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I know you’ve all been wondering what happened in Paris when they auctioned Roger Baillon’s cars. You remember that late last year, the world found out Roger had been keeping 60 incredible cars in various barns around his farm in western France for the past 50 years.

Now it has to be said the Bugattis, Porsches and Talbot-Lagos were in less than original condition. Pierre Novikoff, a senior specialist at auctioneer Artcurial, said Roger’s farm “was somewhere between a metallic graveyard and a museum. Nature had taken a hold over the years. Ivy had invaded a car and entirely covered its wheel, while weeds had taken root in a passenger compartment as easily as in a greenhouse.”

But that didn’t stop the punters paying a total of $38 million for some dusty exotics at Artcurial’s beautiful chateau on the roundabout where the Champs-Elysees hits the Avenue Matignon. There were 1600 registered bidders from 30 countries and 3500 packing the auction room. Most of us thought the local millionaires were very keen to keep the collection in France.

For cars that needed expensive restoration the prices seemed high. One Ferrari, a 1961 250GT SWB, brought $25m — more than half the total for Roger’s collection.

To give you the real story here, given the Australian peso has virtually no value outside Greece and Botswana, let’s look at 250 GT prices in US dollars. In 2008, RM Auctions sold one in tip-top condition for about $US8m. Four years later that Ferrari was worth only $US800,000 more. But last year Dave Gooding sold the same model as Roger’s for $US15m and, as we saw, a few months later Artcurial managed to get a very patriotic French person to pay $US18.5m for the dark blue with black leather number in worse than original condition.

Let’s think about this. The move to unrestored, barn-find cars is a bigger mystery than why more people didn’t vote for the Motorists and No Parking Meter parties in the recent NSW election. For instance, in 2009, members of a local diving club pulled a 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Brescia Roadster from the depths of Lake Maggiore where it had been resting for 40 years. Best guess was someone would pay $80,000 for the rusted hulk and then spend a million doing up what was left of it. But no, at auction Pete Mullin paid $400,000.

Pete is a pretty serious collector of French cars from the art deco period. How serious? Well, the reinsurance billionaire has his own auto museum in California (of course). He has the rusty Bugatti on display in its own darkened room just so you get the same feeling as you would if you were looking at it through a diver’s mask 50m down in an Italian lake.

In Sports Car Market magazine, editor Keith Martin has an editorial titled: “When Cars Become Immortal: If your car is worth $6m or more, it makes financial sense to bring it back to life, even if it has been rolled into a ball and set on fire”. Keith says there are three kinds of classic cars: “The Immortals, Restoration Priced and the Bargains Forever”.

Of the Immortal, he writes: “Let’s suppose you rolled your Ferrari 250 SWB into a ball, and it caught fire and melted to the ground. All you had left was the chassis tag. Given that the value range of SWBs is $8m to $12m, you could afford to spend a lot of money having your car re-created at a professional shop, at full-bore hourly rates.”

Read the rest at The Australian

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