Last week in Paris, over 300 classic cars, trucks, and motorcycles (and even a few tractors and yachts) came up for auction, split between three different sales and augmenting the festivities at the annual, gargantuan Rétromobile classic car show. The most expensive car was a glorious 1931 Bugatti Type 55 by Figoni for €4,600,000 ($5,050,0340), and the cheapest was a 1984 Volkswagen Cabriolet for €5750 ($6313). There were all sorts of other funky, rare cars—from Talbot Lagos to a Pegaso and even a Venturi—and, as usual in the auction world, a few cars slipped through the cracks at surprisingly low prices.
Here are the four sales that surprised us the most.
In 1960, Fiat introduced a surprisingly spacious wagon version of the 500 called the Giardiniera (“Gardener”). With a longer wheelbase, suicide doors, a boxier tail section, and an engine laid on its side for more interior space and a conveniently flat loading tray, the Giardiniera was much altered from the standard Cinquecento. It lost none of the 500’s charm, however. It remains delightfully tiny, and there’s still that full-length retractable sunroof to let in the sunshine.
The Giardiniera at the Bonhams Grand Palais sale sold new in Sicily but was spared farm duty. It’s also an Autobianchi-built and badged model (that company took over Giardiniera production from 1968 on) and is in solid driver condition (#3 condition according to our scale). The fourth-from-last lot of the sale, it sold at no reserve for nearly 50 percent under its low estimate. A normal Fiat 500 in this condition selling for so little would already seem like a bargain, but Giardinieras are rarer and generally more collectible, so this price seems downright cheap.
With that tempting combination of stylish, sophisticated European design with a robust, torquey American V-8 (in this case, courtesy of Chrysler), Facel Vegas have long been valuable classic cars. There is simply no cheap way to get into a good one. Facel Vega’s only four-door model—the ambitiously-named “Excellence”—is no exception.
The one at RM Sotheby’s may have sold in six-figure territory, but, in context, it still looks like a bargain to us. For one, it has the bits you want, namely the dual-carb engine and very rare Pont-à-Mousson four-speed manual. It also wears a lightly-aged older restoration from the early 2000s in its original (and attractive) black over red color scheme, so this price was a bit of a surprise.
To put things into perspective, this car carried a €120,000 low estimate; across town at Artcurial, another F-V Excellence in scruffy barn-find condition, in need of everything, and equipped with the less-desirable automatic ’box and single-carb engine, sold at a surprisingly close margin—€91,655 ($100,628).
A 355 bought cheaply can turn expensive as fast as you can say “engine-out service,” but this car raised no red flags when we looked at it. Other than a tiny dent on the hood and light wear on the driver’s seat, it’s a clean car that shows a reassuringly-low 13,466 miles (it sold new in the U.S.). Just as important, it was represented with a service history and it has a six-speed manual. That open-gate shifter between the seats carries a 20-percent premium in the Hagerty Price Guide over a paddle-shifter model, but despite all the above this 355 flew under the radar and sold well under its €60,000 low estimate at no reserve to a shrewd high bidder.
The W112, aka the 300 SE, is a largely hand-built and rare model with a fuel-injected 3.0-liter six and air suspension and a fancier interior than other contemporary Benzes. Convertibles are naturally the most valuable, but coupes are still quite collectible; this one has the desirable combination of factory sunroof and floor-shift four-speed (automatics or column-shift manuals are more common). It also had €25,000 put into it over the past several years, including refurbishment of the air suspension system. Its €60,000 low estimate, therefore, seemed reasonable to us, but, crossing the block at no reserve as the third-from-last lot of the sale, it found few bids.