Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


CATALOGS FROM automobile auctions make for great reading. They’re snapshots in time as well as in value. And, in just about any major sale, there are tales associated with the cars being offered.



Christie’s New York: Christie’s Collectors’ Car Auction & Exhibition at Rockefeller Center, Thursday, 5 June 2003.

The 1939/46 Delage D8/120 Cabriolet Grand Luxe, cover car of Christie’s catalog, was indeed a grand and luxurious automobile. This Delage with Chapron coachwork sold for $656,500, the highest of the auction. But money isn’t the story here; timeless elegance is.

And serendipity: When a New Jersey teacher bought a new Chrysler New Yorker Convertible in 1950, he couldn’t have guessed the car would achieve fame 22 years later. The company staging the Broadway musical Grease bought his car in 1972 for promotional tours.


The New Yorker in its Greased Lightnin’ guise, Frankie Avalon and original cast members outside the Royale Theater, New York City, 1972. Below, the car in 2003. These and other images from Christie’s New York: Christie’s Collectors’ Car Auction & Exhibition at Rockefeller Center, Thursday, 5 June 2003.


This particular New Yorker Convertible, one of only 899 made in 1950, has been seen in TV commercials, Macy’s Thanksgiving parades, and the album cover for “Songs from the Movie Grease.”

Go, Greasers!

Another car in the catalog presaged the Bertone B.A.T. series and Franco Scalione’s career in automotive styling. It involved a Packard Motor Company kindness to a journalist. And it became a much loved family transport.


1952 Abarth 1500 Biposto Coupe, coachwork by Bertone, designed by Franco Scaglione. Christie’s called it “a most important barn find in recent motoring history.”

A star at the 1952 Turin Auto Show, the Abarth 1500 Biposto Coupe was Franco Scalione’s first design for Italian coachbuilder Bertone. Though it wasn’t realized at the time, the car was the first of Scalione’s B.A.T. series (as in Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica).

Packard Motor Company stylists were hunting inspiration at the Turin show. They bought the Biposto Coupe and brought it home to show the company’s new president, James C. Nance.

Richard Austin Smith, Associate Editor of Fortune, wrote a business profile on Nance, “Packard’s Road Back,” for the November 1952 issue of the magazine. Learning about Packard’s proposed advertising campaign, then without a slogan, Smith made suggestions that were later adopted.

In mid-1953, Nance gave Smith title to the Abarth, “to compensate you even though I know that the assistance you gave us was not done with this in mind.”


Richard A. Smith Jr. in “Little Sheba,” the Abarth, 1960.

The car, nicknamed “Little Sheba,” became a family transport of delight. As noted in Christie’s, the Smith’s sons fondly remember “the sensation it created when their dad arrived in it to pick them up at school.”

Last registered in 1977 and in Smith family custodianship, the Biposto Coupe resurfaced as a barn find for the Christie’s auction. The car’s subsequent owner began a lengthy restoration in Britain. This culminated in the U.S. in time for the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where the Abarth Biposto Coupe took the Gran Turismo Award.

Last, I knew a little about Frank Sinatra’s appreciation of fancy cars, the Chrysler Dual-Ghia during his Rat Pack days, a prime example. But until I read this Christie’s catalog, I hadn’t known about a Lamborghini connection.


1970 Lamborghini Miura P400S, ex-Sinatra.

Frank Sinatra’s career had its highs (bobby-soxer idol of the 1940s), its mids (“Rocky Fortune” radio drama of 1953-1954), and renewed highs (his 1953 Academy Award for From Here to Eternity with good years to follow).

On December 12, 1969, Sinatra celebrated his 54th birthday by visiting Lamborghini’s Sant’Agata works and taking delivery of a high-performance mid-engine Miura. To his specification, the car was finished in Arancio Metallico (Sinatra’s favorite color, orange). Its interior was specially fitted with wild boarskin leather and orange shag trim.


The Miura’s cockpit: Wild boarskin and shag pile.

His pal Dean Martin had a green Miura, and apparently Sinatra enjoyed his orange one for a time. Christie’s conjectures that the singer subsequently sold or gave the Miura to friend Gloria Kent. She in turn traded it in for a Lamborghini Countach.

The car, restored and residing in a Norwegian collection, appeared at the 2013 Bilsport Performance & Custom Motor Show in Jönköping, Sweden.

Said Ol’ Blue-Eyes of the marque (possibly apocryphally), “If you want to be somebody, you buy a Ferrari. If you are somebody, you own a Lamborghini.”

And don’t’ think that hasn’t generated its own set of commentaries. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014


  1. carmacarcounselor
    July 24, 2014

    It’s late July, so I am prowling the Monterey auction catalogues, waiting for Godding & Co.’s usual slick two-volume set ($109 with shipping). I have credentials to the Bonham’s auction and plan on being there early so I can get a good view when the GTO hits the stage.
    Re the “Grease” reference, the original movie car (a 1947 Ford, I believe) is named “Grease Lightning,” not “Greased.” I know because I got it wrong in the Docent refresher training exercise last Monday at the Petersen, where it resides in the vault.

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