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The photo with a $35,000 secret

A photo with a backstory. (Courtesy RM Auctions)

A photo with a backstory. (Courtesy RM Auctions)

Every significant collection needs a crown jewel, that marquee item that slackens jaws and raises eyebrows. And at the coming Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance, held amid championship golf greens in northern California, there will be no shortage of multimillion-dollar Ferraris crowding the auction block. But there are significantly less expensive ways to secure a one-of-a-kind piece of Ferrari mystique, worthy of sitting atop any collection – and it may even come with a valuable secret.

The photograph above, taken in 1964 at the 12 Hours of Reims endurance race in France, depicts the Parkes/Scarfiotti Ferrari 250 GTO passing the pits while in the foreground, Jacques Swaters, Belgian manager of the Ophem/”Beurlys” outfit, signals the team’s Ferrari 250 LM. The moment, captured in a seemingly nonchalant blink of a camera’s shutter, provides a brief but comprehensive glimpse at what made this era of motorsport so special – to competitors and collectors alike.

But look closer.

A discreet stash of signatures on the print, barely legible at a glance, brings this image into the upper stratosphere of automotive collectibles.

(Courtesy RM Auctions)

(Courtesy RM Auctions)

The photo is signed by many of the famous individuals within the frame – a murderer’s row of Formula 1 world champions and Le Mans winners. Signatures from, among others, Phil Hill, Derek Bell, Luigi Chinetti and Maurice Trintignant all adorn the image. Couple this with an exemplary shot of two famous Ferraris – one of which, the 250 GTO, being considered the most coveted car in the collecting hobby – and you’ve got a centrepiece that is certain to draw double-takes.

(Courtesy RM Auctions)

(Courtesy RM Auctions)

Although the print’s signatures are subtle, its size is hardly so – it measures over 11 feet long and 7 feet high. Were it not for the barely-there autographs, the image likely would not have sold in 2008 for 23,000 euros (roughly $35,772 at time of sale).

Though few would call the image affordable, it is quite a bargain compared to the Pebble Beach-bound relations of the aforementioned 250 GTO and LM: a 250 GT California expected to bring $12m to $15m, and a 275 GTB/C Speciale that could very well top $40m, making it the most expensive car ever sold at public auction.

All of which serves to make an archival automotive photograph even more attractive. Bonus: you wouldn’t have to worry about crashing it.

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