This weekend's automotive jamboree in Pebble Beach proved again that the demand for classic cars as investments keeps rising. According to Hagerty Insurance, auction buyers spent $260 million over three days of sales -- including setting a new $11 million record for the most expensive American car ever sold. That's a 32 percent jump from last year's totals, despite a few high-profile cars that didn't meet their minimum prices.
Of the weekend's auction total, $113.7 million came from the Gooding & Co. auction alone, with a top sale of $11.8 million including the auction house premium for the 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster. RM Auctions set the U.S. record with its sale of the 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage Coupe at $11 million. And any sale of less than $5 million wouldn't put a car in the top 10 vehicles trading hands this weekend.
That said, watching the auctions in person revealed more restraint by the bidders than the raw numbers might suggest. On Sunday night at Gooding, one of the featured cars of the weekend, Clark Gable's 1935 Duesenberg Model JN Convertible Coupe, was pulled from the stage after bidding petered out north of $6 million. Many vehicles sold for the low end of their sales estimates; only a few models sparked a true bidding war, like a 1952 Hudson Hornet sedan which had a high estimate of $70,000 and sold for $135,000.
As for the dirtiest car: the 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB sold for $946,000.
The entire Pebble Beach weekend is one long chance to rubberneck at expensive machinery, but less-expensive cars such as several custom hot-rods and resto-mods also sold well -- although their prices weren't rising as quickly as the spotlight cars. Even the high-zoot Gooding auction sold a 1949 Plymouth convertible for $22,000. If you want to play in this casino, you've got a year to start saving.