1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sells for $38.1 million, beating record but not expectation

·Managing Editor

When the 19th copy of Enzo Ferrari's 250 GTO Berlinetta left Maranello in 1962, it was just another race car, one that had a hard life ahead of wrecks and in one instance a driver's death. Yet today, the GTO was poised to become the most expensive car ever sold, the new high mark in a global demand for classic cars.

Instead, Bonhams' auctioneer Roberts Brooks brought the hammer down at $34.65 million -- and with the 10 percent buyer's premium, the final price of $38.115 million set a new record for vehicle auctions, but was well short of the record for a private vehicle sale.

The sale by Bonhams kicked off the classic-car auction bonanza around the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance this weekend. Last year, the auctions by Bonhams, Gooding & Co., RM Auctions and others drew $312 million in sales; estimates by classic insurer Hagerty suggest this year's total could top $450 million, with the GTO leading the parade.

That a 1962 GTO would come up for auction at all is a watershed event; the 39 in existence rarely trade hands, and often only in private. Last year, another 250 GTO sold in a private sale for $52 million, well above the previous record-holder for a car sold at auction, Juan Manuel Fangio's Mercedes W196 that sold for $29.6 million.

But the massive valuations for what's considered the pinnacle of Ferrari collecting reflects the rising value for many other antique vehicles. While much of the demand has come from true car enthusiasts, the latest wave has also been driven by investors simply seeking an asset class gaining in value to park their money.

Brooks began the bidding for the Ferrari at $1.0 million, and within 30 seconds the bids had risen to $30 million. From there, the bidding slowed to a grind with two bidders swapping $50,000. When the hammer came down the large crowd at Bonhams cheered.

 “It’s been a genuine privilege to represent this outstanding car and we are absolutely delighted with today’s results," Brooks said afterwards. "We’ve always maintained that we would exceed the current world record and that the car would bring between $30-$40 million and today the GTO did just that.”

While still a record, and in line with generally rising values for Ferrari 250s, the sale will come as a disappointment for some owners around Pebble Beach who were hoping to set their own records on the Ferrari's wake.