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1931 Bugatti Fetches $9.8 Million, Highest Price Ever for Car

November 19, 1987 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ A London car dealer paid $9.8 million for a 1931 Bugatti Royale Thursday, shattering the record for the highest price ever paid for an automobile, auctioneers said.

The Type 41 Bugatti was sold by Christie’s auction house to dealer Nicholas Harley.

The seller was not identified. Until recently, the car was part of the collection at the Briggs Cunningham Automotive Museum in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Robert Brooks, head of Christie’s vintage car department, said the figure was the highest ever paid for a motor car, either privately or at auction.

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″To our knowledge it is the most paid overall,″ Brooks said. Harley bid 5.5 million pounds, or $9.8 million, for the Bugatti Royale, one of only six in existence.

The previous highest-known price was $8.1 million, paid by Thomas Monaghan of Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1986 for a similar car, the Berline de Voyage Royale.

About 4,000 people watched as bidding began on the black-and-dark-blue sports coupe, which gleamed in the bright lights of the huge Royal Albert Hall. The car has a prancing elephant hood ornament.

Bidding started at $3,588,000 and quickly doubled before meeting some resistance. The crowd burst into applause when the vehicle was sold for $9,867,000.

The 8-cylinder Bugatti, still in good working order, was one of 10 expensive cars put up for sale at Albert Hall in what promotors described as the most important car auction ever. Six of the 10 were sold for a total of $10,972,000.

The four others did not reach their reserve price, the minimum amount sellers are willing to accept.

Harley issued a statement saying, ″I consider this car to be the finest example of engineering and coachwork design in the world. It is my intention that it will remain on show in England and possibly become the ultimate jewel for the most discerning collector in the world.″

It was not clear if he meant there was a buyer in mind.

The two-door, five-passenger coupe is also known as the Kellner Coach for its sleek chassis designed by Carroserie Kellner of Paris.

Briggs Cunningham, a former racing driver and America’s Cup yachtsman, bought the car from the Bugatti family in 1951. The Bugattis had used the car for 20 years.

The Royales were built by artist-engineer Ettore Bugatti between 1927 and 1933 at his factory in Molsheim, France.

With little concern for cost, Bugatti was determined to produce a car better than the other great automobiles of the day, such as the Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Dusenberg, Packard and Pierce-Arrow.