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Pebble Beach 2016: Multimillion-dollar race cars zoom into auction record books

Pebble Beach 2016: Multimillion-dollar race cars zoom into auction record books
A 1955 Jaguar D-Type race car sold for $19.8 million at an RM Sotheby's auction in Monterey, becoming the most expensive British car ever sold at public auction. (RM Sotheby's)

Two vintage race cars set sales records Friday night as the Monterey Car Week automobile auctions got up to full speed.

A 1955 Jaguar D-Type car, a winner at the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans international competition, was sold at an RM Sotheby's event for $19.8 million ($21.7 million, with auction fees included) to become the most expensive British automobile ever sold at public auction, according to classic car insurance agency Hagerty.

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Minutes later, American race legend Carroll Shelby's Cobra prototype, known as the CSX 2000, rolled onto the RM Sotheby's stage — driven by Shelby's grandson, Aaron Shelby. When the bidding ended, the deep blue race car had sold for $12.5 million ($13.75 million with fees). That rate made the Shelby car the highest-priced American vehicle sold at public auction, Hagerty said.

Despite those high-profile sales, the auction action around Monterey was off the pace of the last two car week levels.

Hagerty research said that sales totals for 2016 are down 41% from last year — in part because RM Sotheby's threw in an extra day of auctions in 2015. Median vehicle prices were down 10% overall, Hagerty said, and the sell-through rate was down five points to just 51%.

Indeed, even the Jaguar sale was disappointing to some auction attendees. The value of the sale had been estimated by the auction house at $20 million to $25 million, and some viewers thought it could go higher. So the $19.8 million figure, while a record-setter, still was lower than anticipated.

The Shelby Cobra, too, was expected by many experts to go higher. RM Sotheby's had not published an estimated value, but several auction experts had predicted privately that the car, because of its unique history and its sentimental value, could sell for well over $20 million.

Peninsula-wide, the Friday auction totals came to $119 million, off last year's $190 million pace.

RM Sotheby's led the pack by auction house, with $62 million in Friday sales. Bonham's, whose top car was a 1931 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix Roadster that sold for $4 million, was second with $34 million in sales.

Mecum, which sold a 1973 Ferrari Dino 246 GTS Spider for $357,500, was third with $8.5 million on overall sales. Russo and Steele sold $1.5 million in vehicles.

The auctions continue through the weekend, as the multiple-day Monterey Car Week builds to its traditional Sunday climax at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Excellence. By then, Gooding and Co. will have convened its auctions and added its numbers to the overall sales.

Last year's total auction figure was $396 million. Estimates have put this year's totals at about $370 million.

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