The $14,500 that Eddie Smith Sr. paid for his 1967 Ferrari 275 was a lot of money half a century ago — about $100,000 in today's dollars.
His son, Eddie Smith Jr., recalled it being a steep price for the family at the time. And yet it was immediately clear the car would be worth keeping.
"We knew it was special," said Smith Jr., who was 26 then. "It sounded so good; it looked so good; it drove so good."
That sticker price seems like a pittance now — as Smith Jr. prepares to roll his late father's car onto an auction stage during Monterey Classic Car Week, where experts estimate it will fetch $14 million to $17 million.
Officially known as a 275 GTB/4*S N.A.R.T. Spider, the car is one of only 10 made, according to RM Auctions, which will put it up for bidding Aug. 17.
"This is undoubtedly one of the best competition Ferraris you could buy" today, said McKeel Hagerty, founder and chief executive of Hagerty Insurance, which insures classic cars.
If this 275/4 does hit the upper end of the estimate, it may steal the record for most expensive Ferrari sold at auction. The current record of $16.4 million, which includes auction commission, was set in the 2011 Pebble Beach auction of a 1957 Testa Rossa.
Among the crowd watching the sale will be members of the North Carolina family that has owned the car since it was delivered in 1968 by famed Ferrari importer Luigi Chinetti.
The Smith family has lofty plans for the money garnered from the sale of their patriarch's car, promising that all proceeds will go to local charities and the family foundation.
They decided to sell the car after seeing the warm reaction it received at a Ferrari Club of America meet in 2012 in Savannah, Ga.
"That's really what tripped my trigger," Smith Jr. said. "When we saw people's reaction, a lot of them were Ferrari owners, and we realized they had never seen one."
They had certainly never seen this one, which had been hidden in a climate-controlled garage. "The darn thing is in a prison," Smith Jr. said.
The Ferrari was his father's third. Never a car collector, Smith Sr. owned only one Ferrari at a time. His first was also a Spider — Ferrari parlance for convertible.
His second was a hardtop 275/4, though Smith Sr. returned it after just a few months when Chinetti informed him that a small number of convertible 275/4s would be made exclusively for U.S. buyers. Convertibles had always been Smith Sr.'s preference, his son said.
Many in the classic car community consider the 275/4 N.A.R.T. cars to be among the prettiest Ferraris ever made. A bright red version was featured in the original "Thomas Crown Affair."
N.A.R.T. refers to North American Racing Team, a Ferrari-backed venture created in the late 1950s to promote the Ferrari brand in the U.S. at a time when the name meant little to most racing fans.
This limited run of 275 N.A.R.T. Spiders mix their good looks with ferocious performance; a 3.2-liter V-12 with six Weber carburetors makes 300 horsepower. The engine is mated with four-wheel independent suspension and a five-speed manual transmission, with taller gear ratios than other 275s to accommodate the longer straightaways of U.S. tracks.
"It's probably going to have the greatest historical interest from a big American collector," Hagerty said, because the car was built with U.S. customers in mind.
Smith Sr. won't be around to see the sale. But if he were, the intense interest in the car today might not surprise him.
"Dad knew it was a very special piece of equipment," his son said.