By their very nature, collector-car auctions are something of a crapshoot.
Granted, every such event has its star cars, whether it's seven- and eight-figure vintage Ferraris at Pebble Beach or $250,000 Corvettes at Bloomington Gold.
In the end, though, what ends up fetching the biggest money at any given event is no sure thing. And who would have ever imagined, for example, that a 1950 General Motors Futureliner bus would have sold at auction in 2007 for $4.1 million? But it did. And if prices were pre-determined, there really would be no need for an auction in the first place.
The recent Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas Collector-Car Event was a good case in point. The two star cars there were both restored survivors of the high-water mark of the American muscle car boom: a 1970 Plymouth Superbird with the rare and highly desirable 426 Hemi V8 engine; and an equally legendary performer from the same year, a Ford Boss 429 Mustang.
Not surprisingly, both cars brought strong money when they went across the block. The bright yellow Superbird was the No. 2 seller at the auction, with a final price of $297,000, which included a hammer price of $270,000 and the 10 percent buyer's fee.
The Boss 429 did OK, too, coming in No. 4 overall at $247,500, with the buyer's fee.
But the real shock was the event's high-seller, which was a customized 1967 Shelby GT500 SE Super Snake Continuation, which sold for $330,000, a sum Barrett-Jackson officials said was a new world record.
So what is a "Super Snake Continuation?"
In recent years, Carroll Shelby - a former racer and the creator of the Cobra - licensed select builders to create what he called Super Snake Continuations, cars that began life as simple Mustangs, but were rebuilt with massive, costly and Shelby-worthy performance upgrades. Because these cars had the blessing of Shelby himself, they carried actual Shelby ID plates mounted on the inside of the driver's-side front fender and are eligible for inclusion in the Shelby Registry, which greatly enhances the value of the car.
This specific Super Snake, which carries serial number, CSE SS-058, was said to have been one actually worked on at Shelby's Nevada facility out outside of Las Vegas. And make no mistake, the $330,000 Super Snake was hopped up, big time.
Under the hood was an 800-horsepower all-aluminum, supercharged 482-cubic-inch Shelby V8 that was mated to a five-speed Tremec-brand transmission. As you would expect with that much power under the hood, the suspension, brakes and chassis have been pretty well rebuilt from the ground up to cope with the engine's twisting force.
The exterior, likewise, has undergone an extreme makeover, giving it a look not unlike the oft-cloned "Eleanor" Mustang from the film "Gone In 60 Seconds." The black paint and grey ghost stripes add an air of menace, as do the billet grill, fat tires and big wheels.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the interior features a host of creature comforts, including air conditioning, a 700-watt stereo system with iPod connection and a navigation system. Many of the goodies on this car hadn't even been dreamt up in 1967, but that, as they say, is another story.
And that was just one of many Mustangs selling for high prices.
Of the top five sellers at the Las Vegas auction, four were either Mustangs or Mustang-based Shelbys.
The No. 3 seller, which hammered right after the Super Snake Continuation, was a radical 1967 custom Mustang fastback that sold for a jaw-dropping $275,000. As noted, the Boss 429 fetched $247,500. Last but not least, No. 5 was a 1970 Shelby GT500 - hardly the most desirable year for the model - that brought $220,000.
Add it all up, and the four Shelbys and Mustangs went for a collective $1,072,500.
Delbert Wheeler Sr., owner of King Mountain Tobacco Co., bought the Super Snake and the custom '67, as well as the Superbird.
So why all the interest in Shelbys and Mustangs?
It might be because founder Carroll Shelby died earlier this year and his passing could drive Shelby prices up the way Enzo Ferrari's death in 1988 did for fans of the Prancing Horse.
Or it could be that one guy who came to Vegas really, really wanted a 1967 Shelby Super Snake. After all, auctions don't determine or reflect market value. When the hammer drops, it's because two people wanted the same car and someone quit.
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