1939 “Porsche” Type 64 fails to find buyer at auction

The automaker Porsche was keeping well away from this one.

RM Sotheby’s was excited to move this one. Too excited, it seems, as the auctioneer spouted out figures that weren’t real. Bloomberg’s Hannah Elliott recounts the frenzy of folks anticipating a wild auction result before seeing the room deflated with the no sale of an odd Nazi duck.

The car in question here is a 1939 Type 64. It was built and driven by Ferdinand Porsche. This car was built before Porsche actually built Porsches though, so its provenance within the brand has been questioned by some. It certainly looks like an ancestral link to Porsche cars both past and present. Regardless, it’s a rare vehicle and the auction house was hoping it would clear $20 million.

As an odd joke, the bidding opened at a reported $30 million then quickly shot to an astonishing $70 million. But that was revealed to be wildly incorrect. The bidding was adjusted to show an opening bid of $17 million. And the air in the room was gone. There were no more bids coming in, so the auction was called just minutes after it opened.

It’s a weird result for an odd car.

20 Comments

  1. A lot of auctions recently have had highly desirable cars fail to meet reserve. I think the auction houses have been setting unreasonable valuation expectations. Being a “Nazi” car makes it a very hard sale in this era, regardless of any positive features of the car.

    I think $20m is overvaluing the car, and throwing the auctioneer under the bus for his accent was just a way to pacify the sheep who play the auction game competitively. If someone wanted to pay more than 17 million for the car, they still had the opportunity to pay $20 million, or more.

    1. Wasn’t it what was shown on the screen that was the issue? I’ve seen quite a few US auctioneers where few people could legitimately claim to understand what they are saying.

      1. I could understand that if the mixup went the other way: someone thinking they were going to pay $17M for the car, when the display mistakenly showed $70M. But dropping the price by $Herbie million in this case would have seemingly spurred on more bidding, not ended the auction.

        Maybe it can be hard to understand auctioneers, but people should have snapped to the fact the bidding increments were $500K (and not alternately $9,500,000).

        I just don’t think anyone wanted to spend more than $17M on that car on that day.

  2. I still don’t understand how this happens. To me there is no other explanation than it was a joke/prank/whatever. I would understand a 17/70 misunderstanding – they could sound similar in the frenzy and excitement. But there were quite a few bids in between that could not have been misinterpreted in the interim. Something seems a little fishy, but occam’s razor and all…

    1. Agreed, that must not happen in that league.

      On the bids in between though:

      “First offer: Thurdynillion.”

      “Thirty? I said thirteeeenn!”

      “I hear fordynlm!”
      “But I said fourteeenn, not fourty!”


      “We have sevendemljm!”

      “You all suck, I’m out”

    2. I wonder how much RM Sotheby will end up paying the seller. After all, the seller will likely sell it through a different auction house now, and after this farce it will probably sell for MUCH less than the $20M RM Sotheby said it likely would. If it sells for half that, will they pay the seller the difference? Not likely, but shouldn’t they? Will they, just to avoid this being brought up again and again as the case works its way through the courts?
      They would likely prevail in the courts in the end, but the fall-out could make that a Pyrrhic victory.

      If you were selling a rare Bugatti right now, would you even consider RM Sotheby?

      I could see something like this happening at a third-rate county auction, but at the multi-million dollar level they don’t have a better system than “I thought he said…”? Really? I’ll bet they will now!

      1. I am pretty sure that Sotheby’s been down this path before far enough to have some immunization clause written into their agreements – I would expect that all the Porsche owner will be entitled to would be a refund of all auction fees, and perhaps something for incidental expenses incurred. They would possibly offer to show the car at another of their auctions at a low or no cost to the seller.

        However, they would be insane to agree to be held responsible for any failure to sell, failure to meet any threshold, or decreased presumptive value.

  3. Are the people trying to say this is not a Porsche just trying to distance their beloved brand from its patently Nazi roots? I guess I understand the ‘it’s a marque not a man’ argument, but if I built a car out of my employer’s parts bin (and I’ve built bicycle frames that way) that was clearly not part of their product line then A.) I could call it anything I like that wasn’t copyrighted and B.) my employer would probably bar me from using their name.
    Does VAG have any legal right to bar the owner from calling it a Porsche? What if they promise to pronounce it incorrectly?

    1. The issue there would be the fact that at the time it was build Porsche, the car company did not exist. And it also happened to be build by a guy named Porsche, which at the time wasn’t trademarked or anything or if it was, it was to him. So technically you could make a bike out of your employer’s parts bin, and long as you didn’t infringe on any patented or trademarked technology, and call it Batshitbox, and bam, in 80 year it will be worth $70 million. Or $17 million, who knows.

    2. Let me expand your example, and I am quite a bit serious since I don’t quite get the corporate silence, neither:

      The 1940 bicycle frame is “from Herr Batshitbox”, not “a Batshitbox(tm)” since that “tm” came only in 1950.

      Today’s Batshitbox is a 80 billion dollar corporation (#itscomplicated, though), and the original Batshitbox family doesn’t do active management since the 70ies.

      Now somebody wants to sell that frame for a steep price saying it’s “by Batshitbox, Ferdinand Batshitbox himself made it”.

      How would Batshitbox family and Batshitbox Corp react to that?
      Saying “that’s cool” would basically justify the price, or add credibility to the opening price. If they were actually interested, they just tripled their price..

      Saying “that’s not a Batshitbox” would cause a lot of lawyers being paid since that’s badmouthing a product for sale.
      After having written all this down, I guess silence is the way to go.

      1. On the other hand a homemade car often bears the name of its builder, unless they give it some other name. Not that this is exactly homemade.

      2. If I were to buy it, I would refer to it as a “Ferdinand Porsche”, which it undoubtedly is. And if the Porsche company gave me trouble about that, I would add “…as opposed to those Volkswagen Porsches that are being built now.”

      3. If I were to buy it, I would refer to it as a “Ferdinand Porsche”, which it undoubtedly is. And if the Porsche company gave me trouble about that, I would add “…as opposed to those Volkswagen Porsches that are being built now.”

        1. Well, that’s a complicated bit:
          Porsche family is owning Porsche SE.
          Porsche SE is owning a majority vote of Volkswagen AG.
          Volkswagen AG is owning Porsche AG.

          So every VW is a Porsche.

        1. Interesting, although that is the reverse situation though to a car built before the company was formed. Retroactive naming is definitely murky though.

        2. Interesting, although that is the reverse situation though to a car built before the company was formed. Retroactive naming is definitely murky though.

  4. I don’t think being built before WWII would have a stigma since VW Beetles were designed during the same time period. And it looks like a Porsche and should be considered an early Porsche prototype (imho). I’m surprised Porsche didn’t buy it for their museum. Doesn’t Mercedes and Audi have pre-war GP cars in their museums?

    1. German wikipedia says it was designed by Erwin Kommenda, conducted by Josef Mickl and built by Construction Bureau Ferdinand Porsche, who himself was not directly involved in the project. But Porsche was the owner after WWII and later gave the car to a friend.

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