How much was Otis Chandler’s storied collection of vintage automobiles and motorcycles worth?
More than $36 million, as it turns out. At least, that’s what bidders hailing from as far away as Europe and Asia collectively agreed to pay Saturday for the late Los Angeles Times publisher’s collection at an Oxnard auction.
“This is one of those great moments” for car collecting enthusiasts, said Larry Crane, the Thousand Oaks-based editor of Auto Aficionado magazine. “Otis didn’t collect just great cars; he collected the great cars.
“It’s not a big collection,” Crane said, “but it may be the most important collection for sale in a long time, and perhaps for a long time to come.”
Saturday’s auction featured 80 motorcycles and 90 automobiles spanning a century of history, including a 1904 Mercedes 40/45 Sports Touring car, which sold for $2.4 million, and a 1931 Duesenberg J Special Phaeton, which fetched the top price, $2.6 million. Many are extremely rare: Chandler’s 1933 Packard 1006 Twelve Sport Phaeton, for instance, is one of only three in the world, said David Gooding, president and founder of Gooding & Co., the auction manager.
Word of the sale triggered worldwide attention. The company allowed some bidders to monitor the auction by telephone, and screens set up in the cavernous museum marked bid prices not only in dollars, but also in British pounds, euros, Swiss francs and Japanese yen, according to company spokesman Fred Hammond.
The auction broke the record for a single collection sale on a single day, he said. The previous record was a 1990 auction, which earned $21 million.
Nine cars from Saturday’s auction sold for more than $1 million each, and two sold for more than $2 million each.
The first edition of Chandler’s legendary collection began in 1968, when he bought a 1931 Duesenberg for $35,000. Several years after selling that set of Cadillacs, Ferraris, Packards, Porsches and others to meet the financial terms of a divorce settlement, he began anew with another 1931 Duesenberg, buying it for $1.2 million.
By 1990, Chandler had placed his collection in his Vintage Museum of Transportation and Wildlife in Oxnard, the 45,000-square-foot building where the auction was held. He later lent some of his motorcycles to the Guggenheim Museum, which opened its “Art of the Motorcycle” exhibit in 1998.
Chandler, publisher of The Times from 1960 to 1980, is credited with transforming the once-parochial newspaper into one of the nation’s best. He died in February at 78.
Times staff writer Erika Hayasaki contributed to this report.