Cars – expensive cars - line the circular driveway leading up to the front portico as you arrive at the Ritz. Reflexively, you think to yourself that there must be a million dollars of cars right on that driveway, exposing in your thought just how little you comprehend about cars like this. One car alone parked on that driveway – a Bugatti Veyron – goes for $1.2 million. A few spaces beyond are two Rolls-Royce “drophead coupes” and they sticker out at $350,000 each, more than either of the two Phantoms parked next to them, or the Bentley Arnage and Flying Spurs parked next to the Veyron.
And that’s only one side of the driveway.
The next day, Saturday, they will hold the RM Auction behind the hotel and, in anticipation of the event, RM has set up a display in the center of the hotel lobby: the arrestingly red 1934 Ford Continental Speedster designed by Robert Gregorie to the specifications of Edsel Ford. Seat s for two, cycle fenders, mostly hood, low and long. It’s parked in the lobby. It is the start of the auction – so unique that RM had declined even to predict a sale price.
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The next day, it will sell for $1,760,000. It will be topped by a 1931 Murphy bodied Duesenberg J convertible coupe, sold for $2,640,000. Second runner-up will be a 1929 Duesenberg J convertible berline by LeBaron, at $1,210,000.
Whether it’s the cars on the driveway in front of the hotel or those behind it, waiting for their moment of glory passing by the auctioneer, these are cars you seldom get to see up close. Unless you’re a basketball star, you need an invitation to touch a Bentley Flying Spur, much less a Veyron. Million dollar Model J’s are not everywhere, and the chance to inspect one so closely that you can both marvel at the mirror-perfect paint job and then wonder why no one thought to correct the paint peeling around the steering wheel is almost unnerving.
You see, you are mingling among people for whom this environment is completely familiar, completely natural, completely normal. No one stops you as you approach the Duesenberg . Though you almost reflexively see the invisible line that has always separated you from cars such as these, there isn’t one today.
It would be tempting – and easy – to denigrate these people as those with too much money and too little taste.
But, that wouldn’t be fair.
It wouldn’t be fair because I had dressed to fit the part.
Courtesy of General Motors, I wore a “sponsor” badge. Courtesy of my own advance planning, and more than a little lifelong desire to belong to just such a milieu, I was wearing a tailor made white sports jacket, one I’d never before been able to wear without seeming a bit over-the-top. Today, here, no one gives me a second glance.
Which, perhaps, says something about me.
And also gives me the chance to look at the cars.
Some are worth the look, others are yesterday’s dreams waiting to flower again.
I may be right that a lot of the people around me don’t know the history of these cars, don’t understand what it took to create them, or what they were when new. I’m almost certainly right that most of them couldn’t change a spark plug.
But, that’s not a fair criticism.
These cars exist because of people like these people. They’re exactly the type of people who bought these cars when they were knew, the ones that paid for the painstaking time and effort of the craftsman that built their bodies and, later, restored these cars.
These cars exist because of people who had “too much money.”
Then, and now.
Which is why they’re still here for me, a guy who does know how to change a spark plug, to put on his white sport coat and appreciate them.