Google+

BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

A Ferrari fit for a child

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

HIDE CAPTION

“It’s not a simple plastic child’s car with pedals.”

Among great automotive understatements of 2013, this would earn a place of privilege. Alain Squindo, vice president of Ontario, Canada-based RM Auctions, was speaking of the Ferrari 180 Testa Rossa, a hand-built confection manufactured in Italy and sold through a US Ferrari dealership in the late 1950s. A toy, it is not. Yet a toy, it is.

The 180 Testa Rossa will be a headliner at the Art of the Automobile auction, co-presented in New York by RM and Sotheby’s, on 21 November. Though the 180 falls amid such automotive ephemera as bronze sculptures and vintage poster art, the pint-size car bears many hallmarks of the $10m machines that comprise the sale’s marquee acts: scarcity, a well-documented history and a telltale prancing horse on its flank.

“This car is the pinnacle of what you would’ve given to that very lucky boy or girl,” Squindo said of the 180. “It’s something that nowadays would round out an eclectic collection. It would appeal to someone who actively collects sports cars.”

Just 25 of the cars are believed to have been built, with a mere five examples remaining, according to RM. In a numbers game, that makes the 180 rarer than a Ferrari 250 GTO – recognised as the most expensive car in the collecting hobby.

The 180 draws its name from two sources: the Testa Rossa racecar and the toy’s wattage rating (yes, this Ferrari is electric). Squindo notes that the consigned 180 is in running order, with .3 horsepower (decimal intended) available from its 12-volt motor to push it across a parquet floor – or round a cul-de-sac.

For a mere toy to command a pre-auction estimate ranging from $50,000 to $75,000, it has to not only be in pristine condition, but to have provenance. All 180s were distributed through Luigi Chinetti Motors, the only licensed Ferrari dealership in the US at the time that the cars were built. Chinetti was a longtime friend, racing teammate and business partner of Enzo Ferrari, and when an auction car is known to have passed through the doors of Chinetti’s now-shuttered Manhattan showroom, value is added.

“You could go to FAO Schwarz and order a custom-designed car for your child, but this was sold by Chinetti at his dealership,” Squindo says. “It reflects just how much respect and care was taken with these cars.”

Though it wears the Scuderia Ferrari badge and a note-perfect, downscaled Testa Rossa racecar body, the 180 was not built at Ferrari’s factory in Maranello, Italy, but in neighbouring Modena by an independent shop, Modena Ferrarina. Squindo said that while little was known about this manufacturer, it would not have built such a toy without blessings – tacit or otherwise – from Enzo himself.

At the opposite end of the Art of the Automobile catalogue sits a 1964 Ferrari 250 Le Mans racecar. One of just 32 units built, chassis No 6107 commands what may prove to be a modest pre-auction estimate of $12m to $15m. Bidding wars may erupt in the room and over the telephone lines. Someone, somewhere, will be left disappointed.

‘Twas always thus with the must-have toys of the season.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.