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Napoleon heir's Bugatti and rare Maserati to go on auction block

May 24, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times

From the rides of kings to a king of rock 'n' roll, auction house Gooding & Co. has scored a couple of notable entries for its annual auction at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August.

The Santa Monica seller of high-end collector cars will put up for auction a 1938 Bugatti Type 57C Stelvio once owned by Prince Louis Napoleon, the grandson of the nephew of Emperor Napoleon I of France and noted World War II resistance fighter.

Although the prince was forbidden to live in France for much of his life because of former laws banning the top heirs of French dynasties from living in the nation, he was fond of French vehicles, especially Bugattis. Gooding & Co. said he owned dozens during his lifetime. This one was delivered to Napoleon, who used the pseudonym Louis de Montfort to purchase the car. It is expected to sell for $1.3 million to $1.6 million.

"We have known of this vehicle for a long time. It was in the United Kingdom, and we convinced the owner to let us sell it at Pebble Beach," said David Gooding, president of Gooding & Co.

The Bugatti would have sold for about $12,000 in 1938, during the depths of the Great Depression, Gooding said. A new Ford at the time was about $500.

"Bugattis are known for their performance and unique design. This car would do more than 100 miles per hour, which was fast for the 1930s," he said.

The auction house also plans to sell a 1955 Maserati A6G / 54 Frua Berlinetta from the collection of Jay Kay, lead singer for the British band Jamiroquai. Gooding said this Maserati was first displayed in Paris at the 1955 Auto Show. It is expected to sell for $1.5 million to $2 million.

These cars go on sale in what has become a bull market for expensive collector autos.

By one measure, the value of collectible cars has surged 33% since the depth of the recession in 2009. The Hagerty collector car blue-chip index — a Dow-like gauge that averages the values of 25 of the most sought-after collectible automobiles of the postwar era — climbed to $1.25 million from $940,000 in September 2009.

More than a dozen collector cars have sold at auction this year for $2 million or more, including a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Alloy Gullwing that went for $4.6 million in January and a 1948 Tucker Torpedo that was bought for $2.9 million.

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