With crude-oil prices tanking, election rhetoric soaring, the stock market teetering and certain collector-car segments already correcting, Scottsdale 2016 was among the most keenly watched auctions since 2009. As described in Publisher Keith Martin’s column on p. 16, in aggregate, though, the effect was neither terrible nor terrific. Certain 1950s and 1960s bellwether investments, such as Ferraris and muscle cars, seemed down from previous highs. Then again, 1980s through 2000s sports cars continued to soar.
With some cars climbing, others dropping, and still more holding their own, predicting great deals in Scottsdale was perhaps a bit harder than usual. And what defines a great deal, anyway? One is buying a car on its way up, so you can enjoy future profits. But another is grabbing a car that’s price-corrected below previous highs. In either case, from our perspective, what matters most is buying what you love, and loving what you buy. This way, no matter how the ride goes, you’re going to enjoy every minute.
Here are my picks for the six best deals at Scottsdale.
1988 Lamborghini Countach 5000 Quattrovalvole
Sold for $297,000 at Bonhams (Lot 66)
For less than the current price of a top 60-hp Porsche Speedster, you can have this piece of in-your-face 1980s audacity. Whereas not even a dozy garden gnome would hear a little 356 coming, when Señor Countach swaggers down the lane, every window-shade in the neighborhood will rise.
I tried a Countach once, back in 1988 when Chrysler owned Lamborghini. You step, or rather sidle and plop, into the recumbent seat. The guillotine door swings closed, ceremoniously and ominously locking you into this iconic Italian stallion. The big 5.2-liter motor fires up, twin K-Jetronic throttle bodies sucking your comb-over back.
Magically, the gear lever connects to something way behind those glacier-melting 12 cylinders, and away you go…thrashing, shrieking, and lunging ahead until the world awakens with a start and moves over to let you by. It’s a priceless adventure. With Miuras at $1 million to $2 million, there’s plenty of Room to Rise for the Countach.
1971 Fiat 850 Sport Spider
Sold for $11,550 at Barrett-Jackson (Lot 321)
Dogs crave cheese. Miniskirts cause traffic jams. And people love to hate Fiats, especially the little 850 Spider. With its small 4-cylinder mill tucked behind the driver — and precious little size or substance to imbue street cred — this diminutive Bertone-bodied convertible has always had trouble gaining respect in America. It’s sort of the “Go, Dog. Go!” of sports cars. That said, at $11,550, this little guy was a big bargain when you consider that the festive fringe-topped Jolly also offered at Barrett-Jackson (Lot 1083) sold for $99,000 — more than eight times the 850’s price.
As for performance, the 903-cc Fiat 850 Spider is spirited at best, while the 500-cc Jolly is just plain slow. But at least in the Spider, you can row your way up to freeway speed with an extra $87,450 stuffed in your wallet. This was a good grab for someone, relative to the price of Jollys, 356s, 911s and the like. I’m a fan.
1966 McLaren M1B Can-Am
Sold for $220,000 at RM Sotheby’s (Lot 258)
There was never another series with the sheer balls of the original 1966 to 1974 Can-Am. The combination of few rules and world championship drivers created the most innovation and excitement ever seen in sports cars in America.
This reconstructed McLaren Mark 1B is from the early part of the series, which included gladiators such as Dan Gurney, Chris Amon, Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren. The car is low slung to the extreme, and the 500-horsepower Ford V8 pulling through four dual-choke Webers puts plenty of power on the track. Can-Am cars could really haul the mail, and the faster they went, the more aerodynamics had to evolve. Team McLaren managed it best, winning five of the nine early championships.
I enjoyed a ride in one of these Mark 1s, and can report that with your butt parked inches above the tarmacadam, and plenty of power underfoot, the ride will instantly grow fur on your chest — and knuckles, too. In Scottsdale, good money was paid for an experience that simply cannot be found any other way.
1935 Chrysler Airflow Sedan
Sold for $26,400 at Barrett-Jackson (Lot 451)
After surviving for more than 80 years, that this Airflow — arguably the most radical and recognizable American design of its time — sold for the price of a well-equipped Honda Civic is perplexing. Or not. Because pre-war cars were clearly the minority in Scottsdale, and with the big tents brimming with muscle cars, during auction week such early iron just seemed left behind. But still, at $26k and change, this running, driving honorarium to pre-war America was a screaming deal. Will its windswept cab-forward countenance keep up with gangs of F-450 pickups rushing across Texas at 80 mph in 100-degree heat? Nope. But who cares? Pick your own remote “blue highway” during the off-season, pack your stuff, and pop through the rabbit hole to visit a more innocent America. That this particular example traded for 25% less than a ’35 DeSoto Airflow at the same auction (Lot 1147, $35,200) makes it seem like an even better bargain.
1970 Porsche 914
Sold for $16,500 at Bonhams (Lot 22)
This little gem had just one owner for its first 40-plus years. Its unusual paint is called Willow Green, which actually looks like one part Amazon tree frog and two parts John Deere tractor.
Homelier than a truck-stop teacup, this 914 thus begs the question, “Why am I an SCM Best Deal at Scottsdale?” The answer is that every other air-cooled Porsche has accelerated faster than a SpaceX booster recently.
The 914s are just waiting to be sucked heavenward into this vacuum, and when they do so, clean little numbers like this will take a rocket ride of their own. There are demerits for the 1.7-liter engine (later variants had 1.8- and 2.0-liter flat-four engines, and the more coveted 914/6 had a 2.0-liter flat six), and the amphibious exterior color. All the rest looks good, especially the long initial ownership. Further perks were the original window sticker and sales invoice. Buy, drive, enjoy.
1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster
Sold for $792,000 at Gooding & Company (Lot 59)
Despite the modest deflate-gate that’s affected the overall market during the past year, 300SLs have consistently sold above $1 million.
So this one at a third off deserves some study.
Did it just appear at the wrong time, on the wrong day, or at the wrong venue to attract top dollar? Nope. It’s a garage find!
“Recently discovered in San Diego,” says the auction copy. And if the words “California” and “black plate” don’t get your nostalgia gland pumping, the fact that it is unrestored, and has never been displayed or offered for public sale, surely will.
But unlike the $583,000 Porsche Speedster that Gooding sold at Monterey last summer, this particular 300SL did not rocket past all reason. In fact, it sold below the $900,000 low estimate. With headwinds now buffeting large parts of the market, on this car at least, buyers played it cool in recognition that there is a zenith of flight, for even the strongest birds. Carefully bought, this one. ♦