Bonhams’ Amelia Island Auction Highlights Brass Era, Pre-War Cars

Nazia Safi
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Bonhams’ annual car sale, the Amelia Island Auction, brings a focused selection of luxury automobilia and motorcars. On May 20th, 2021, the auction house will offer over 100 automobiles ranging from historic to contemporary production eras. Bidding will start at 11:00 AM EDT. Before the sale starts, Auction Daily takes a closer look at the key lots from various automotive eras.

Brass Era

The Brass Era started the automotive age and lasted from 1895 to 1915. The frequent use of brass in vehicles during this time gave the era its name. Headlights, lamps, horns, radiator caps, exhaust organs, and other parts were all made of brass. The earliest automobiles looked very similar to carriages missing their horses, earning the name ‘horseless carriages.’

Rolls-Royce 40/50HP Silver Ghost Open Drive Landaulette, 1909. Image from Bonhams.
Rolls-Royce 40/50HP Silver Ghost Open Drive Landaulette, 1909. Image from Bonhams.

The Amelia Island Auction will feature several cars from the Brass Era. A 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is among the leading lots (estimate: USD 1,300,000 – $1,500,000). According to Bonhams, the model has been dubbed the best car in the world and the epitome of both Edwardian coachwork and engineering excellence.

Rolls-Royce introduced the Silver Ghost, called initially ’40/50,’ in December 1906 at the Olympia Show. Production began in 1907, making it the first widely produced automobile by Rolls-Royce. The car line was hand-fabricated until 1926.

Mercer Type 35K Runabout, 1913. Image from Bonhams.
Mercer Type 35K Runabout, 1913. Image from Bonhams.

A 1913 Mercer Type 35K Runabout (estimate: $1,000,000 – $1,500,000), which the auction house calls ‘an early American supercar,’ comes from an Indiana collection. Created by Finley Robertson Porter, the Runabout features a T-head four-cylinder engine. Compared to other sports cars of the heavy and vast era, the Runabout was smaller and low-slung. Mercer produced the car from 1913 through 1914.

Vintage Era

The Vintage Era is the period following World War I, from 1919 to 1930. With the boost in the economy after the end of the war, this period saw many significant changes in the automobile industry, including the addition of the front engine and closed body. According to the Library of Congress, by 1925, there was one automobile for every six persons in the United States.

Mercedes-Benz 630 K 'La Baule' Torpedo Transformable, 1928. Image from Bonhams.
Mercedes-Benz 630 K ‘La Baule’ Torpedo Transformable, 1928. Image from Bonhams.

Leading the auction is a Mercedes-Benz 630 K ‘La Baule’ Torpedo Transformable from 1928. With its Jacques Saoutchik transformable coachwork, the car has an estimate of $1,110,000 to $1,250,000. 

Saoutchik, a trained carpenter, added a convertible top to the ‘La Baule’ body style in 1928. The style included the completely disappearing top mechanism and the exquisite use of brightwork. The available car features a six-cylinder engine with a single overhead camshaft. According to the auction house, the 630 K was the fastest production touring car in the world manufactured during this period, with a top speed above 90 mph.

A 1927 manufactured Rolls-Royce Phantom I Transformal Phaeton is also among the notable Vintage Era cars in this sale (estimate: $450,000 – $550,000). Built in Springfield, Hibbard & Darrin manufactured the chassis. Bonhams reports that only 35 Springfield Phantom I cars featured Hibbard & Darrin bodies, and very few among them survived.

Pre-War Era

The Pre-War Era began in 1930 with the Great Depression, continuing until 1942. During this period, car manufacturers began to incorporate integrated fenders; fully-closed bodies dominated the market.

Godsal Sports Tourer, 1935. Image from Bonhams.
Godsal Sports Tourer, 1935. Image from Bonhams.

The auction highlight from this era is a Godsal Sports Tourer from 1935. Built by Charles Godsal, the car carries an estimate of $750,000 to $950,000. A Ford V8 engine powers the one-off Sports Tourer. Godsal built the car in London with Corsica bodywork and a Bentley rear axle. Even though the Sports Tourer featured a fully functional prototype intended for production, it was never manufactured due to a lack of finance. The present example remains a single one-off prototype.

A Bugatti Type 57 Cabriolet is another key Pre-War Era car on offer. Introduced in 1934, the model marked the debut of Jean Bugatti (estimate: $800,000 – $1,000,000).

Post-War Era

After World War II in 1946, the US government green-lighted commercial production of automobiles. This marked the beginning of the Post-War Era, which continued until 1960. Cars from this era borrowed some design trends of warplanes, like vast expanses of chrome and large tail fins. During this era, cars with high-compression V8 engines became popular.

RGS Atalanta, 1953. Image from Bonhams
RGS Atalanta, 1953. Image from Bonhams

A 1953 RGS Atalanta (Jaguar C-Type) race car will be available in Bonhams’ upcoming sale (estimate: $300,000 – $500,000). Unlike other Atalantas with fiberglass bodies, the available car features an aluminum body built by John Griffiths. Other notable Post-War Era cars include a pair of Aston Martin DB4 Series 1 Saloon in brown and red colors and a Delahaye 135M convertible with a Henri Chapron body.

Classic Era

The Classic Era lasted from 1960 to 1972. In a bid to match foreign trends, American automakers started producing compact vehicles. Typically, a classic automobile featured custom coachwork, automatic lubrication systems, and a power clutch and brake.

Maserati Ghibli 4.7 Coupe, 1967. Image from Bonhams
Maserati Ghibli 4.7 Coupe, 1967. Image from Bonhams

Bonhams brings to auction several Classic Era cars, including a Maserati Ghibli 4.7 Coupe from 1967 (estimate: $250,000 – $325,000). Produced in a limited edition of 1,170, the Ghibli 4.7 Coupe has a 4.7L V8 engine with over 300 horsepower. Styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the car features a blue exterior and brown leather interior.

Other Classic Era automobiles come from Jaguar, Plymouth and Dodge, and Porsche.

Modern Era

Bonhams’ upcoming Amelia Island Auction features several Modern Era cars. Ford introduced the first-generation GTs in 2005 in a limited edition of around 4,000 units. The Heritage Edition Ford GTs capped at 343 were hand-built to commemorate the Le Mans victory. The car featured the brand’s signature stripes and roundels. A 2006 Ford GT Heritage Edition with roughly 10,000 miles will be available with Bonhams this May (estimate: $375,000 – $425,000).

Another Modern Era car is from Bentley. Walter Owen Bentley founded Bentley Motors in 1919. Since then, the brand has been synonymous with luxury and performance. Bonhams will offer a white Bentley Azure convertible, manufactured in 2001, in the upcoming sale (estimate: $45,000 – $65,000). 

Bonhams’ Amelia Island Auction will begin on May 20th, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT. Visit Bonhams to view the full listings.

Looking for more upcoming auctions? Check out our auction calendar for daily events and auction previews.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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