Classic cars brought in a record $400 million in auctions during Monterey Car Week, a big jump over last year and multiple times the total of many previous years.
The four-day total marked a 28% increase over the $312 million in sales during the 2013 event, according to Hagerty Insurance, which insures and tracks classic car values.
The lavish, multi-day auctions are hosted each year by companies like RM, Gooding & Co. and Bonhams in Pebble Beach and nearby Carmel. The auctions coincide with the annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance on Sunday, which draws some of the wealthiest car fans in the world to the Monterey peninsula.
The weekend's final $400-million tally could tick higher if auction houses close private deals Monday or Tuesday for cars that didn't sell. Most cars are auctioned with undisclosed minimum prices; if a car fails to hit that mark but gets close, the seller may negotiate privately after the auction is over.
Buyers waged bidding wars on cars that included Ferraris, Fords and Fiats.
"There was a great deal of hype heading into the Monterey auctions," said McKeel Hagerty, founder and chief executive of Hagerty Insurance. "It was a record year, and several individual record sales were set, including the highest price ever paid for a car at public auction."
That record was set Thursday when Bonhams sold a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO for $38.1 million, including buyer's fees. The sale shattered the previous record set of nearly $30 million in 2013.
The GTO is one of only 39 ever built, and they're revered by collectors for being as easy to drive on the street as they are ferocious on the track. This particular GTO, known by its chassis number as 3851GT, was owned by the same family for 49 years. A group of investors purchased the GTO and 72 other cars from the family in June.
The GTO's final price set a new high, but it was well below what many experts expected, given that they have sold recently in private sales for $50 million. The auction environment was expected to boost buyers' appetites for such a machine. But 3851GT is the only GTO to have been involved in a fatal crash, killing driver Henri Oreiller in 1962 in its second race.
Other big-name cars either didn't sell or sold for less than expected over the weekend.
A 1965 Ford GT40 prototype sold for $6.9 million, well below its pre-sale estimate of $8 million to $10 million. A 1995 McLaren F1 had a pre-sale estimate of $12 million to $14 million but failed to meet its reserve.
A 1966 Ferrari 365 P Berlinetta "Tre Posti" reached $22.5 million in bidding Sunday night at Gooding's auction but failed to meet its reserve price. The car is one of two hand-built Tre Postis, so named because it's a three-seat car with the driver sitting in the middle and a passenger on either side.
"They're unique cars, but not everybody understands them," Gooding & Co.'s founder and president, David Gooding, said Monday. "There's no precedent for it, so it's difficult to set a price on it."
Owners of the Tre Posti Ferrari and the McLaren were in negotiations Monday to sell privately, according to Gooding. His auction house had also failed to sell a 1939 Alfa Romeo Tipo 256 Cabriolet Sportivo on Sunday night.
The car reached a peak of $3.8 million in bidding but didn't hit its reserve. Gooding sold the car for $4.5 million Monday, a figure below the car's initial reserve price.
"Collectors showed discipline in their bidding and were willing to let some cars pass rather than be drawn into a frenzy," Hagerty said. "The blue-chip collector is a sophisticated buyer, and they proved that this year in Monterey."
The cream of the collecting world remained classic Ferraris over the weekend, with the prancing horse marque grabbing nine of the top 10 sales. Only the Ford GT40 prototype broke Ferrari's streak, an ironic footnote considering GT40s did the same thing to Ferraris in endurance racing in the mid-1960s.
Ferrari has grabbed numerous top 10 sales in previous Pebble Beach weekends, though 2014 stands out for how the brand dominated other traditionally high-value marques such as Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Duesenberg and Mercedes-Benz.
The middle of the market saw impressive gains over last year's Pebble Beach results. The average sale price was up 29% to $535,648, while the median sale price rose 39% to $99,000, according to Hagerty.
The $400-million total is more than three times the 2009 total of $123 million.
The lower end of the market continues to see excitement over Japanese brands, as younger buyers begin to start collecting. This has forced these high-profile auction houses to include more early Mazdas, Toyotas and Nissans in their lineups.
"It's definitely a generational thing," Gooding said. "But also there are many collectors who realize that these cars had a great impact in their day. And they're beautiful cars no matter where they were produced."
Over the weekend, a 1967 Mazda Cosmo and a 1972 Nissan Skyline each blew past their pre-sale estimates and sold for more than $200,000, while a 1967 Toyota 2000 GT sold for $1.1 million.