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Historic race cars highlight the RM Sotheby’s 2023 Le Mans sale


Jun 3, 2023
Historic race cars highlight the RM Sotheby's 2023 Le Mans sale


Auction house RM Sotheby’s is celebrating 100 years of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by organizing a big sale on the day before the race. The cars scheduled to cross the auction block have all spent time on the track, and the catalog shows how racers have evolved since the 1930s.

Browsing through RM’s auction catalog is like taking a five-minute course in the history of racing. The oldest car is a 1932 Aston Martin Le Mans ‘LM8’ that’s had a remarkable life. It was developed and built for competition and entered in the 1932 24 Hours of Le Mans by the Aston Martin factory team, where it finished seventh. It was ultimately sold to a private owner but it survived, which shouldn’t be taken for granted: teams often destroyed obsolete race cars, and the list of special vehicles that didn’t survive World War II is longer than you’d think.

Paul Sykes bought the car in 1955 and used it as his daily driver. Imagine walking out of a shop in a British village in the 1960s and finding a 1932 race car parked next to your Mini. Sykes ultimately bought another daily driver, but he kept the Aston Martin for a total of 55 years.

The second-oldest car is a 1936 Delahaye 135 S with a body by coach builder Pourtout. RM notes that this is one of the most significant pre-war competition Delahaye models and adds that it finished second in the 1938 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It continued racing until 1956 and then spent several decades hidden in storage. It was fully restored in 2005, and it’s now eligible to compete in historic races such as the Mille Miglia and the Le Mans Classic. Restoring it was easier said than done: the car was rebodied twice before being tucked away.

None of the cars crossing the block were built in the 1940s, so we skip ahead to the 1950s with a 1954 OSCA MT4 by Morelli. It’s one of 72 built, according to RM, and only 19 of those were fitted with the twin-cam, 1.5-liter 2AD engine. It raced at Le Mans in 1954 but ended up disqualified following an accident. Another highlight from the 1950s is a 1958 Lister-Jaguar ‘Knobbly’ finished in yellow and green.

We said that all of the cars crossing the block have spent time on the track, but that doesn’t mean they were built to race. The 1963 Ferrari 250 GTE 2+2 Series III is a street-legal model, yet it’s included in the auction because it was used as a safety car during the 1963 edition of the race. French coach builder Henri Chapron fitted it with crests, flag stands and additional lights to prepare it for safety car duty.

Back to the pits: one of the most fascinating 1960s cars in the catalog is a 1967 Alpine A210. It took first in its class at Le Mans in 1967 and 1968 and it’s remarkably original, likely because it spent decades in the hands of collector Gérard “La Gombe” Gombert. You’ll need extra space if you’re planning on bidding: the sale includes an unregistered Renault Estafette van that La Gombe reportedly used to tow the A210.

There’s nothing in the auction from the 1970s, but there’s plenty to drool over from the 1980s, including a 1984 Lancia LC2 and a 1985 Porsche 962. If you watched the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1990s, you’re in for a real treat and one heck of a trip down memory lane: the sale includes a 1990 Nissan R90CK, a 1993 Jaguar XJ220 C LM, a 1993 Venturi 600 S-LM, and a 1996 Chrysler Viper GTS-R.

The 2000s are well represented as well, with anything from a 2000 Porsche 911 GT3 R to a 2005 Spyker C8 GT2-R. You can check out the full catalog on the RM Sotheby’s website, and mark June 9th on your calendar if you plan to bid. Don’t forget to bring a checkbook, though: the cheapest car is a Porsche 919 expected to bring in at least €80,000 (about $86,000). Bargain? Not really: it’s a life-sized scale model built for car shows, among other events, and it doesn’t have a drivetrain. At the other end of the spectrum, RM predicts the 962 will sell for anywhere between €6 million and €9 million, figures that represent approximately $6.5 million and $9.6 million, respectively.

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