An ultra-rare Ferrari that once belonged to actor Alain Delon and was discovered rusting under a pile of old magazines on a French farm fetched 14.2 million euros (R184m) at auction on Friday.
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder — one of only a few dozen ever made — went under the hammer at the Artcurial auction house in Paris. It was up for sale alongside a treasure trove of rare classic cars found on the farm in western France last year after lying forgotten for half a century. The cars, described as “sleeping beauties” by the auction house, were all being sold in the state they were found, having been kept in makeshift shelters by an enthusiast who had planned to open an automobile museum.
One specialist magazine in the US last year called it the “discovery of the century” and despite their condition, some went for three or four times the asking price. The 60 classic gems carry legendary names like Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza, Talbot-Lago, Panhard-Levassor, Maserati, Delahaye and Delage.
The find, announced in December, was likened by Artcurial managing director Matthieu Lamoure to stumbling upon the car world’s equivalent of the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. Lamoure and senior specialist Pierre Novikoff got a tip-off about the timeworn fleet while criss-crossing the country hunting for rare pieces.
On the farm — Artcurial is keeping the exact location secret — they found a hodge-podge of makeshift structures, describing shock after shock as they realised the treasures they contained. “This was somewhere between a metallic graveyard and a museum,” said Novikoff, describing valuable cars covered with ivy, and in some cases sheets of corrugated iron resting directly on the cars.
“We were overcome with emotion. Probably much like Lord Carrington and Howard Carter, on being the first for centuries to enter Tutankhamun’s tomb,” said Lamoure. The rare California Spyder — a car which features 13 times on the list of the 100 most expensive cars ever sold — was bought new by French actor Gerard Blain and later sold to fellow actor Delon.
Delon was photographed with American actresses Jane Fonda and Shirley MacLaine in the car, which historians thought was lost forever. Its neighbour on the farm, a Maserati from 1956, went for 1.72 million euros (R22,4m) on Friday. Delon has criticised Artcurial for “using my name to push up the price.” “I only had the car for two years,” he exclaimed.
“Everything that has been indicated, mentioned, written about the sale of this car has been done without my consent.” Also uncovered is an extravagant Talbot Lago T26 Cabriolet that belonged to Egypt’s last monarch King Farouk, known for his grotesque extravagance, and an avid collector who along with fast cars amassed one of the world’s most famous coin collections. But how did such a jackpot of mythical automobiles end up on a rural French farm, left to rust for half a century? While classic cars are now snapped up and extremely valuable, this was not the case a few decades ago when inventor and automobile enthusiast Roger Baillon became one of the first collectors.
He had a transport business in the west of France, raking in a fortune in the post-WWII boom and in 1947 designed and built his own car known as the Bluebird. He bought the property in 1953 to turn into an automobile museum, snapping up classic cars — some saved from the scrapyard — between 1955 and 1965. Baillon’s business declined in the 1970s and he sold much of his car collection — though it turns out he had clung on to many of the collection’s jewels.