French auction house Artcurial, a real rising star in the field of vintage car auctions (even though that’s far from all they do), has recently released its catalogue for the upcoming Retromobile 2023 auction and event in Paris. It seems like every year the selection of cars just gets bigger, better and more interesting and that’s just what we like to see. The vintage car auction industry is somewhat comparable to vintage watch auctions in the sense that auction houses always try to offer unique and extremely valuable cars, or even complete collections, to grab as much attention as possible. And the Retromobile 2023 by Artcurial is no exception, as its headlining car is Ferrari’s last-ever Le Mans 24 Hours winner. But besides that absolutely stunning Ferrari 250 LM, there are a lot of desirable and sometimes really obscure cars to be discovered. We selected just three from the very impressive 299-lot catalogue that immediately struck a chord with us, and we’ll talk you through them one by one.
The selection heading for auction in this year’s Retromobile event is quite impressive. A total of 299 lots will be sold off (if reserves are met) over a two-day period in early February. Just checking out some of the lots in the catalogues takes you through various chapters of the automotive industry. From very curvaceous cars from the 1930s to lightweight racers from the fifties to in-your-face Mercedes’ from the eighties and everything in between. There really is something for everyone, besides the ever-present Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche sports and racing cars. With names you might have never heard of and design that only a mother could love here and there, it’s an absolutely intriguing list! But, as said, we pick just three and we simply cannot ignore the amazing Ferrari 250 LM.
Ferrari’s Last Le Mans Winner
Ferrari’s legacy is rivalled by few only, and that goes for both its road and racing cars. Endurance racing has always been a part of Ferrari. There have been a huge number of competitors racing in cars with the Prancing Horse badge across the world, either as a privateer or with factory-backing. The most famous endurance race of all is of course the Le Mans 24 Hours, which Ferrari has won 9 times. Only Audi and Porsche have more overall wins with 13 and 19 respectively. Ferrari would also have a storied multi-year rivalry with Ford, as most of you will probably know. The American manufacturer is responsible for ending Ferrari’s legendary 6-year winning streak with the mighty GT40 MKII, a story in which this red-and-white Ferrari 250 LM was also involved.
The Ferrari 250 LM was introduced at the 1963 Paris Auto Show and was designed to replace the legendary 250 GTO. It was built on the foundation of the 250 P, and essentially was an attempt to turn a prototype sports car (the 250 P) into a closed-top GT car. Something the FIA refused to accept despite Enzo’s demands, as Ferrari had failed to build 100 production cars to meet the homologation for the GT class. The 250 LM has a tubular space frame chassis and a mid-mounted 3.3 litre V12 producing about 320bhp. Everywhere it showed up it was a formidable competitor in the hands of an amateur or privateer racer, but even more so with factory support and full-fledged professional race car drivers. It would also be the very car that would grand Ferrari its last-ever overall Le Mans win in 1965, thanks to Jochen Rindt, Maston Gregory and Ed Hugus, driving for the North American Racing Team (better known as N.A.R.T.).
This particular Ferrari 250 LM is number 10 out of a production run of just 32, making it even rarer than the 250 GTO (with 36 cars built). The car is in absolutely pristine condition and everything has been inspected and certified by Ferrari Classiche. It’s painted in bright Ferrari-red, obviously, with white details, wire-spoke wheels and a spartan interior with black and blue racing buckets. Looking at it from the side, the car looks remarkably compact and even quite cute. But make no mistake about it, this is a true purebred race car, one that conquered the race tracks and lives on as one of Ferrari’s greatest. The estimate is on request only, which says a lot already, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this broke the 250 LM record. More details are here.
A Masterpiece by Bugatti
Next up is another extremely rare and valuable car, by the hands of Ettore Bugatti. It’s a name that sparks endless interest wherever it pops up, and the cars built during the 1930s are arguably its very best. The company’s origins are a little unusual, as Ettore himself was born in Italy but he started his company in 1909 in the German city of Molsheim. After the First World War, Molsheim came under French control, and Bugatti remained there until its demise in 1947, following the untimely death of Ettore Bugatti. With his son tragically killed in a car accident in 1939 there was no heir to the company and eventually, it went bust.
It wouldn’t be until 1987 for the Bugatti name to make a return, when Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli bought the name and rights, established Bugatti Automobili S.p.A. in Modena, Italy and start work on the (in)famous Bugatti EB110. This adventure lasted until 1995 when the company filed for bankruptcy. The Bugatti estate was bought by the Volkswagen Group in 1998 and began building a series of prototype design studies penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro/ItalDesign which would ultimately lead to the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 in 2005. It’s now partially owned by Rimax and Porsche, just to show how fast things can change.
Going back to the company’s early days however, Bugatti was primarily known for two things; ultra-luxurious tourers such as the Type 41 Royale, and high-performance sports cars like the Type 35 and Type 55. The Type 35 Grand Prix race car, often finished in typical Bugatti blue and with distinctly cambered front wheels, is one of the most successful racing cars ever made, with more than 1,000 documented wins and multiple records in its time.
Coming up for auction at the Artcurial Retromobile 2023 event is a Dutch-owned Bugatti Type 57 Atalante from 1935. This gorgeous car is one of the most iconic Bugatti’s ever made, penned by Ettore Bugatti’s son, Jean Bugatti. It is one of three remaining examples of a 1935 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante to have a factory-fitted sunroof from new. Next to that, it has the iconic horse-shoe-shaped grill up-front, the car’s original 1935 inline-8 engine under the long bonnet and six exhaust pipes sticking out under the rear of the car. It’s finished in a striking combination of black and ivory white, with a luxurious tan leather interior with wood trim.
Back in the day, such a car would cost 90,000 Francs (or about USD 6,000), which would equate to about USD 130,000 today. The estimate is between EUR 2,000,000 and EUR 3,000,000 which seems cautious given the buzz such a car can generate. More details are here.
The French Facel-Vega connection
The third selected car, by pure chance, also comes from France but this time it’s from the early 1960s and built by Facel-Vega. The Facel-Vega company originally started out as a manufacturer of pressed steel car bodies and other components for the automotive industry just before the outbreak of the Second World War (seems like a thin red line in all three cars today). The company didn’t start making cars under its own name until 1954 and production would last for only a decade before Facel-Vega went under. The prime reason for its demise was the underdeveloped Facellia, which caused so many issues that Facel-Vega was losing money hand over fist. Eventually, it got so out of control the losses were impossible to recoup and the factory was shut down in 1964.
Just like several other high-end manufacturers did back in those days, Facel-Vega built unique cars with striking European designs and use American-built V8s for power (in this case Chrysler engines). The Facel-Vega HK II up for auction by Artcurial is one in a collection of 5 Facel-Vega’s. all coming from the same owner. This particular car is one of the earlier of the HK II, which was introduced in 1962 and built until the company shut down. The luxury GT car is one of only 184 built, all of which were fitted with either a 6.3 litre V8 producing 355 horsepower or a 6.7 litre V8 with 390 horsepower. It was advertised as the fastest 4-seater coupe in the world, which makes sense given the 155mph/247kph top speed of the most powerful variant.
The iridescent blue car, with its very distinct Facel-Vega design, was a wreck when bought by its current owner. It has been meticulously restored between 2010 and 2022 and looks better than ever. Opening up the big (and probably rather heavy) doors reveals the lavishly upholstered interior, finished with tan leather and walnut wood trim. It is now offered without a reserve price, and with an estimate of EUR 200,000 to EUR 300,000. More details are here.
Artcurial Retromobile 2023
The Artcurial Retromobile 2023 auction event will be held in Paris on the 3rd and 4th of February with exhibits also possible on the 1st and 2nd of next month. And if you’re interested, here’s the online catalogue you can browse through and learn about cars like the very peculiar 1933 Röhr “Tatzelwurm” or the brash Mercedes-Benz 500 SGS with Gullwing doors. On the other end of the spectrum are absolute stunners like a 1963 Jaguar E-Type Series 1 3.8L Coupe Lightweight or a 1950 Delahaye 135 MS Cabriolet Saoutchik. Working on a smaller budget perhaps? You can also go for a 1987 Renault Espace 1 Turbo D.
For more information on these and all other auction lots coming across the block at Artcurial Retromobile 2023, please visit Artcurial.com.
Editorial Note: The images in this article are provided by, and used with permission of the Artcurial organisation unless stated otherwise.