1963 Ferrari 250 GTO

1963 250 . (Photo: Courtesy of Bloomberg.com)

According to multiple published reports, a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO has sold for $52 million, making it the most expensive sale of any car in history.

Bloomberg.com reported the seller to be Paul Pappalardo of Greenwich, Conn., who acquired the car in 1974 and drove it in a number of events since then. The buyer’s identity was not disclosed.

The $52 million sale price represents a staggering 49 percent premium over the prior record GTO sale, which occurred less than 18 months ago.

In May 2012, Dutch vintner Eric Heerma sold a 1962 Ferrari GTO made for racer for $35 million. The Moss Ferrari buyer was Washington state collector Craig McCaw, co-founder of McCaw Cellular, which was sold to AT&T for $11.5 billion in 1993. Presumably, McCaw can afford to keep this and his other prized in pristine condition.

1962 Ferrari Moss GTO

1962 Moss Ferrari GTO. (Photo: Courtesy of Bloomberg.com)

Prior to that sale, Moss Ferrari was a great investment vehicle — pun intended — for its previous owners. And surely, the $52 million paid for Pappalardo’s GTO will only increase the value of others, including the Moss car, which already has enjoyed an exponential run-up in value.

According to Businessweek.com, British classic-car dealer Talacrest Ltd. sold the Moss Ferrari for $3.5 million in 1996 to Japanese collector Yoshiho Matsuda. Roughly 10 years ago, Matsuda sold it to Heerma for about $8.5 million. Any way you look at it, that’s a pretty sweet return on investment.

So what makes a car — any car — worth tens of millions of dollars?

Several factors.

Collector cars become more attractive when yields on stocks and cash investments are at or near all-time lows.

Vintage Ferraris from the 1950s and 60s are among the most coveted cars in the classic-car marketplace. In the case of the 250 GTO, just 39 of the models were built, all between 1962 and 64, and not all of them survived.

The 250 GTO, which the Italian automaker built to compete in European endurance races, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is regarded as the ne plus ultra among the myriad Ferraris of that era.

While all vintage Ferraris are collectable to at least some degree, none is more valuable than the 250 GTO. And provenance adds a lot to the value.

The former Pappalardo GTO has a long and well-documented racing history, winning the 1963 Tour de France road race. Its chassis number, 5111, is well known among Ferrari historians.

Similarly, the Moss car that sold last year carries his name on the driver’s seat. It is finished in the pale apple green color of the Brit’s UDT-Laystall race team.

Ironically, Moss never actually raced this car, as his driving career ended just days before he was to take possession of the car. A crash at the famed Goodwood race course on April 23, 1962 left Moss in a coma for a month, never to race full-time again.

But the fact that the car was built for a British hero, the man known as “the greatest driver to never win a World Championship,” and comes with an absolutely bulletproof history and chain of ownership pushed its price into the stratosphere.

And there’s a certain rich-guy snob appeal to the GTOs.

“It’s a cult car,” London-based Ferrari dealer Joe Macari told Bloomberg.com after the Pappalardo Ferrari GTO sold. “If you’re a billionaire, you feel you have to have one. I don’t understand the appeal of them. They’re not very beautiful and they never won Le Mans. I’d rather have a Testa Rossa.”

The big question is what happens next?

In May 2008, a 1961 Ferrari California Spyder — think “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” only real — sold at auction in Maranello, Italy, for $10,894,900, at the time a world-record price for any car sold at auction. Now, just four years later, that mark has been more than quintupled.

How high can things go? Some believe a lot further.

“Unlike the last classic car ‘bubble’ this one shows no sign of bursting any time soon,” wrote the influential British website www.carsuk.net after the Moss car sold last year. “With new wealth in emerging markets and the obvious finite supply of classic cars, there is a long way to go before the top is reached – if it ever is.”

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