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IN PRAISE OF AUCTION CATALOGS

LONG AFTER the last fall of the hammer, there’s pleasure to be had in automotive auction catalogs. Skimming through the Bonham’s catalog from the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance Collectors’ Motorcars and Automobilia, June 5, 2011, I encountered tidbits about a West German flying car, an elemental bit of 1915 transportation, and, at the other extreme, a Great Gatsby Rolls-Royce.

An Automobile With Wings. The Aeromobile was imported from post-World War II West Germany by New York City’s Flare Toy Co. Its box read, “IT’S A CAR! IT’S A PLANE! IT CHANGES AUTOMATICALLY!”

An Aeromobile by Flare Toy Co., with its original box. This and other images from Bonham’s Greenwich Concours d’Elegance Collectors’ Motorcar and Automobilia auction catalog, June 5, 2011.

This automotive whimsy is metal, 8 inches long, and went $793. As they say in the auction business, “Well bought, well sold.”

The Smith Flyer, c. 1915. The Smith Flyer is an extreme example of a cyclecar offering mobility of sorts early in the last century. According to the Bonham’s catalog, A.O. Smith Milwaukee produced this charming contraption from 1915 until about 1919 when the manufacturing rights were sold to Briggs & Stratton, the car renamed the Briggs & Stratton Flyer.

Smith Flyer, c. 1915, with its complete running gear, albeit not attached. Bonham’s sale estimate was $2000–$3000, without reserve. The Smith Flyer fetched $6100; well sold.

In 1914, A.O. Smith bought manufacturing rights to the Wall Motorwheel, devised by Arthur William Wall of Birmingham, England. Originally designed to motorize bicycles, the add-on proved suitable for a simple two-seat buckboard. Bonham’s noted, “Since the 5th wheel was directly driven by the engine, the engine was started with the driving wheel lifted slightly in the air, and then when the engine was running smoothly, the driver lowered the engine (by means of a lever) gently to start forward motion.”

With less than two horsepower on tap, performance was likely modest. But exciting nonetheless, I’ll wager.

The Great Gatsby 1928 Rolls-Royce. This car’s full name is Rolls-Royce 40/50 Phantom I Ascot Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton, Coachwork by Brewster, Chassis no. S304KP, Ascot body no. B-7180. It’s associated with other impressive monikers: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern, and, of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

1928 Rolls-Royce 40/50 Phantom I Ascot Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton. Bonham’s estimated the car’s auction value at $175,000–$225,000. It seemed particularly well bought at $184,899.

Phantom I Rolls-Royces have already made an appearance here at SimanaitisSays. This particular example was one of some 3000 American Rolls-Royces produced at the firm’s Springfield, Massachusetts, factory operated between 1921 and 1931. This car’s custom bodywork was done in Long Island City, New York.

Ted Leonard, who owned the car at the time, sits next to Robert Redford, who portrayed Jay Gatsby in 1974’s The Great Gatsby.

There have been four versions of The Great Gatsby: the Alan Ladd movie (1949), the Robert Redford version (1974), a made-for-TV cheapie (2000), and the Leo DiCaprio flick (2013). PrepScholar offers analyses of the four. Briefly, Redford’s had the best cars.

Bonham’s noted, “Selected after a beauty contest cum car show, S304KP was repainted to match Fitzgerald’s description of rich cream and its natrual hide upholstery dyed to the requisite “green leather conservatory.”

I like that: a motorcar with conservatory ambiance. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019

One comment on “IN PRAISE OF AUCTION CATALOGS

  1. Bill Jones
    May 29, 2019

    My sister was a librarian at an art museum and she use to give me the car auction catalogs. Stunning photos and I loved most to read the history of the car. “Owned by a gentleman racer, restored in the 1960s to its non original color…I have to see if I still have those…

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