and was rumored to have assembled the world’s biggest collection of Montblanc pens — and a sizeable collection of pornographic videos. A total of 2,187 adult DVDs were sold by auction in September 2014 — not, we hasten to add, by RM Sotheby’s.

Fraud, tax evasion and seizure

In a pending criminal case against Luigi Compiano, it is alleged that many millions of euros were stolen from North East Services, which was declared bankrupt by the Court of Treviso in October 2013.

The court ordered the seizure, and subsequently, the sale by auction, of the entire collection of cars, automobilia, boats, motorbikes and cycles.

In February 2016, the same court found Luigi Compiano guilty of tax evasion to the tune of 17 million euros. The court-appointed receiver of his assets chose RM Sotheby’s to conduct the auction. A German auction house appealed that choice, and when that appeal was finally dismissed, some three years after this process began, the way was clear for RM Sotheby’s to start this mammoth auction task.

The sale was cleverly organized to coincide with Milan’s annual AutoClassica Show in late November, and the RM Sotheby’s team worked hard in the time available to photograph and catalog the 817 lots.

Their job was made harder, as there was a total absence of history files for the cars — let alone most of the legal documents (libretto and foglio complementare are required for each car that was registered in Italy).

Having disputed the seizure and sale orders, Luigi Compiano appears to have withheld many of the original documents.

While this lack of paperwork was unnerving for some prospective buyers, RM Sotheby’s managed in the days before the auction to apply for duplicate official documents. At the time of the sale, many of the cars were still subject to the court’s seizure order, but the Treviso Court should cancel the seizure within weeks of RM Sotheby’s receiving each buyer’s payment.

Thousands of bidders, all dreaming of bargains

In the weeks leading up to the auction there was much speculation of “bargains galore” — not least because all lots were to be sold without reserve, and RM Sotheby’s estimates were either low or very low — except for some modern and well-recognized models.

After all, new homes were needed for some 420 cars, many apparently untouched for maybe 10 years — and none having turned a wheel in anger for at least three years. There were no history files, no ownership documents, and no opportunity of inspection until the day before the auction.

With the Italian economy stagnant and many of its banks thought to be in trouble, there was a fair chance that the local collectors would stay at home — perhaps leaving the field open for the rest of us to sneak in and steal a cheap prize.

The vast hall in Milan’s Fiera on the Thursday viewing day was impressive, not only in the seemingly endless rows of Porsches, Jaguars and Italian collectibles, but in the huge numbers of people.

How many opportunist buyers were there, I wondered, as the throng of private and trade buyers weaved their way through the ranks of dusty cars and struggled with the lengthy queues to collect their bidding paddles.

RM Sotheby’s answer was astonishing.

More than 4,000 bidders registered to bid in the room and another 1,000 chimed in by phone or online, which must be some kind of record.

Yes, I was one of the hopeful. As a long-term Morgan owner, I had previously spotted a very tired-looking 4/4 Ford-engined 2-seater. Hidden away in the far left corner, it was all there and restorable — but it needed everything. Estimated at 5,000 to 7,000 euros, my target would be almost the last car under the hammer late on the first evening.

Surely by then, I figured, everyone will have sloped off for dinner, and I can steal the Morgan for a song.

I could not have been more wrong.

Waving paddles and high prices

Once the bidding began on Friday, it was feverish from the start. There were multiple bidders for most of the cars and many hands in the air vying with for the auctioneer’s eye.

Almost every lot was exceeding its estimate by a huge margin. Paying 28,000 euros, including premium, the buyer of the Morgan must either be an ace restorer or have a very rosy view of its future value.

With instructions to bid on a Porsche 993 Carrera RS, my cunning plan had been to swoop in at the last knockings as the “new money.”

As the bidding opened, I barely managed to raise my paddle, let alone be noticed by the auctioneer, before the price raced to more than twice my client’s limit.

You could describe the bidding as frenzied, if not downright crazy, but this was the perfect mood for a successful auction. Huge numbers of bidders, many new to the game, were each determined to go home with something.

The statistics of the sale will be reported elsewhere, but my overall impression, having expected chaos and aggravation, was an atmosphere of excitement and success and a job really well done by RM Sotheby’s.

My thanks also for the Italian background to my Milan car lawyer colleague and good friend Riccardo Roversi. ♦

Martin Emmison is a lawyer in London specializing in collector car matters. He can be reached at [email protected].

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