A 22-year-old student’s first car just sold for $7.1m

13th March 2020
Bob Murray

A 22-year-old student’s first car sold at auction at the weekend for $7.1 million. But then the car was a particularly rare and distinguished Bugatti and the student did go by the name of Victor Rothschild, later 3rd Baron Rothschild.


The 1932 Bugatti Type 55 Super Sport, one of just 11 surviving Jean Bugatti-designed and factory-bodied roadsters of the 38 made, was top-priced lot during the collector car auctions at Amelia Island in Florida at the weekend. Bonhams sold the car for $7.1 million, or £5.4m including the premium.

Destined to be one of the automotive world’s greatest icons from the day it left the factory, it was ordered new by 22-year-old Victor Rothschild while he was studying physiology at Trinity College Cambridge.

The T55 roadster, with its supercharged 2,262cc straight-eight engine, has not just been cherished throughout its life – the last owner had it for 35 years – but also seen its life and times meticulously recorded. One owner compiled a 32-page hand typed and personally illustrated handbook charting its history and full operational workings.

When this car was sold at auction in London in 1985 it was thought it might make £100,000 but sold for four times that, making it at that time the most valuable car ever to sell in the UK. And it’s gone up a bit since then…

Here’s what else made big money at Amelia Island…


1907 Renault Vanderbilt Racer, $3.3 million

Bonhams bagged second most valuable lot as well, selling a 1907 Renault Type AI 35/45HP from an era of motor racing when the engines were big and the performance brutish, even if, as this car’s jokey licence plate once confirmed, it looks more like a frog than a racing car. Bonhams says of the car “cruising at 65 is just the beginning – mash the throttle and you feel like you never travelled so fast in an automobile before. This experience is so pure and exciting it’s why many people say it's the greatest in all of motoring.”

The racy Renault, with its huge 7.5-litre four-cylinder engine, was commissioned by early American motor racing pioneer Willie K Vanderbilt. He ordered 10 mechanically identical 35/45hp cars for his American friends to race with in events such as the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island, America’s most important race in this period. Only five of the 10 “Vanderbilt racers” survive and most of those are in museums. This car, with its impeccable originality and provenance, is ready to roll and amuse – or terrify – its new owner.


2003 Ferrari Enzo, $2.78 million

More than a century after the Renault came the Ferrari Enzo, a road car but one that took performance to new levels by using race car technology – in that regard at least, like its veteran French predecessor, but with about 10 times more power. A perfect Rosso Corsa version of the ultimate naturally aspirated, limited-edition Ferrari hypercar, RM Sotheby’s sold this one, with an incredible 1,700 miles from new, for $2,782,500.

1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, $2.2 million

Totally spectacular everywhere – and especially the built-in picnic and drinks cupboard in the back – this Rolls 40/50 HP, aka Silver Ghost, is rare because of its combination of touring “London to Edinburgh” chassis and torpédo body, in the signature style of Parisian coachbuilders Kellner. Very few Silver Ghosts have their original open coachwork.

This one nearly didn’t. At some point in its past it lost its original coachwork but the body was tracked down in 2012 and after 80 years was reunited with its chassis. It was said to fit perfectly. Since then it has had a three-year restoration, making its debut at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where it won awards including most elegant open car and most historically significant automobile, as well as winning its class.

Gooding & Co sold the Rolls-Royce at its Amelia Island auction for $2,205,000.


1938 Bugatti Type 57, $1.655 million

Rare, highly original, exquisitely finished and prepared says RM Sotheby’s of this Type 57 with one-off cabriolet coachwork by D’Ieteren of Belgium. The engine, of course Bugatti’s famous dual-overhead-cam straight-eight, the chassis frame and the rare three-seat body are all original. It even has its tools and original unrestored luggage. No surprise it has been a regular at Pebble Beach, Rétromobile, Techno Classica, Villa d’Este, and other concours events.


1963 Ferrari 250 GT, $1.6 million

Grand touring doesn’t get much grander than being aboard this Lusso (luxury) berlinetta version of the great Ferrari 250 GT. Matching numbers and fresh from a two-year restoration, it’s a platinum award winner with documented history and almost five decades of fastidious care under a single ownership. RM Sotheby’s sold this one for $1,600,000 including the premium.


1967 Ferrari 330 GTS, $1.475 million

Only 100 of these Pininfarina-coachbuilt open versions of the GTC were ever made and this is the 28th, delivered new to the US in 1967, a year after the handsome convertible had its debut at the Paris Motor Show.

This car was grey originally but is now gold. Nothing has changed under the bonnet though, where the 300bhp 4.0-litre, twin-cam V12 resides ensuring true 150mph performance. The GTS plays up its GT role with plenty of luxury too, coming with leather seats, electric windows, radio and air-conditioning. This ’67 car with 51,000 miles showing is both Ferrari Classiche certified and a platinum award winner.

The car was sold at the Bonhams Amelia Island auction.

1969 Lamborghini Miura P400 S, $1.4 million

No collector car auction is complete without the original 1960s supercar and this one is a beauty: unrestored with only three owners and fewer than 18,000 miles from new. No wonder Gooding & Co found someone willing to hand over $1,435,000 for it. Apart from matching numbers and original interior, it still wears its Rosso Alfa Acrilico (Alfa Red Acrylic) paint that was given to only seven of the 142 Miura S models built in 1969. With its contrasting blue leather interior there is no other Miura quite like it.

1976 Porsche 934, $1.38 million

Gooding & Co is claiming a world auction record for the sale of this 934, Porsche’s legendary turbocharged mid-1970s Group 4 racer, which sold for $1,380,000. The first 934 built of only 31 examples, it raced at Le Mans in 1979, where it finished third in class, and was also campaigned by Kremer Racing in other European events. Restored and in its original livery, the flat-six powered, single turbo machine is still said to get from 0-100mph in 12 seconds and be able to hit 190mph.

And to think you could have bought this 934 for £10,250 in 1982…

Images courtesy of Bonhams, RM Sotheby’s and Gooding & Co.  

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