A s the longest-standing tradition of the Monterey Car Week, RM Sotheby’s flagship Monterey auction remains a pinnacle event year after year. Held at the Monterey Conference Center, set on the spectacular central California coast, the multi-level property offers a breathtaking, modern, and state-of-the-art facility perfect for this year’s high caliber auction weekend.
RM Sotheby’s Monterey event, being held 18-20 August, continues to set the standard for collector car auctions with its long history of record-breaking results, high-caliber consignments, unparalleled client service, impeccable presentation, and international footprint. Simply put, the energy of this year’s RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction is unmatched and one not to be missed.
Every collection tells a story, and behind the singular Oscar Davis Collection is the tale of its namesake’s perseverance, achievement, and extraordinary automotive taste.
In 1928, the Davis family—including three-year-old Oscar—emigrated from Budapest, Hungary, to the United States, making their home in New York City. Shortly before his 18th birthday, Davis left school to enlist in the United States Army; he served through the end of the war in Europe, remaining in the conflict’s aftermath to oversee displaced persons camps. There, Davis, who was Jewish, located many Hungarian refugees, and some of his family members who had survived the Holocaust.
Returning to the United States, Davis pursued a career as a toolmaker, a trade taught to him by his father Isidor. In 1949, borrowing $1,500 from his father-in-law, he established the Oscar Davis Company, which produced specialty plastic fittings for the burgeoning industrial plastic pipe industry. He would sell the company in 1961. Then, in 1964, he purchased a Brooklyn, New York, machine shop that made metal swimming pool system components. Applying his knowledge in the use of industrial plastics to these products, Davis transformed the business that would become Hayward Industries into a global leader in the swimming pool industry, with more than 2,500 employees worldwide when he sold it in 2017.
In recognition of his lifetime of business achievement and service, Oscar Davis was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2002. Davis passed away in February 2021 at the age of 95; there can be no doubt that his was a life well-lived. In the midst of it all, he found the time to cultivate his passion for exquisite automobiles—a passion he pursued with vigor.
As with so many servicemen returning from the European Theater, Davis was captivated by the Continent’s shapely and athletic sports cars. A BMW 328 (said to have been purchased for the now-unthinkable price of $200) was his first acquisition in 1957, but with increasing business success came the ability to own a wider range of vehicles, including grand American classics. Unimpeachable quality and provenance were the throughlines of his collection, even as its focus evolved; in time, he would build one of the finest stables of pre- and post-war European performance machinery ever assembled.
It is simply impossible to choose a single highlight of the Davis Collection in its present form. From his 1938 Talbot-Lago T150-C SS Teardrop Coupe by Figoni et Falaschi to his 1953 Ferrari 375 MM Spider by Scaglietti, many selections could easily serve as the centerpiece of any world-class collection. There are rare Bugattis, such as the breathtaking, supercharged 1939 Type 57C Aravis Special Cabriolet by Gangloff; his precious Alfa Romeos include the 1938 6C 2300B Mille Miglia Berlinetta by Touring, a masterwork of taut coachbuilt form and brilliant mechanical function. Among these crown jewels are intriguing surprises, like the delightful 1952 Lancia Aurelia B53 Giardinetta by Viotti.
Each is an automobile of great value and historical significance, but also tremendous intrinsic appeal. Each will entrance even the most casual of observers while rewarding the careful attention of studied enthusiasts. It is hard to imagine a greater testament to Davis’ vision as a collector than this.
Yet Davis’ enduring reputation within the car community was built not only by the automobiles he possessed, but also in how he so clearly delighted in exhibiting them and enjoying them at speed. Countless showgoers have gazed at his cars on manicured concours greens, and lucky onlookers have caught a fleeting glimpse of Davis behind the wheel of one of his treasures on the twisting roads of the Mille Miglia Storica or the Colorado Grand. His cars’ fortunate next owners will undoubtedly have many opportunities to continue in this exciting tradition, should they so desire.
It is now RM Sotheby’s great honor to offer The Oscar Davis Collection. In doing so, we salute the exceptional connoisseurship of a remarkable man—and present a new set of collectors with the truly thrilling opportunity to experience firsthand the spectacular automobiles Oscar Davis so clearly cherished over the years.
Even in a field of exceptional automobiles, there are a select few that rise to the rank of Masterwork. From the very first glimpse—whether on the concours green, on a museum plinth, or even in the pages of an enthusiast magazine—these are the cars that you remember forever, melding as they do exquisite design, ingenious engineering, and remarkable craftsmanship in an utterly spectacular manner. These special machines are coveted by their caretakers, only rarely becoming available for public acquisition. So it is with immense pride that RM Sotheby’s presents Masterworks of Design, a collection of 46 significant one-off and limited-production motorcars now offered out of long-term private ownership.
Prominently featured in the collection is what is arguably one of the finest examples of a Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster extant, sure to entice collectors throughout the world. Built for the King of Afghanistan, this 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster by Sindelfingen is the ultimate long-tail, covered-spare variant, a low-mileage example presented in incredibly original condition.
While the 540 K Special Roadster’s significance cannot be understated, headlining the collection is one of the most legendary pre-war coachbuilt cars ever constructed: The 1924 Hispano-Suiza H6C "Tulipwood" Torpedo by Nieuport. The sole example produced, commissioned by aperitif heir and gentleman racer André Dubonnet for the 1924 Targa Florio, it is undoubtedly the most famous Hispano-Suiza in the world.
The 46 lots on offer encompass the grandest and most exclusive marques in automotive history, including Bugattis, Isotta Fraschinis, Rolls-Royces, Alfa Romeos, and more, clothed by such fabled coachbuilders as Saoutchik, Gangloff, Figoni, and Zagato. Each of these automobiles has spent considerable time, in many cases over three decades, in private ownership. They will no doubt be treasured by their next owners for years to come—making this a truly once-in-a-generation opportunity to call one of these unforgettable Masterworks of Design your own.
Please note that these automobiles have largely been on long-term static display and will require some recommissioning prior to extended road use.