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Technology Is the Way to the Past

The Finest Automobile Auctions Is Changing the Way You Bid on Classics


Briefings By Photo by Bill Pack

B
radley Farrell pulled over in the middle of a three-way stop in Bedford Hills, New York: “she’s all you.” I took a deep breath. “She” was a 1949 Maserati A6 1500 Coupe, of which only 61 were made — which is expected to sell at auction at The Elegance at Hershey on June 11 for over $700,000. He popped open the driver’s-side door and jumped out of the taut, midnight-blue machine; I nervously followed suit. Then, like a cartoon klutz diving to catch a Ming Vase he’d bumped with his elbow, I teleported into the plush, blood-red cabin and stabbed around for the minuscule brake knob to stop the car from rolling away — with no e-brake, this precious metal was on the move.

“There’s no assistance. It’s just you,” Bradley Farrell said of the Maserati. “You’d better be on your game or you’ll kill us both — and I’m not talking about you and me; I’m talking about you and the car. Because this car 100 percent has a soul.”

I couldn’t agree more. The classic Maser’s soul is so visceral, so raw, so mechanical and so beautiful that for a while I forgot why I was in the driver’s seat at all. I’d commuted from Brooklyn early in the morning to meet Farrell at the headquarters of The Finest, his new automobile auction house that aims to upend traditional auctions in a decidedly modern way — with tablet computers and state of the art, app-based bidding, all done through online auction marketplace Proxibid. Surrounded by prewar metal of all kinds, from varied marques and in mostly unrestored condition, Farrell, tall, tattooed and intense, explained his vision in measured detail.

“You can’t forget what’s brought us to this point,” says Farrell, referring to the seemingly age-old template by which traditional auctions are run. Cars parade onto the stage, await bids and either sell or don’t. Either way, that’s pretty much the end of the proceedings. With Farrell’s visionary innovation, that timeframe is extended to a month, over which time buyers have multiple chances to make their purchase.

When bidders arrive they’re assigned a tablet. GPS locators in the tablets automatically populate with each car’s information and a carousel of breathtaking photographs. Bidding can start immediately, continues during the verbal auction period and even after each car leaves the stage. If the cars don’t meet reserve or don’t sell that day, there’s still plenty of time to bid. Which is how Farrell’s vision differs from tradition.

“It’s imperative to use what works really well, discard what doesn’t and then make up the rest,” said Farrell. Before Farrell I’d met with Ed Fallon, veteran auction pro and executive director of The Finest; he’s the auction veteran with an exhaustive knowledge of the business as it’s existed until now. “Ed is invaluable,” says Farrell. “Bringing him in as a serious executive was probably the smartest move I made.” Farrell has exhaustive knowledge, too; more importantly, he has a blazing, volcanic passion for all things automotive.

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Just a couple of the cars from The Elegance at Hershey. In order of appearance: 1954 Jaguar XK120M, 1985 March / Buick 85G IMSA Racecar, 1927 Bugatti Type 38A Grand Sport, 1939 Bentley Mark V, and the 1991 Subaru Sambar 4X4 fire truck.

Farrell insisted I drive his 2010 Maserati Quattroporte before the classic. He did this — and I say this, as he did, with respect to the fact that it’s a great modern automobile — by way of comparison, to demonstrate how shitty it is. Then he and Fallon rolled the Pininfarina-penned ’49er out. “I love French cars, but the Italians really knew how to design,” he said, his voice electric and alive.

After a few quick cranks the 1.5-liter straight-six roared like a pint-size tiger with outsized lungs. “Like a top!” he exclaimed. “What Quattroporte sounds like that?!” He pulled away and the Maserati stalled after half a block. “That’s the thing about owning a classic car, man. That’s the fun thing. You’ve got to get it right; learn how to actually drive the car. Your eyes, the focus — it’s on driving.”

“You’d better be on your game or you’ll kill us both — and I’m not talking about you and me; I’m talking about you and the car. Because this car 100 percent has a soul.”

Farrell and I talk cars, breathing in the sounds and feelings this wondrous machina pumps out, enjoying the undulations in the pavement. To drive this piece of history is transcendent. The cost alone is one thing, but the way my brain and body came alive transported me through time to 1949, like I was mainlining nostalgia. I’ve never driven something that felt so alive.

Farrell sees this awakening. “You’re learning to drive all over again,” he said, grinning. And he wants other people to feel the same way; he wants to spread the gospel of the gorgeous, the visceral, the passionate automobile. His tech-meets-tradition innovation is his way of combatting the shitty, soulless cars of the modern era and bringing auction-goers — both veteran and novice — closer to that awakening. Could I hope to bid on this Maserati? No. But the ’67 Mini Cooper S at no reserve? Yes. Hmm…

And there’s the beauty of The Finest — a magnificent, varied spread of superlative cars that mean something: it’s Farrell’s innovative way of connecting people to the passion. Of removing the barrier to entry — the intimidation factor, the logistical nightmares and the frustrating, rushed chaos that comes with traditional auction experiences. He’s taking what works, getting rid of what doesn’t, making up the rest and hoping that we’ll all want to learn to drive all over again.