The major collector-car auctions of 2023 kick off in Arizona later this month. It’s the first chance of the new year to pick up the car you always promised yourself and at what may turn out to be a bargain price – pre-sale estimates are coming in on the tempting side, and quite a few come with no reserve price.
Ten Bonhams Scottsdale classics that would get our millions
It is true to say that Bonhams’ sale at the Westland Kierland Resort in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale has something for everyone. The selection of cars Bonhams has put together is stonking. You can view the full catalogue here but here are our top 10 picks, spanning cars from 30,000 bucks to more than three million…
1961 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, $30-50,000 (£25-42,000)
Affordable style statements come little more striking than the Ghia-designed, Karmann-built makeover of the Beetle, what VW at the time called “a Volkswagen for people who can't stand the sight of a Volkswagen”.
Since then it’s become a cult car, in the US as here, and this example with its turquoise paint job over a caramel interior plays the style card to perfection. Its very 1960s Southern California hand-painted pinstripes in fuchsia and gold speak of a meticulous restoration, carried out by a former VW and Porsche mechanic.
You won’t win the traffic lights’ GP in it – it’s all Beetle underneath with 40PS (30kW) 1.2-litre air-cooled engine and four-speed manual – but it’ll still part the traffic effectively, just on its looks.
1973 BMW 2002 Tii, $45-55,000 (£38-46,000)
BMW has made a name for itself with small sporty sedans and this is where they sprang from: the 2002, a short-wheelbase version of the “Neue Klasse” car first launched as the 1602 in 1966. That family went on to be a huge critical and commercial success for the Bavarians, setting a blueprint for the many great cars that followed.
The 2002 Turbo (the first turbocharged car in Europe) might be the ultimate 2002 but before that came out, the model to have was the Tii. Its 1991cc inline four boasted 130PS (97kW) thanks to the addition of fuel injection. With a manual ‘box, front disc brakes and all-independent suspension, it was a driver’s delight.
This lovely-looking Polaris Silver Tii is a US spec car that has lived its entire life in sunny California and is said to be both well-preserved and highly original.
1970 Datsun 240Z, $60-80,000 (£50-68,000)
Like the BMW, the 240Z is a car that was a huge hit Stateside, the country for which it was primarily developed. The first Japanese car to establish sports-car credibility outside its home nation, the Z-car was churned out by the tens of thousand but its desirability has always remained strong. You can thank its Euro-inspired styling, 150PS (112kW) 2.4 six and all-around independent suspension for that. You just need to find a good one.
Bonhams’ car looks to be just that: an early Series I with matching numbers in glorious Mexican Orange that's spent its entire 79,000-mile life with just two owners in Orange County, California.
1977 Porsche 911S 2.7 Targa, $80-120,000 (£67-101,000)
911s that hail from sunny, rust-free California can make an appealing prospect on this side of the pond and this stunning Targa looks to have plenty going for it. In fact, the 2.7-litre S was delivered new to Canada, but for a 911 that’s never been restored, it’s said to be in top shape.
One reason for that, might be the claim that it’s only ever had 9000 miles under its wheels. Other reasons to love this 911 are its long-term owners, matching numbers as per its Porsche Certificate of Authenticity, and of course its 165PS (123kW) fuel-injected flat-six. And it does look very cool in Irish Green.
1996 Dodge Viper GTS, $80-120,000 (£67-101,000)
This is a second-gen Viper, the massively reworked coupe version of the original hairy-chested, all-American supercar. Less hairy, more civilised and as a result far more usable, the MkII still looks great – especially in classic Viper blue with white stripes as here – and of course, under that long bonnet is a big V10 lump.
In GTS form the 488 cu in (8.0-litre!) engine dishes up 444PS (331kW) which with the second-gen’s aluminium suspension, reduced weight and a load more structural strength over the original RT/10 made it far more the high-performance all-rounder while still boasting plenty of aggressive Viper character. Bonhams says in its 26 years this one has had two owners and been driven just 4000 miles.
1951 Jaguar XK120 “LT1”, $180-230,000 (£152-194,000)
Everyone knows the XK120: Britain’s beautiful 120mph sports car that for performance per pound left its rivals for dead. The key thing with this one is the LT1 bit. There were three lightweight LT versions, built by the Jaguar works to competition spec to run at Le Mans in case the C-type wasn’t ready in time. In fact, the C was ready and the LT cars never raced.
This isn’t one of the original three LT cars. What it is is an XK120 upgraded in the UK to the same works LT competition spec with an aluminium body, aeroscreens and a 2.4-litre XK six-cylinder engine with 210bhp – essentially the same engine as fitted to the Le Mans-winning C-type. A measure of the quality of the 15-year-long upgrading – using many original parts – is that the car comes with a Jaguar Heritage Trust certificate.
1936 Invicta 4½-litre S-Type Continuation, $350-450,000 (£295-380,000)
The Invicta was a prewar sports car which, then as now, looks like it belongs to a different, later age. Its secret is the relative lowness to the ground of the body, achieved by positioning the axles above the chassis rails, rather than below them like a Bentley of the period. In 1930, when the S-Type first came out, it was innovative.
Powered by a low-revving but immensely torquey in-line six (it was said the S-Type could despatch 10-70mph in top gear in 19 seconds), the Invicta was far more fast tourer than racer – its comfort and handling enhanced by its unusually low centre of gravity.
This fine-looking machine is not one of the 75 cars that emerged from Invicta’s Cobham factory in period but a “tool room copy” assembled from a mix of restored 1930s parts and brand new components by a reborn Invicta Car Company in the mid-2000s. The continuation car comes with FIA paperwork, a history file and a thumbs-up from the Invicta Car Club.
2019 Ferrari 488 Pista, $500-600,000 (£421-505,000)
Ferrari’s first turbocharged mid-engined car since the F40 hardly lacked for performance when it came out in 2015, but the much rarer Pista (track) version ramped up the excitement by a good few notches. It added 40PS (30kW) to a twin-turbo V8 that even in standard form, set a Ferrari record for specific power, with 670PS (493kW) from 3.9 litres.
Apart from its substantially reworked engine and extra power, the Pista came with added carbon parts and a 90kg weight saving, more aggressive aero and huge carbon-ceramic brakes. Fast? Under 3.0 seconds for 0-60mph. The Pista was the ultimate development of the 488.
And this just might be the ultimate 488 Pista for sale: it comes with $100,000 of options and has been driven just 2,260 miles from new.
1957 Chrysler Ghia Super Dart 400, $750-950,000 (£631-800,000)
This US auction boasts a large assortment of home-grown classics but, for us, there’s no going past this spectacular confection of style and performance. It’s a Chrysler 300C reimagined by Ghia and equipped with a big Hemi V8 under the hood, with as much horsepower as the 400 in the name suggests.
Ghia did a Dart show car for Chrysler in 1956 but the Super Dart 400 that arrived a year later is a complete one-off. It is also in stunning condition as you might expect after decades of love and attention by some eminent US collectors. It might be a show pony but it’s gratifying to see that its three owners have still driven it 50,000 miles, impressive for a car that began life as a concept car (it starred at both Turin and New York Motor Shows in the 1950s).
From its menacingly huge grille, masses of chrome, vibrant yellow paint and unmissable tail fins to its Italian-inspired black and white interior, complete with four bucket seats and built-in record player, the Super Dart 400 evokes a 1950s vision of the future like few others.
1912 Simplex 50HP, $2.5-3.5m (£2-3m)
We love a massively-engined, chain-drive Edwardian monster here at Goodwood (the S. F. Edge Trophy is back for 80MM this year), and this mighty American definitely fits the bill, albeit in the most classy of ways. It’s a Simplex, in large part inspired by the Mercedes of the time and finely crafted for the top end of the US market by a company that started out importing all the finest European cars to the States.
As the pinnacle of pre-WW1 American sporting cars and a machine that cost an arm and a leg to buy, the 50HP went only to the most eminent and well-heeled of buyers. The car you see here with its five-person “torpedo” tourer body was owned for 25 years by Eleonora Sears, US tennis superstar of the day and among the first female motorists in the US. The Simplex was an engagement present from Harold Vanderbilt.
It’s said that Eleonora Sears was the first woman in the US to contest a speeding ticket. A ticket would have been easy to get in this car because it was built for speed. Not only did it have a big engine, almost 10 litres worth, but it weighed a lot less than some Edwardian giants, with the result being that it really flew along.
This is said to be the finest Simplex to drive of all of them, and with its unique coachwork and illustrious provenance is thought by Bonhams’ experts to be the greatest survivor of the marque. What will it sell for? Bonhams expects it to make between $2.5-3.5m or £2-3m, but then the last time any Simplex came on to the open market was 17 years ago, so who knows…
Join our motorsport community
Get closer to motorsport at Goodwood! Join the GRRC Fellowship to be first in the queue for event tickets, to attend the GRRC-only Members' Meeting and to enjoy year-round, exclusive benefits.
Sign up for Motorsport news
Stay in the know with our newsletters that contain all the latest news, stories and event information.