Teddy Pieper ©2013, courtesy of RM Auctions
Teddy Pieper ©2013, courtesy of RM Auctions
According to the Registro Storico Fiat, chassis 3003 was accepted on June 7, 1905, by Fiat’s sole American importer, Hollander and Tangeman of New York City. It was the third of only 20 examples of the 4-cylinder 60 HP built on the 2,985-millimeter wheelbase chassis (the shorter of two offerings for the model), and it is the only example known to survive today. The car was fitted at the Turin factory with upgraded racing sprockets and a unique clutch that had been unseen in any other Fiat. It was then exported as a rolling chassis to Hollander and Tangeman and subsequently dispatched to New Jersey’s Quinby and Co. for coachwork. Quinby designer Herbert Strong had recently patented a new aluminum bodywork process that provided superior weight savings, making the coachbuilder an ideal choice for the performance-oriented 60 HP. Quinby fitted chassis number 3003 with luxurious 5-passenger touring coachwork that featured internally mounted fasteners and brass moldings over its panel intersections, creating a seamless appearance that lacked any visible rivets or joints. The labor-intensive technique justified the body’s steep price of $4,000, and the coachwork was appropriately finished in red paint, the national color reserved for American competitors at the Gordon Bennett Cup (the race that would soon morph into the first grand prix races held at Le Mans). All told, the new Fiat cost over $18,000, making it the world’s most expensive car to date. The Fiat was then delivered new to August Anheuser Busch Sr., the scion of the legendary brewing company in St. Louis, MO. Mr. Busch’s purchase was based on a strong recommendation of the 60 HP model from his close friend and fellow potentate, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the emperor of Germany, who had recently shelved his Mercedes for one of the Italian cars (in what proved to be somewhat of a public-relations blunder). Busch retained possession of the Fiat until the end of his life in 1934. One year later, it was purchased from his estate by James Melton, the noted tenor, radio personality and car collector, who kept the 60 HP at his Connecticut estate. The car was then sold to Dr. Don Miller, a local friend. Connecticut collector Louis Biondi purchased the Fiat in 1973. In 2012, after 77 years of minimal use by three collectors residing within 10 square miles of one another, this historically significant 60 HP was acquired by the consignors. They were particularly impressed by the Fiat’s overall originality, as it featured all of its original Quinby body panels and an exhaustive list of matching-numbers components including the chassis, engine, transmission, steering and suspension components, rear sprockets, chains, a radiator, a cooling fan, a belly pan, and even the securing fasteners. Quinby’s body components were also impressively original, as they featured the coachbuilder’s wood framing, leather seats, mohair floor mats, brass lighting, most weather gear, and at least 90% of the original red paint. Even the wicker basket of the rear trunk rack is an original factory-supplied item that has been decorated with original Fiat logos. Furthermore, in a testament to how little the car had been used over the preceding 107 years, and the overall quality of its original manufacture, the body and chassis bore no evidence whatsoever of any stress cracks or sagging. Chassis number 3003 won Second Place in the Pre-War Preservation Class and the Meguiar’s Award at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and the Founders Award at the Kirkland Concours d’Elegance as well as the FIVA Most Well Preserved Vehicle Award.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1905 Fiat 60 HP 5-Passenger Tourer
Number Produced:20
Original List Price:$14,000
Tune Up Cost:$475
Distributor Caps:Dashboard tag
Chassis Number Location:Right engine mount arm
Alternatives:1905 Mercedes 60 hp, 1905 Simplex, 1906 Daimler TP 45, 1907 Rolls-Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 257, sold for $825,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Auctions’ Hershey, PA, sale on October 9, 2014.When I was asked to write about the sale of this 109-year-old Fiat, a thought that went through my head concerned all the attention paid recently to discussions of a generational shift in auto collecting.

The debates begin with the basic rule of thumb which adheres to the traditional bell curve of desirability — in which the most coveted collector cars in a specific time are those which are 25 to 35 years old. These are the hot rides which you lusted for as a flat-broke 18-year-old and which you now want to buy as a successful 43–53-year-old. That pattern roughly played itself out from the Model A through big American Classic cars of the 1930s, to the post-war 1950s cars, through 1960s and 1970s muscle cars.

While there are some who think the last really interesting car was made in 1968, many exciting and desirable vehicles have been built since, and it’s not only 30-year-olds who find the BMW E30 M3 and McLaren F1 worth collecting.

However, a closer look reveals that the neat bell curve begins to fuzz at the edges pretty comprehensively when you also account for the maturation of vehicle collecting in general. The “hobby” as we know it only dates from the early 1950s. So, compared with the collections of objects of fine art which erudite citizens of the Roman Empire began to assemble many centuries ago, it’s a bit premature to decide what will and will not survive the taste test of time.

Looking at Brass Era cars such as this Fiat is a good example of the proof that breaks the rule. Chances are that there were relatively few 127-year-olds in the room when this car sold at Hershey, so let’s eliminate the fellows and gals who were 18 when this Fiat was delivered. Yet it brought a very strong price, despite not being old enough to enter in the London-Brighton Run, which has a 1904 cutoff.

The difference between the market desirablility of a car which has, or can obtain, a VCC dating certification allowing it to enter this wonderful event and one which is too new can be up to 100% in some cases. Not everyone wants to actually drive a very old car in very cold and often damp weather — all rather slowly of course — so there are other factors which come into play as well, and power and comfort are high on the list.

The power of power

Since those Edwardian-era teenagers aren’t around to offer their opinion, we have to look at today’s buyers to see what the market likes in cars of this period. And, as is the case with vehicles from every decade from 1930 to 2010, more often than not it’s power.

The cars that command attention — and big money — in this area of the market are the “big iron.” If it’s got 4 cylinders, it better have at least 5,000 cc, and better still are 6 cylinders and over 6,000 cc.

The earliest automotive engineers were explorers, casting out in all directions in the pursuit of speed and reliability.

Even before W. O. Bentley was said to have uttered “There’s no replacement for displacement,” bigger meant faster and better in automotive engines. Considering that the Benz Patent-Motorwagen made do with 952-cc, single-cylinder engine in 1899. Only five years later, Fiat had a a mid-market model, the 24-32 with a 6,371-cc, 4-cylinder engine, which illustrates the progression of cylinder bore and stroke inflation in the first years of the modern motorcar.

A well-preserved survivor

Our Fiat has size covered, with a 10-liter 4-banger under the hood, and add to that a big, comfortable touring body which has the added benefit of being the original one, in superbly preserved condition. That it’s stated to be the only survivor of the production also gives it survivor’s rights. While a few of the smaller 24-32 chassis cars remain, this is said to be the only 60 HP extant. The survivorship is good, but not central, as a value attribute. Rather it is the confluence of specification, the August Busch provenance and condition that gives this vehicle such appeal.

It’s also interesting to note that I first saw this very impressive motor in Italy before RM Auctions offered it at their Villa Erba (Villa d’Este) sale in May 2013.

I was very taken with its aura and obvious originality. I certainly had never been in the presence of a car exactly like it. However, I had been fortunate enough to have seen similar earlier and later cars in Italian museums and private collections. In addition, I recently had the thrill of spending up close and personal time with an early big Fiat for a recent appraisal assignment. These are very fine cars indeed — and a testament to the talent of their engineers and the quality of their factory workers.

This car failed to find a buyer at the Italian auction at a called high bid of $1,690,000 (€1,300,000). I thought at the time it was certainly worth the call, but with the benefit of hindsight, distance and an actual sale, I’ve changed my view.

This car’s best market was indeed in the United States, rather than Italy. It was delivered here, bodied here, owned by names important to North Americans and lived a substantial portion of its life in a small corner of the Northeast.

The price realized at RM’s Hershey sale, while half the called high bid on Lake Como, was still very much in line with the values of other large-engined luxury cars of the era, such as the Mercedes 45 and 60 hp. More of a premium could certainly be paid for the originality and concours history, and it is a remarkable car. However, the reality is that a Fiat, even one as grand as this, loses a bit of “bar-stool boastability.” It’s not fair, nor does it make sense, but there you are. I would certainly call this one well bought, but not badly sold either. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)

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