The sleek Type 64 was built by Ferdinand Porsche and his son, Ferry, between 1939 and 1940, years before their namesake company was registered in 1946. It was intended for a race that was planned between Berlin and Rome, but canceled by the outbreak of World War II.
The car’s modified, air-cooled Volkswagen four-cylinder engine puts out about 32 horsepower and can reach a top speed of about 88 miles per hour.
The car was damaged and rebuilt by Porsche years later, then purchased in 1949 by a racecar driver, who competed with it for many years. It was last sold in 1997 to an Austrian Porsche collector who was the one offering it in Monterey.
Experts expected the car to sell for around $20 million, but the Dutch-accented auctioneer opening the bidding at $30 million, exciting the crowd.
It was not entirely clear if the auctioneer’s accent, an error on the display screen, or some combination of the two caused the confusion. The bidders were supposed to be bidding in increments of $1 million or less, but the screen showed them bidding in increments of $10 million.
In the frenzy, the high bid of $30 million zoomed up to $40 million. Then it hit $50 million and $60 million, before landing at $70 million. That would have been substantially higher than the record $48.4 million a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO fetched last year at another Sotheby’s auction.
That’s when the auctioneer abruptly declared that the high bid was actually $17 million, not $70 million.
“As bidding opened on the Type 64, increments were mistakenly displayed on the screen, causing unfortunate confusion in the room,” RM Sotheby’s said in a statement on Sunday. “We take pride in conducting our world-class auctions with integrity and we take our responsibility to our clients very seriously.”