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Reading Auction Descriptions

Jim Weed

Volume 49 Issue 07

Apr 13, 2024

Reading auction descriptions can be entertaining. Jim Weed breaks down descriptions to not be dazzled by the fluff. As Joe Friday would say, "Just the facts ma'am."

    I have been kicking around an article about auction descriptions for quite a while now. When Ken Goldman wanted to provide insight into how auction bidding works it gave me the kick I needed to finish this article.

    Having to read through many auction descriptions has provided much entertaining minutia.

    The auction company has a duty to describe their lot with as much detail as possible to inform the potential bidder of the history and provenance of the vehicle offered for sale.

    For most new potential owners these descriptions provide good history of the model and can provide details for someone who has little, or no, prior knowledge of the vehicle they might bid on.

    This article is not meant to disparage any auction company for writing long and verbose descriptions to build interest in the lot on offer, but a guide to cut through some of the BS contained within the descriptions.

    Clearly, if you are interested in purchasing at an auction it is imperative you perform due diligence to gain as much knowledge about the Ferrari you are seeking to own.

    This guide should give you some tools to use to navigate through the auction description. As Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

    Boiling down to ‘Just the Facts’ can be a challenge. The auction descriptions are full of adjectives to describe a car or features therein.

    “This Ferrari 250 GTE Series III was specified in the elegant shade of Blu Sera, complemented by a Beige Connolly leather interior.” This description sounds much better than Blu Sera with beige interior.

    Then again, if you are not familiar with Blu Sera calling it elegant makes it seem better than blue. Beige interior?  Sure, it should be Connolly and leather. The other choice when new would be vinyl.

    Is it really Connolly? The original company went out of business in 2002 and while Connolly has been resurrected, many other suppliers provide leather of the same high quality for retrimmed interiors.

    Is the leather called Connolly like Kleenex is used for the name facial tissue? 

    Some distinctive Ferrari features can have their own interesting descriptions.

    “The Ferrari has accents of black trim and is topped off by the prominent metal gated five-speed manual gear lever.” 

    Almost all the manual transmission cars have the ‘prominent metal gated’ shifter. Yep, there it is right there. This description will often come with another qualifier. “This manual transmission Ferrari comes with the desirable third pedal.”

    Manual transmission means it has a clutch pedal. Is the pedal desirable or is the manual shift desirable?

    I’ve had people call and breathlessly describe the 348 they just found with a third pedal. No problem, they ALL had three pedals. Now if you had found one with the F1 transmission, that would be rare!

    Another sleight of hand I see is the F1 transmission description. The description will read something like this. “The manual transmission can be shifted using the elegant carbon fiber levers located just behind the steering wheel.”

    What?! Manual transmission? Oh, shifted by hand using paddles. No third pedal required. The description is true, but it does put the car into a different price point.

    Colors are often interesting. How many times have you seen “in the original color”? Further down the description may often describe some of the color changes that have occurred in its lifetime. 

    Early Ferraris were often repainted. The original paint quality was not that good, and owners wanted to personalize their car to taste. I have seen Ferraris with paint so thick from scuff-and-spray that when it received a proper bare metal repaint the car would be a quarter-inch smaller in all dimensions.

    One of the things I find interesting is how descriptions tend to create the illusion of uniqueness. “This is one of three that were made in this color combination.” 

    Sometimes this even goes as far as describing features that further break down into an even more unique example. “This Ferrari was the only one built in Prugna with tan leather and red stitching and came with gold wheels and yellow center caps.”

    There may have been a reason it is the only one. A friend of mine called it Corvette unique. When many examples are made but it is possible to accentuate enough details to make it seem only a few were made.

    Another version of this is the number made for a particular year. “Of the 2,280 Ferrari 512 TRs produced between 1991 and 1994, just 408 were delivered new to North America. In the final year of production in 1994, it is understood that only 24 cars made their way here, of these only three were delivered new in the stunning shade of Giallo.”

    Many of the older Ferraris have lived lives with multiple owners. The auction descriptions will often detail each owner, their business, and other interesting (?) facts about them. To purchase a Ferrari automatically identifies the owner as affluent, business like or at least special.

    Is it really important to know the first owner owned a widget shop and kept the car for six months before selling it on? Does the fact he owned further exotic automobiles really improve the provenance of this lot?

    In addition, is listing each of the twenty-five owners really adding to the quality of the car today?  “This 250 GTE 2+2 changed hands six further times from January 1964 to July 1986, when it was purchased…” or “Cantelli would be named Musical Director of La Scala in Milan in November, a week before being killed in a plane crash outside Paris.”

    Then there is the originality question. Ferraris are only original once. Often, I see the phrase “Offered in original condition.” Does that mean in original condition? Or, restored like it was in original condition?


    Then again, I think it is safe to say all Ferrari restorations turn out to be better than they were when they originally left the factory.

    Service records are often cited. Does it really matter if this Ferrari had the timing belts changed in 1998? And again in 2002 and 2007? What is important is the last time they were changed.

    An oil change ten years ago along with spark plugs does not add to the provenance if the last service was early this year. 

    Mileage is another area that can be misleading. Is the current mileage the total mileage since new? 

    Often, mileage will be zeroed in restoration so it will be stated as “mileage since restoration” or even less obvious “currently showing XXX.” 

    And lastly, the matching numbers question. Just because the phrase says ‘matching numbers’ it still must be read carefully. “…importantly retains its original matching-numbers chassis, engine, and rear axle…”. Sounds complete until you begin to question the transmission. 

    Oh, that is a correct replacement from another Ferrari.

    There are many more examples I could cite, but you get the idea. Reading any auction report should be done with a view of the facts. 

    Don’t let the flowing adjectives color or sway your view of what you may be purchasing. 

    There are facts, and there is opinion. “For those wanting to experience the ultimate road Ferrari of its generation, this 2004 Enzo will prove the only possible answer.” 

    Yes, that statement could be true, but then again it is really one man’s opinion.

    The Ferrari Market Letter has been a resource for Ferrari history for nearly fifty years. Do we know every ounce of information for every Ferrari ever made?

    No, nobody has it all, but we have an extensive database of information to draw upon. 

    Before you bid on your next Ferrari, give us a call and maybe we can help sort through the facts and opinions to help guide your decision.

    I am more than happy to provide my opinion but mainly we try to be more like Joe Friday.

    “Just the facts ma’am.”

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