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A historic Ferrari is going on the auction block. It could sell for $26 million

A historic Ferrari is going on the auction block. It could sell for $26 million
This rare 1956 Ferrari 290 MM is expected to fetch $26 million when it crosses RM Sotheby's auction block at the Petersen Automotive Museum in December. (Diana Varga / RM Sotheby's)

Ferrari fever burns on.

Four months after a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for $48 million at an RM Sotheby’s auction in Monterey — the highest price ever paid for a car at auction — a race car from the Ferrari history books may set a new Southern California high-water mark.

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On Dec. 8, a rare 1956 Ferrari 290 MM is expected to fetch $26 million when it crosses RM Sotheby’s block at Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum.

The car took second place at the 1956 Mille Miglia, driven by Peter Collins and Louis Klemantaski. In subsequent races it was driven by legends Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Sir Stirling Moss.
The car took second place at the 1956 Mille Miglia, driven by Peter Collins and Louis Klemantaski. In subsequent races it was driven by legends Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Sir Stirling Moss. (Diana Varga / RM Sotheby's)

The ’56 290 MM — so named because it was designed to compete in the then-prestigious Mille Miglia Italian road race — has an illustrious history. Rolling off the Ferrari floor as the last of four 290 MM models built that year, the car took second place at the 1956 Mille Miglia, driven by Peter Collins and Louis Klemantaski. In its subsequent racing history it was raced by legends Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Sir Stirling Moss.

“This is a competition Ferrari, with a winning history, that was driven by several famous drivers,” said Ken Gross, a classic car historian and former Petersen director. “That ticks all the boxes for desirable classic cars.”

Built at the express direction of company founder Enzo Ferrari, the ’56 was bodied by the Italian car design firm Scaglietti and powered by a 3.5-liter Tipo 130 V-12 engine.

It is rarer than the 250 GTO sold last August, Gross said, because fewer of them were made, and rarer than the 1963 250 GTO reportedly sold last January for $70 million in a private transaction to entrepreneur and racer David MacNeil.

The Ferrari 290 MM at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1957.
The Ferrari 290 MM at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1957. (Klemantaski Collection / RM Sotheby's)

Even though the 290 MM has no special local provenance, RM Sotheby’s Alexander Weaver said the auction house is bringing the car to the customer.

“If you look at great car collectors and car collections of the U.S., a great majority are in a 100-mile radius of the Petersen,” Weaver said.

“This is kind of Ferrari mecca,” said Terry Karges, executive director of the Petersen.

Weaver has reason to be optimistic. RM Sotheby’s sold an almost identical 1956 Ferrari 290 MM for $28 million at a 2015 New York event. That car — chassis number 0626 — was another of the four original ’56 290 MMs. Driven by Fangio, it took fourth place at the 1956 Mille Miglia race, to this vehicle’s second-place finish.

The Ferrari, shown in 1957, was powered by a 3.5-liter Tipo 130 V-12 engine.
The Ferrari, shown in 1957, was powered by a 3.5-liter Tipo 130 V-12 engine. (The Revs Institute for Automotive Research / RM Sotheby's)

The auction is a coup for the Petersen, Gross said. The museum will receive a fee from Sotheby’s for the use of its facilities as well as worldwide attention from bidders, viewers and fans who will watch the auction online.

“The Petersen has a mixed history with auctions,” he said. “But in this case it’s a known venue and an important car, and can draw from a very wealthy and enthusiastic L.A. market.”

Southern California is not known for its big car auctions, which are typically hosted by giants RM Sotheby’s, Gooding and Co., Mecum, Bonhams and Barrett-Jackson. The highest-price sales invariably occur at high-profile auctions during annual car shows at Pebble Beach, Amelia Island or England’s Goodwood.

Six of the 10 highest prices ever paid at public auction, including the $28-million 290 MM sold in 2015, were for vintage Ferraris. Seven of those top-10 sales occurred in California.

Southern California is home to some major Ferrari owners, collectors and enthusiasts — among them real estate baron Bruce Meyer and watch and jewelry magnate David Lee. It is not unusual for 300 or more classic Ferraris to appear at the annual Petersen event that honors the birth date of the founder of the Italian car company.

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Among the roughly 40 vehicles to be included in the RM auction will be a 1965 Ferrari 33 GT, a 1957 Porsche 356A Speedster and a re-creation of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s 1962 Mysterion.

The Ferrari's rarity and clear provenance will attract heavy buyer attention, confirmed John Wiley, analyst at the classic car insurance company Hagerty. And the racing history helps: "The names associated with racing this car definitely increases the desirability," he said in an email.

But that's no guarantee of a sale. At North American auctions over the last 18 months, Wiley noted, only 44% of cars offered at prices above $10 million have been sold.

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