The world of car collecting has gone absolutely crazy. Billions of dollars have poured into the hobby, hedging on the exclusivity and authenticity of very special cars. During the week of the famed Scottsdale auctions, some $235 Million changed hands in sales of many classics, special interest and race cars. However whenever this kind of money is being spent on collectibles, there is an illegal cottage industry that injects counterfeits into the mix. Some so good that one cannot tell the difference--until the provenance, or origin is questioned by experts.
While some are just plain fake, others claim to be the real deal because they share parts with an original. In many cases, race cars, that went though several incarnations of development during their careers, wind up completely different from where they began. Wrecks are another grey area. Parts can be salvaged, but can the parts to the original wreck be documented?
One such car has been clouded by controversy. It has twice come to auction and has failed to sell--as provenance has both times been called into question. This car, a beautifully built/restored/replicated (you'll have to decide which) Maserati Tipo 61/60 'Birdcage', a type of one of the most sought-after collector cars in the world, has been deemed a fake by experts, despite claims to the contrary. Its owner, who remains anonymous, claims this car is a restoration of chassis #2459--a car experts say has no connection at all due to total destruction in a racing crash.
The story really begins in 1962 at Daytona International Speedway.Augie Pabst, heir to the beer brewing fortune of the same name, climbs into the Tippo 61 Maserati to practice for the famed 24 Hour Endurance race. The car is prepared by Briggs Cunningham, owner of the American Cunningham Team which has become legend in sports car circles--and whose remaining cars have become highly collectible. The track is a combination of road course and high banking and for more than 50 years has provided an incredible challenge to world class drivers and manufacturers who enter the 24 Hour classic.
As Pabst exits the road course portion and takes to the high speed banking--something goes terribly wrong. The Maserati’s engine blows under stress, locking the rear wheels at 170mph. The beautiful Birdcage--garnering its nickname from the welded small diameter steel tubes that make up the frame--lurches right. A huge impact with the guard rails sends the car into a series of end-over-end flips. Pabst’s seat-belts fail and he is thrown from the wreck as it summersaults down the banking.
Augie survives, but suffers fractured ribs, cuts, spinal and internal injuries. He will be hospitalized for 2 months and faced with a long recovery--which would come by the following year’s Times Grand Prix at Riverside. Augie Pabst would continue racing cars well into his 80’s and remains on the Board of Directors at Elkhart Lake’s Road America. But as for Chassis #2459, there was nothing left as the car was literally balled up and burned on that section of Daytona banking. Any pieces that were salvageable--which were few--were distributed to existing Birdcage owners for spares.
Fast forward to 2010:
A group of some of the most talented car and engine builders supposedly find surviving parts and rebuild the ill-fated machine to its original glory. Some $350 thousand is spent rebuilding the engine and doing complicated frame and bodywork in both Italy and England. The car is a sight to behold. Basically a ground up build of the original Maserati Tipo 61, by the renowned Maserati restoration team at Steve Hart Racing, is completed and the chassis plate “2459” is designated to the car.
To many experts and historians, this car is a “beautiful reproduction”. The only problem is that the owner claims that the car is the real deal. FIA paperwork and a letter from engine builder Hart being used as the proof. This not only has caused many to scream “fabrication!” from the mountain-tops, but for the car itself to garner not a single bid in two separate auctions--the 2011 Mecum auction and the 2014 Russo & Steele Scottsdale Auction.
Now, here we are in January 2014:
As this car crossed the block on Saturday night, there was a certain amount of hype. Not many even went in to inspect the car as it drove out. A bid came through at $900.000, then $1Million, then $1.4Million. The excitement seemed to be building. But then it was over almost before it began.
A typical Birdcage Maserati Tipo 60 or 61 would easily net better than $3 Million. For those of us standing there, we commented to each other, knowing the controversy, said, “Drop the reserve. Take the money and run as fast as you can away from this albatross.”
Sadly the $1.4 Million bid was later declared to be a “phantom” bid--an anonymous wager intent on getting the auction rolling or to unnaturally raise the price but under the reserve.
According to Thomas Wright, who was named as a representative of the car made a comment online in 2013: “From what I can gather in the information available on the web, an Italian collector then gathered all the 2459 parts he could find to put into this restoration. What is remarkable is the amount of documentation provided on this restoration for anyone to see.”
According to racing historian and former Can-Am racing driver, Jerry Entin, “Where is the bill of sale? There is no provenance. It is easy to gather a bunch of parts--but to specifically declare the car is real, you need to have documentation to that extent.”
So is it real or is it Memorex? The car seems to be poisoned at this point and will have to wait for things to die down to hope for any kind of a sale. Sadly, the car is a period correct piece that now unfortunately sits, when, in the competent hands of a passionate owner/driver can be tearing up the tracks of the world and entertaining many fans of the Maserati marque in it’s 100th anniversary. Based on the evidence here, what say you?