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Ford demonstrates that even 'priceless cars' have a price.


Ford startled the staid auto industry when it announced last May it was cleaning house: 51 of its concept and show cars — going all the way back to 1960 — were going on the auction block. Eyebrows arched. Scandalous! Could things be so bad at Ford that it was selling its own cultural offspring, some auto writers groaned? What could Billy be thinking? Would some of these "priceless cars" wind up in cheesy tourist traps of the wax-museum variety, or as dealer lures? Whatever the case, Ford wasn't doing it for money — the proceeds would go to fight multiple sclerosis.

So on a Sunday in mid-June, about 200 people showed up at "Ford's" in Dearborn, as locals call it. Perhaps a fourth of them were press, curious to see what these enormously expensive show cars would go for. And Ford waived any minimum reserve on the cars — meaning, the highest bid, whatever it might be, would be the winning bid.

When the Christie's auction got under way, there didn't seem to be more than 20 serious bidders in the house, and all the real action was coming from an elevated table off to one side where eight well-dressed chaps were hooked up by phone to their secretive clients. Whomever bidder No. 1716 was representing, he would literally buy the joint.

What the very first item fetched would prove a harbinger of the bidding to come. A slim book on the history of Ford's concept cars from 1932 to 1961, pegged by Christie's handicappers at a modest $50 to $70, in fact sold for $2468. (The winning bid was $2100, but Christie's adds a 17.5-percent premium and another 10 percent on amounts over $100,000.) The third item, a model of the Indigo that would fit on a desktop, was thought to be worth $1500 tops. It went for $16,450.

Priceless cars? Hardly. Many of them were "nonrunning," engineless, mockups. All of them were forklifted onto center stage, none arriving under its own power. Whole interiors were missing, some dash gauges and controls were dummies, doors didn't open, some wheels were chrome-plated plastic — typical for show cars. The Christie's auctioneer announced for the record that all cars were not to be driven on public roads. One wondered if this could prevent the winning bidder of, for example, the Ghia Ka Turin concept — a simply smashing yellow and black 1998 mini with a knockout suede interior and glorious gaugework — from getting it running and registered. It sold for a paltry $21,150, the deal of the day if you own a body shop (the right-side doors don't work, nor do the instruments, and half its "windows" are plexiglass).

The first car on the auction block, a Ghia Saetta concept built in 1997, sold for $58,750, twice Christie's high estimate of 25 grand. Next, a garish 1994 Ford Power Stroke pickup concept sold for $44,650. The Ford Contour concept that toured the show circuit in 1991 — a car Ford must have been truly glad to show the door — sold for just $25,850. It was a nonrunner. A notable slouch was the Lincoln Blackwood show car, which had gotten more ink on the circuit than Jacques Nasser's jettison out of town. The bid was $45,000, below the sticker of the canceled production vehicle but above it with Christie's fee attached ($52,875).

The eighth car up was one of the stars of the '93 Geneva auto show, the 206.0-inch Lagonda Vignale by Ghia. Tops, it was supposed to go for 120 grand, but the winning bid was $403,500. Two racy Indigo show cars built by Reynard, which must have cost Ford a pretty penny, sold for $88,125 and $42,300. Look closely at the V-12 engines and you'd have seen they were a figment of the imagination.

Some cars sold for beer and skittles: A 1975 Ghia Manx concept went for $10,575, and the even homelier Ghia Pockar of 1981 was $5875, the auction's bargain. You would pass on both, trust us.

The shocker was the Ghia Focus concept of 1992, star of that year's Turin show, a two-seat exercise in over-styling (bubbles that look like poison-ivy blisters pop up on the center console, and a handrail for elves runs around its flanks), although Ford design boss J Mays called it the closest thing to art you'll find on four wheels. But he would say that, wouldn't he? The bidding on the phone bank went on like a Pong game at $20,000 increments, finally going silent at an even million bucks (add $107,500 for Christie's cut). That big bidder, No. 1716, kicked in the lion's share of the $4,365,967 raised by the auction. He bought the Lagonda Vignale, the gullwing Mercury MC4 concept of 1997 for $645,500, the nonrunning Ford Desert Excursion ($70,500), the 1988 Ford Splash (a new high in dune-buggy weirdness, $70,500), and the space-movie Synergy 2010 concept ($58,750, and wouldn't it be great to put an LT1 under the hood?). Possibly others, too — there were a lot of winks and secret Sky King hand gestures in play.

Other notable sales were $491,500 for the Mustang Mach III of 1992, $88,125 for the 1962 Ghia Selene II "Dream Car" (kind of a Pacer from the waist up, with the fin from Jaws running up the trunk, the whole thing a seeming shrine to LSD). It was noted that the 1960 Ghia IXG, a slim first exercise in understanding aerodynamics, was designed before racing innovator Jim Hall stumbled on the idea of wings and downforce. It was also noted that it was, uh, "too aerodynamic to accept an engine." It went for $42,300, but what would it do against a Chaparral but stand there, the breeze passing over its lovely flanks? — Steve Spence

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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