Hits and misses from Bonhams’ Carroll Shelby sale
As a longtime Shelby fanatic, I felt like a kid in a candy store at Bonhams’ Greenwich Concours auction. The highlight, of course, was a collection of 22 cars from Carroll Shelby’s personal stash. Offered at no reserve, the cars were not in the best condition, or the rarest, or most valuable (one observer said, “Looks like they’re selling the stuff they found outside or in the corners”). But they were all from the man himself, and that was a valuation wildcard that nobody could predict.
The Greenwich venue has always been a small boutique auction for Bonham’s, a cozy yet low-budget affair compared to its flagship auctions in Monterey and Scottsdale. That made this selection of lower-priced Shelby collection cars a perfect fit, especially since it was held in conjunction with the concours’ featured marque, the cars of Briggs Cunningham. After all, Briggs Swift Cunningham was the man Carroll Shelby not only admired but also sought to emulate. As such, most Cunningham fans are also Shelby fans, so the tie-in was a solid play by Bonhams.
In another astute no-reserve auction move, Bonham’s placed plenty of tantalizingly low presale estimates on the Shelby cars, which I am sure drew a lot of interest in itself. After all, who wouldn’t be tempted by the possibility of scoring a bargain?
Yet in spite of the ownership and estimates, the Shelby cars didn’t generate much on-site excitement during the preview. A few more-valuable lots, such as the Series 1 (Lot 150) and the CSX 4000 Continuation Cobra (Lot 158), were displayed under the auction tents, but the remainder were outside. Did I mention that it rained a lot over the weekend? Still, I don’t think it harmed these cars too much, as upon inspection none appeared to have been coddled while in Shelby’s hands, or at least not since his passing in 2012. Worn and mismatched tires, soiled interiors, and plenty of paint and body defects were obvious throughout. In short, the cars spoke of being well used, with a lot of shelf wear and degradation from storage and museum use. But hey, buying a Shelby with tires driven bald by Carroll Shelby probably does offer mad street cred, right?
On sale day the small auction tent wasn’t packed with people, but the decent crowd grew as the first of the 22 Shelby cars drew closer to hitting the block. And what followed was just as unpredictable as anticipated. Below are six individual sales that intrigued me—three that were logical and three that defied reason.
Three logical sales:
Pre-sale estimate $25,000–$30,000. Sold for $52,600 (including 10% buyer’s premium).
The first Shelby lot of the sale, and one I bet Bonhams hoped would set the stage for what followed. I really liked this one. An attractive car in blue-over-blue leather, it was also largely original, in worn but honest condition—down to what appeared to be its original convertible top. Most would say it needs a full restoration, but that would be financial suicide. And doing that would also erase its character, as well as the right to say, “Carroll Shelby sat on this very seat.” The average Hagerty value for a #3 (Good) condition car is $32,500, which I think is accurate without the Shelby bump. And of all the cars at the sale, I had more people tell me that this was the one they were leaving with, but only one was telling the truth: Carroll Shelby’s grandson Aaron Shelby, who prevailed for $52,600 all-in. That’s a surprisingly low premium for the Shelby ownership, and I’m really glad that the Shelby name will stay on the title for at least one more generation.
1989 Dodge CSX-VNT
Pre-sale estimate $10,000–$15,000. Sold for $22,400 (including 10% buyer’s premium).
Unlike most of the Shelby Dodge products on offer at Greenwich, this car was in extremely nice original condition with 7200 miles from new. It was also Serial #1 of 500 produced. These were the most technically interesting and well-developed of all the Shelby Dodges, featuring “Fiberide” composite wheels and a variable-nozzle turbo (hence “VNT”), components often missing from these cars today. The wheels were undamaged and the car appeared to be surprisingly fresh. It sold for $22,400 all-in, which even without the Shelby ownership would seem like a fair price for a 7200-mile example like this. The serial #1 and history were free, which is impressive.
Pre-sale estimate $80,000–$100,000. Sold for $115,360 (including 10% buyer’s premium).
OK, I really liked this car too. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it had the feel of a good, honest car. Based on my research, Shelby owned it for at least the last 24 years, and it was a factory black-on-black car with a factory four-speed. All very desirable things. Bonhams confided in me that it needed mechanical sorting due to long-term storage, and it was unknown if it was the original engine and transmission. Average #3 Hagerty value is $69,000, but one in this color, with this transmission, and in this condition should sell for around $100,000, and this one went for $115,360 all-in. In my opinion, if everything checks out, this is another car where the Carroll Shelby ownership was a free bonus.
Three logic-defying sales:
Pre-sale estimate $100,000–$125,000. Sold for $313,000 (including 10% buyer’s premium).
Despite being highly anticipated and having great promise, due to a variety of reasons—from production delays to engineering compromises—the Shelby Series 1 never really set the world on fire when new, nor has it since. Lately these original 17-digit VIN factory-built cars (249 built, versus the later CSX5000 “component” cars) have hovered right around our Hagerty’s average #3 value of $101,000. Granted, this one—VIN 001, fitted with the optional supercharger, and Shelby’s car—should carry a hefty premium versus the “average” Series 1. But it sold for $313,000 all-in, and I just don’t know how to support this nearly three-times-the-market-value result. Perhaps I missed something (and if so, please let me know) because witnessing two bidders in the room battle to the death $5k at a time, had me and a number of others scratching our heads.
1966 Shelby GT350 Convertible Continuation
Pre-sale estimate $60,000–$80,000. Sold for $201,600 (including 10% buyer’s premium).
In 1966, Shelby built four GT350 convertibles. All survive today. A great one just sold, after being shopped for a while, in 2017 for $742,500. But in the early 1980s, Carroll Shelby allowed, under license, Beverly Hills Mustang to produce 12 “continuation” 1966 GT350 convertibles using regular Mustang convertible “cores” sourced from California. All were then given leftover 1966 Shelby VINs. This car was the first of the 12 and was owned by Carroll since it was built in the ’80s. Perhaps it was his payment for the licensing deal? In any event, these dozen cars are listed in the Shelby Registry and remain simply an interesting footnote in the Shelby story. Like all of the 12, this one is nearing 40 years old and showing the age you’d expect of a custom car built in the 1980s. It has also been modified by Shelby since, with a nitrous system installed, as well as a modern front suspension system, modern seats, and other changes. It’s a rolling conundrum to me, since it is not really a Shelby and not how it was originally built either. Yet it sold for $201,600 all-in, a price I can only imagine is largely based on it having been Carroll’s? Then again, Bonhams sold Shelby’s 1966 GT350H this past January for $253,000 all-in, a twice-the-value premium, so maybe I’m underestimating the Shelby Collection bump on 1966 Mustangs.
“1965” (1999, actually) Shelby 427 Cobra S/C Continuation
Pre-Sale Estimate $100,000–$125,000. Sold for $259,840 (including 10% buyer’s premium).
This is a CSX4000 chassis Continuation, CSX4194 to be exact, and has the desirable aluminum body option. It was also given to the 1999 Playboy Playmate of the Year, but later purchased back by Shelby and has remained in his collection since. However, there is no shortage of Continuation Cobras available from Shelby American, you can order a new one today, in fact. Plus, in the secondary market there always seems to be aluminum bodied ones available in the mid-$100k range, give or take. So when this almost 20-year-old car hammered for $259,840 all-in, along with a salesroom notice from Bonhams that it had damage to the left side, it seemed to cement the Shelby ownership premium here at around $100k, with no discount for its shelf wear. Maybe chalk it up to instant gratification, or a huge Heather Kozar fan?
Again, with any estate or collection auction of a well-loved celebrity or racer, there is no question that premium prices are expected and few names will carry more clout than Carroll Shelby. Keeping that in mind, what happened here won’t mean much to the values of similar cars without the Shelby mystique attached. Also, few of these would have sold for nearly as much if bidding was solely based on their absolute condition and model. And yes, there were a few good deals and probably a few solid auction hangovers as well. But one thing is for sure, the buyers of the cars from Shelby’s collection got something you can’t put a price on: the bragging rights that come with owning something that Carroll Shelby once called his own.