This car, Lot 46, sold for $7,700,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding and Company’s Scottsdale Auction on January 16, 2015.
The next time someone chides you for curing wrinkle-finish cam covers in your kitchen oven, tell them about the guy who filled his living room with turn-of-the-century bicycles.
Jack Castor was an aerospace engineer — and a bit on the eccentric side. Over his lifetime, he amassed a world-class collection of early bicycles, and he gained international acclaim for his ability to ride them. In 1984, Castor rode a high-wheel bicycle from Boston to San Francisco in 44 days. In 2002, Castor won the Velocipede World Championship held in Belgium.
High-wheelers have no brakes, and the pedals are direct-drive, so they are notoriously difficult to ride downhill. In 2000, at a high-wheeler tour of New Zealand, Castor was demonstrating to a film crew his method of throwing his legs over the handlebars to coast down a hill when he crashed — and made himself an Internet sensation.
Found and bought in Italy
Castor also loved cars and automobilia. Castor famously owned two BMW 507s — one reportedly an ex-Elvis Presley car. He also amassed a Kaiser Traveler, a D-type Jaguar replica, vintage gas pumps and a bunch of other stuff.
Among the other stuff was a Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, chassis 1425GT. The California was purchased in Italy from Tom Meade, an American who moved to Italy to be around the exotic cars and craftsmen who built them.
Meade took on menial tasks at some of the carrozzerias supporting the exotic trade, and in return, he was taught the craft. He was a quick learner and a talented designer. Meade would become famous for a car he built called the Thomassima, which graced the December 1970 cover of Road & Track magazine.
The Thomassima is currently on loan to Ferrari’s museum in Modena. Meade supported his passion by repairing, modifying and brokering old Ferraris — often for other Americans.
Castor bought one of Meade’s creations, an early open-headlight Ferrari 250 California Spyder that had been converted to the more popular covered-headlight style. The car was all of $2,950, a number that mushroomed to $3,750 after shipping and expenses. That was still a good deal of money in 1969, so Castor financed the purchase by taking out a loan against a paid-off Volkswagen Beetle at his credit union.
Castor preferred lots of toys in the toy box instead of a few nicer toys, so when the California Spyder developed an oil-pressure issue around 1980, he moved on to a different car and retired 1425GT to a space near a dormant Chevy-engined BMW 507.
During the mid-2000s, a stay at Patrick Ottis’ Ferrari hospital resurrected 1425GT to driving status. Once returned to running order, the California was occasionally seen at Northern California car events being used as Mr. Ferrari intended.
Not all Californias are equal
Like many early Ferraris, the California’s specifications evolved during its production. Most significantly, Ferrari shortened the wheelbase of later California cars by nearly eight inches to improve its already impressive handling.
Evolution — Ferrari style — also brought about more-reliable engines, with spark plugs fitted in the outside rather than the inside — or V side — of the heads. Disc brakes were added during the production run, as were improved seating and many smaller changes.
A few Californias were built in alloy, and some were built for competition use.
Cosmetics also evolved over time, with minor differences in some of the earlier cars and noticeable differences between the LWB and SWB versions. Most significantly, Californias were built in both open- and covered-headlight configuration.
A 250 California is a cornerstone car no matter what configuration it is. They make a centerpiece of a collection — or a headliner for an auction. It seems hardly a major car-auction weekend — such as Monterey, Arizona or Amelia Island — goes by without a California Spyder as a star lot.
A quick check of SCM’s Platinum Auction Database shows that at least 20 Californias crossed an auction block over the past seven years. I suspect a similar number were privately traded. A California is a must-have car for a serious Ferrari collector, and their importance is reflected in their trading price.
This California Spyder is a tough one to value. It has a rich history, but the change from open headlights to closed headlights has to hurt its value. This modification knocks 1425GT out of major award consideration at most major concours. The change would also eliminate it from receiving a full Ferrari Classiche certificate, a nod that’s almost mandatory for top Ferraris.
Returning 1425GT to its original configuration is problematic, as that makes it an open-headlight car, which is arguably less attractive and less valuable.
Gooding & Company played up the Tom Meade connection to temper the issue, but Meade was a customizer rather than a restorer. Despite his name recognition, the instances of Meade’s work enhancing the value of a Ferrari are elusive.
To restore or not to restore
Restoration is the real dilemma with 1425GT. Today’s trend is to preserve originality at all costs, but 1425GT is fairly worn and hardly an original car. It has been color-changed from white to red, and the covered-headlight modification left it with a slightly pointed nose and the wrong bumpers. While it is a well-preserved car, it’s not a preservation award candidate. 1425GT is great to observe more as a piece of history than a top-value Cal Spyder.
Gooding & Company gave 1425GT an $8m–$10m estimate. The $7,700,000 sale missed the mark, but it could hardly be considered disappointing. The sale was near the top end of the non-competition, steel-body, inside-plugs, drum-brake, open-headlight, LWB California Spyder market. 1425GT’s headlight covers add nothing to the value and may hurt a bit.
Mr. Castor passed a few months back. His heirs should consider the car well sold. The buyer paid up for the prize and got a good car and wonderful stories. He may not have gotten the best end of the deal — but he didn’t miss by much. ♦
(Introductory descriptions courtesy of Gooding & Company.)