Making sense of a crazy, breakout 1961 AMC Metropolitan 1500 sale

Late last month I fell into an Internet rabbit hole and somehow ended up looking at a listicle of the most expensive bathtubs in the world. Don’t ask me why.

The search was prescient, it turns out. On Oct. 6 in Hershey, Pennsylvania, RM Sotheby’s went and sold a bathtub-looking 1961 AMC Metropolitan 1500 convertible for $74,250—a price that would put this particular Berkshire Green and Frost White vessel at No. 7 on the list I saw. Just behind the solid bronze Serenity with silver and gold accents, and just ahead of the all-copper Kallista Archeo, with the handheld shower and starfish engraving on the knob. Personally, I’d take the Metro, but still, $74,250?

In its brief catalog text (Metropolitans do not get multi-page spreads in auction catalogs), RM claimed the car was freshly restored “to an exhaustive standard of factory correctness,” with many new old-stock parts, to the tune of more than $37,000.

1961 AMC Metropolitan 1500 Convertible detail
RM Sotheby’s
1961 AMC Metropolitan 1500 Convertible interior
RM Sotheby’s

1961 AMC Metropolitan 1500 Convertible hood ornament
RM Sotheby’s
1961 AMC Metropolitan 1500 Convertible grille detail
RM Sotheby’s

The pre-sale estimate, $30,000–$40,000, placed the car right in the middle of the pricing realm for the world’s best Metropolitans. But it was not the world’s best Metropolitan. In his on-site condition report, auction analyst Rick Carey rated the car as a #2, with “very good paint, chrome, and interior,” while noting the “new top fit could be better.” He called the result “staggering.”

Hagerty Valuation expert Dave Kinney saw the car in Hershey and echoed Carey’s assessment. “It was extremely nice, but it wasn’t perfect,” he concluded. Kinney posited that because the Metro was part of a collection of very nice cars, all restored to a high degree, perhaps that swayed bidders. “But this is really strange. There’s just no rhyme or reason for the result.”

He also doesn’t believe it’s repeatable, especially when you consider what other cars you can buy for that kind of money. “I think it means there might be more attention paid to Metropolitans, and that we may see a price adjustment on them, but we’re not going to see them go to $70,000 or $80,000. Call it irrational exuberance,” Kinney notes, aptly borrowing the phrase coined by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan more than 20 years ago. An anomaly, then, of Metropolitan proportions.

Wild results like this aren’t unheard of, and they can happen any time two bidders are hell-bent on owning a particular car, no matter what make or model it is. For anyone in the room, the moment instantly takes on a gameshow-like quality, and the back-and-forth can be thrilling. For a bidding war over a 55-horsepower meep-meep bathtub, sometimes it’s funny, too.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what kind of bath the new owner is going to take once it comes time to sell it on down to the next buyer. Not a warm one.

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