Pawel Litwinski, courtesy of Bonhams
Pawel Litwinski, courtesy of Bonhams
This B24 S Spider America had been ordered new by the West Coast Lancia distributor, the now-legendary Kjell Qvale, to be sold out of his San Francisco-based British Motor Car distributorship. Qvale is believed to have sold chassis 1138 to one of the top managers in his organization, Mr. Robert G. Gillespie. Smart businessmen, both Qvale and Gillespie understood the meaning of the term “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” and realized that entering the rare Lancia Spider in sports car racing would be an excellent way to promote and sell the new model. With that in mind, Gillespie reached out to his friend, Eureka, CA-based successful lumberman turned gentleman racer Lou Brero, and entered 1138 in the Torrey Pines Road Races, October 22 and 23, 1955. Racing against all-time greats such as Phil Hill in a Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing and Jack McAfee in a Porsche 550 Spyder, Brero and Gillespie finished 6th in the Torrey Pines six-hour endurance race. B24S Spider America chassis 1138 is believed to have remained in the western United States ever since. An ad in the March 1956 edition of Road & Track magazine indicates Robert Gillespie offered the car for sale. Costa Mesa-based Lancia restoration specialist and aficionado Tony Nicosia later tracked down the car in the 1980s. Nicosia is considered by many to be the expert on post-war Lancias, and his knowledge and extreme attention to detail result in arguably the best driving Lancias leaving his shop. Not only are the car’s cosmetics done to a factory-correct standard, but the mechanical systems, such as the engine and complex driveline, have also been completely restored. These cars are extremely complicated and labor-intensive to restore. 1138 is now finished and ready to tour the world’s most prominent concours lawns and top-notch rallies.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1955 Lancia Aurelia B24 S Spider America
Years Produced:1955
Number Produced:240
Original List Price:$5,600
SCM Valuation:$900,000–$1,300,000
Tune Up Cost:$350-$1,000
Distributor Caps:$160
Chassis Number Location:On firewall, stamped in center of engine compartment and on chassis plate
Engine Number Location:Stamped on right side of block
Club Info:American Lancia Club
Website:http://www.americanlanciaclub.com/
Alternatives:1956–59 BMW 507, 1956–59 Porsche 356A Carrera Speedster, 1953–56 Austin-Healey 100-4 Le Mans
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 44, sold for $1,952,500, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge Sale in Carmel Valley, CA, on August 15, 2015.

The previous auction record for the Aurelia B24 Spider America was $1,815,000, paid at Gooding & Company’s January 2014 sale in Scottsdale, AZ (SCM# 232415). Reviewing that sale for SCM (April 2014, Gooding & Co. Market Report, p. 104), I wrote of that car, “The Aurelia B24 S Spider America is one of the most beautiful and capable sports cars of the ’50s and is in great demand for events. Prices have been steadily rising, with the $1m example just around the corner for a while. Once again, we’ve smashed through a milestone, almost approaching $2m here. Compared to a BMW 507, this price is right. With the details still to be done on this very good example, the question remains, “How much for the perfect one?”

After 19 months, we’ve just found out. Frequently, a model will struggle to break through a particular price barrier — it could be $10,000, $100,000 or $1,000,000. The B24 Spider America was one of those cars that was a perennial bridesmaid at the $1m altar, hovering close but failing repeatedly to catch the bouquet at the reception. We watched as the Aurelia’s more easily approachable friends, such as the BMW 507, found new relationships in million-dollar transactions, while the poor Lancia languished.

A steady and strong value rise

For the April 2013 issue of SCM, I wrote a double piece on a pair of Spider Americas sold by Gooding and RM Auctions on the same January day in Arizona (Etceterini Profile, p. 52). They sold for $803k and $825k respectively, notwithstanding that the former was a “garage-find original” and the latter a now-settled restoration.

Both cars had certain needs, and taking them into account, I felt they sold appropriately. It was thought in some quarters that either could have been the first $1 million Spider following the January 2012 sale of a B24 convertible at Gooding for $561k. Up until that point, when Spider Americas did rarely come to market, they often sold at twice the price of the more-practical but less-romantic convertible. It didn’t happen then, but it did shortly thereafter.

For many years, values of the Spider America hovered around $200,000, when a very nice convertible could be had for about $100k. Then Spider Americas took a move up to the $500k area, with convertibles in the $200k–$250k range. There they sat.

The leap upwards to $800k happened between 2012 and 2013, and later that year they began to flirt with $1m and blasted through with that January 2014 sale at Gooding & Company. As is most often the case, that anomalous sale shook the trees, and the next seven to be offered came in the next eight months. Their realized prices averaged $1.093m, not including a market-correct no-sale high bid of $1.055m for a car at RM in August 2014.

A special car sparks the big leap

I would argue that all the cars that came up for public auction sale in the past four years have been older restorations of varying levels of correctness or unrestored cars of varying levels of originality and completeness. The challenge with restoring an Aurelia is its complexity and the need to have specific knowledge of what is correct for a multitude of details.

The sale of this car for nearly $2m found some shaking their heads in disbelief and muttering imprecations about “unsustainable markets,” “wildly overheated prices,” “imminent collapses” and other dark phrases. On the other hand, after seeing this car in the Bonhams tent, I felt confident it could — and should — sell at or near $2m. In the interest of disclosure, I must state that I know the consignor who restored the car and I have seen the car at least four times in the past five years at various stages of the restoration progress.

Even those who count this fellow as a friend would be forced to admit that he is indeed obsessive about his work — and the Spider showed it. One noted colleague in the business had one cavil about the restoration: The stunning black over green in which it was done was a color change from the original dark red. I had no problem with that, as it was a color available when the car was new, suits the shape beautifully and showed off the superb panel fit to a fare-thee-well.

A very compelling buy

Did I have any nits to pick? Well, actually one — it’s extremely difficult to reproduce the period crackle paint finish today due to the materials available. Generally, the very distinct, even-but-small-grained pattern of original 1950s finishes come out either too large and deep or too smooth. Here, the surfaces in the engine compartment were very small-grained but perhaps slightly too deep, giving the look of felt or velveteen. And that’s it — the rest of the car would have been easily recognized by the workmen who built them in 1955 as an exemplar of their superb handiwork.

Add that to the very interesting history of this car, and you have the recipe for a compelling buy. It’s a great example of what I observe this current market to be — one in which the truly important and excellent is rewarded on an individual basis.

As it has been popular to compare the top end of the collector car market to the fine-art market, a parallel can be drawn. Many works by Picasso are valuable, but they all don’t bring the same price. A share of stock in Apple is very much identical to the next and can be traded for exactly the same price on the same date at the same time. A collector car is not a stock share.

An interesting comp

In the Gooding & Co. sale at Pebble Beach the same week, another Aurelia Spider America was offered. This was also a car with which I was very familiar, having inspected it in Italy when it was in the Pininfarina factory showroom as part of the company collection from which the consignor purchased it.

I was very much taken by the car then, and I was still at the time of the auction. Lovely in a soft white with a green leather interior and matching wheels, it was a nicely mellowed restoration. In fact, supervising the work on the car had been the first responsibility of a young Paolo Garella when he was hired at Pininfarina.

As it had been in static display for years, it required a thorough re-commissioning, which was completed shortly before the sale. It failed to meet reserve when it crossed the block, but a post-sale deal was made that saw the car go to a new owner for $1.175m.

This was in line with prices as they have been for the past two years and correct for the condition of the car. I would certainly say it was well bought, as the provenance could easily add a 10% bump to the price, bringing it to the $1.3m range.

That another $750k was paid for the Bonhams car with a maniacal nut-and-bolt, no-holds-barred restoration — so fresh it deserved to be slapped — is not out of line at all for a car with the history it has. The new owner has what is now the best Aurelia B24 S Spider America on the planet. Whether another can beat it will be seen, but it will have to be an extraordinary car indeed. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

 

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