Can some collector cars be considered art? Well, convincing many of you would probably be as tough as convincing me, a guy who was raised listening to music written by George and Ira Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein and Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, that rap is music. But I’ll try. After all, fine music and fine cars have a lot in common.
Recently, a ’31 Bugatti Royale was sold for $17.6 million. A ’29 Mercedes Benz SSK changed hands for $7.9 million. An Italian red 1962 Ferrari 330LM racecar went for $7.2 million and a ’30 Bentley Speed six captured $5.4 million at auction. A ’35 Duesenberg SJ Roadster brought $4.7 million. Whew! Just two weeks ago, an Andy Warhol painting sold for $27 million. True, the timing was right for the Warhol, but no way is that piece of art any more attractive or impressive than say, that ’62 Ferrari 330 LM. Let me also say that the Ferrari would also look damn good in your living room, providing you had the right space!
On a more serious note, let me bring up the point that when certain cars are worth so much money, they become more than just automobiles. Some of the logic is that they have become objects of art as well as objects of lust, at least to the automobile connoisseur. That vastly expensive ’31 Bugatti Royale sedan mentioned above is certainly not as beautiful as say that Ferrari or Duesenberg, but its sheer presence (it’s one of the biggest cars ever made) and its rarity, plus the fact that it was designed by an automotive genius, made it beautiful to enough collectors to bid it up at auction to be one of the most expensive cars in the world. Provenance is indeed very important when considering a car’s value.
To further prove that cars are objects of art many museums around the world have several in their permanent collections. MOMA and the Guggenheim here in New York have several. But just look around you. Look in the car magazines. There is really some beautiful stuff out there, not only from the past, but present-day vehicles. Also, a car does not have to be worth mega-dollars to be a work of art. Take, for instance, a 1957 Chevrolet convertible. Or for that matter a 1955-57 Chevrolet Nomad station wagon. Park that old Nomad alongside the new Cadillac CTS sport wagon and seriously tell me that someday these two “wagons” will not appear in some museum. They are both art, past and present. A toast to all you readers who stand in your garage and stare at the lines of your car, new or old, you know what I’m talking about.
Speaking of art and cars, did you know that around 1978, BMW of Germany sanctioned several famous pop artists to actually paint full-size pictures on several of their new M1 super cars? Andy Warhol and Frank Stella were just two of the artists. The cars were to be raced in a pre-European formula one series call the Pro-Car series. Interestingly enough, about 15 years ago, the colorful Richard Rubio from Westhampton Coachworks had a BMW M1 art car for sale and asked me if I knew anyone who wanted one. I called a friend in Germany who was connected to the German BMW club. Surprisingly, no one was interested. The value of the car then was about $100,000. I mention this because this August 18 to 19, the Guggenheim museum will have Bonhams auction off its BMW M1 art car, which was in the museum’s permanent collection. Fifteen years ago I advised my friends in Germany to buy the car, remove the lightweight fiberglass body with the expensive art and hang it on their wall. Then just have a new body built and drive the car. The M1 is a wildly fast machine.
Good bidding, and have a great weekend. Remember that at the beginning of this article I said that music and cars have a lot in common? Have you ever heard a Ferrari V-12 engine at high revs? Music to our ears.
Bob Gelber is an automotive journalist who has lived in the Hamptons for over 30 years. He can also be seen on television talking about his favorite subject, automobiles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.