Sporting Saturday: RM Sotheby’s London Fall Auction

By Forest Casey
From an Ascari prototype to an Aston Martin V8 Volante Zagato, a fresh selection of sports cars are bound for London Fall.

As a rule, the autumnal season is rarely associated with the adjective “fresh.” We typically reserve that word for springtime, when the world is green and new. And yet, the connection is far from spurious. After all, is there a fresher smell than that of crisp, fall morning? Fruit, harvested and preserved during the early autumn, stays fresh all winter. The cloud formations and rainstorms that accompany autumn also do a superior job cleaning the skies, making those rare sunny days in fall that much brighter. An ideal atmosphere for a Saturday morning drive.

All the lots on our list share a common sporting spirit. Grabbing the keys to any of these performance-oriented examples on an early fall morning practically guarantees an exciting journey. Whether you are simply popping down to the shops on a weekend morning or soaking up sunset under a canopy of warm-hued leaves, these sports cars are perfectly suited for the season. RM Sotheby’s London Fall auction, set to unfold on 6 November 2021, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. Occurring the night before the annual autumnal tradition of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, these examples are equally as thrilling as those pre-1904 cars, only with a not-insignificant jump in speed:

1987 Porsche 959 Komfort

Estimate: £800,000 - £1,000,000 GBP

Though we emphasized the sunnier side of fall in our introduction, the fact is that autumnal weather can have the potential to turn treacherous. Today acknowledged as a full supercar, the 959 featured the ultimate accompaniment to any fall drive, an all-new system called Porsche-Steuer Kupplung or PSK, for short. The breakthrough technology pushed the halo Porsche into the rarified field occupied by the best in the world at that time. Ferrari, for instance, did not include four driven wheels on their F40; neither did Jaguar on their XJ220 or McLaren in their F1, all standout examples of the era. Only the Bugatti EB 110 could claim a four-wheel-drive. In the real world, and especially when driving in poor weather conditions, the novel new Porsche system allowed for faster sprints between corners. Unlike other all-wheel-drive systems, PSK was tuned to maximize performance. The advanced system allowed the front and rear torque split ratio to vary between the 959’s wheels not simply because of a loss of traction but also in tune with hard acceleration situations, perfectly balancing the driven wheels in conjunction with the twin KKK turbochargers. These days, the pairing of twin-turbocharged powerplants and all-wheel-drive is nearly universal among modern supercars.

1987 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato Coupé

Estimate: £300,000 - £350,000 GBP

The late 1980s was a fertile ground for avant-garde design, and naturally, some decidedly future-forward shapes came out of one of Milano, Italy’s most talented classic coachbuilding firms. Though it was established over a century ago, in 1919, Zagato Milano has built its reputation from its inception as a design house dedicated to pushing the envelope. For the grand return of their historic collaboration with Aston Martin in the late 1980s, Zagato’s vision of the forthcoming decade was angular and sharp. While the finished product was still hand-formed in the traditional method of all the storied coachbuilder’s offerings, the Zagato-designed V8 Vantage proved to be an instant classic, appearing in Hollywood films and boasting a stout power output of 432 bhp and 395 lb-ft of torque from its 5.3-litre V-8 engine. This treasured example, owned by a string of careful collectors, showed a mere 396 miles at the time of cataloguing.

1988 Aston Martin V8 Volante Zagato

Estimate: £200,000 - £250,000 GBP

The hometown auction of RM Sotheby’s European Division is blessed with not just one but two Zagato-designed Aston Martin sports cars. Presented in the brilliantly hued color combination of Salisbury Blue over a Magnolia-toned leather interior with blue carpets, this V8 Volante Zagato appears equipped to capture the spirit of summertime, even through the darker winter months. With its matching dark blue “Everflex” soft top, this V8 Volante is one of a mere 37 Aston Martins constructed by Zagato in this open-air style. Like its Coupé sibling we covered previously, this V8 Volante Zagato was the first Aston Martin made without bumpers, with the progressive design posing a glimpse of the future. An incredible statement, then, when the underlying V8 Vantage originally debuted in 1969. With only three owners over its lifetime, a dedicated (and documented) history of faithful servicing, and showing a scant 6,742 miles from new, this Italian-built example from the consummate British brand bridges both worlds; still ahead of its time, even 33 years later.
2007 Aston Martin Vanquish S Ultimate Edition

Estimate: £140,000 - £160,000 GBP

Fast-forward a few decades and the Aston Martin design language leapt forward into the current era thanks to Ian Callum’s striking work on the concept codenamed Project Vantage, which debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 2001. Six years later, the concept had not only become reality as the Aston Martin Vanquish but had also borne a high-output model designation (the Vanquish S) and finally a limited run of 50 examples. The Vanquish Ultimate Edition, of which this example is number 37 out of 50, both celebrated the road ahead and the long tradition of premium quality construction associated with Aston Martin, as the Ultimate Edition was the last new model assembled at the brand’s Newport Pagnell facility, which is currently dedicated to producing handbuilt continuation cars. Wearing perhaps the most preeminently tasteful color combination of Ultimate Black over a black leather interior, this V-12-powered, 10,636-mile example is one of only twenty that were built in right-hand-drive for the U.K. market. A modern hometown hero.

2000 Ferrari 550 Maranello

Estimate: £140,000 - £160,000 GBP

Meanwhile in Maranello, Italy, likely the most storied sports car brand of them all was also dedicated to updating its offerings for the new millennium. Greenlit by the company’s then-new leader Luca di Montezemolo soon after production of the F512M ceased, the Ferrari 550 Maranello was to be a reinterpretation of the prancing horse brand’s classic front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout but adapted for the 21st century. Modern creature comforts included power-assisted steering, vented disc brakes, a double-wishbone suspension featuring anti-roll bars on both front and rear axles, and perhaps the most-requested feature from any classic grand touring Ferrari—air-conditioning. This 16,068-mile example, wearing the timeless, red-over-tan Ferrari color pairing, also sports another combination that has become most appealing recently: A six-speed gated manual shifter paired with a naturally aspirated V-12 engine.

1993 Ascari FGT 'Prototype'

Estimate: £60,000 - £80,000 GBP

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear to see why sporting automobiles built around the turn of the 21st century have come back in vogue. Like the Ferrari, we discussed previously, this 1993 Ascari FGT pairs a manual transmission with a naturally aspirated powerplant. Unlike the regular production Maranello, which referenced a long history of front-engine classics, the Ascari brand quite literally began with this example. Not only serving as the ‘Prototype’ for the all-new FGT model, this example also was the introduction of the Ascari Cars Ltd. brand itself, which later launched the well-regarded Ecosse sports car. Engineered and designed by British automotive entrepreneur Lee Noble, who previously enjoyed success with the Ultima Mk1 and later became famous with his eponymous company, Noble Motorsports Ltd., this handsome metallic green-over-two-tone grey and black leather interior example is a genuine piece of U.K. motoring history. Powered by a 6.0-litre, fuel-injected Chevrolet V-8 engine and recently serviced under the watchful eye of Noble himself, this ‘Prototype’ stands today as a testament to the enduring appeal of British engineering.

2006 Aston Martin DBRS9

Estimate: £180,000 - £220,000 GBP

The final example on our list of thoroughbred sports cars was intended for those with genuine track aspirations. One look inside this 2006 Aston Martin DBRS9 reveals its motorsport-grade capabilities. A full welded roll cage and sequential manual gearbox greet those serious enough to take this 6.0-litre V-12-powered British sports car for a spin. Presented with a generous assortment of spare parts, this example was the second chassis built and served as a bridge between the grand touring-focused DB9 and the even-more-hardcore DBR9, which took home top prize in the LMGT1 category at the 2005 running of the Sebring 12 Hours endurance race. With its Michelin slick tires still mounted, this well-cared-for example shows the potential for transforming production automobiles from the early 2000s into track-oriented contenders, at least, when a team as talented as Aston Martin Racing is concerned. An intriguing option, worth exploring in detail in the linked lot listing, is certain to draw a crowd at RM Sotheby’s London Fall auction on 6 November.

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