An RM Sotheby auctioneer’s slip-up has left a Nazi-era Porsche below reserve, despite being expected to fetch $29.5 million.
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The auction of a car designed by Ferdinand Porsche in Nazi Germany resulted in what could be politely described as a snafu or, in the words of one auction patron, a “massive f*** up”.

The 1939 Type 64 – retroactively and somewhat controversially referred to as a Porsche – failed to find a buyer at the RM Sotheby’s auction in Monterey, California over the weekend, according to Bloomberg.

The car had been expected to sell for at least US$20 million (A$29.5 million) but frenzied bidding took the price of the Type 64 up from a starting bid of US$30 million (A$44 million) all the way to US$70 million (A$103 million). It was only then that the auctioneer, Maarten ten Holder, sheepishly admitted he meant US$17 million, blaming his pronunciation and accent.

As the television screens were updated with the correct figures, the crowd erupted in a mix of boos and what can best be described as vocal befuddlement. The auctioneer then took pains to repeatedly say “seventeen”, carefully enunciating the last syllable in the word.

The display was so farcical some in the audience thought it was an attempt at a joke. One anonymous collector didn’t find it very funny, reportedly saying Sotheby’s “just slit their own throat.”

An RM Sotheby's spokesperson issued a statement to Bloomberg, saying: “As bidding opened on the Type 64, increments were mistakenly overheard and displayed on the screen, causing unfortunate confusion in the room. The car reached a high bid of $17 million”.

That US$17 million figure was below the reserve so the Type 64 remains in the possession of the seller.

Even beyond the Type 64 incident, Sotheby’s had a disappointing weekend. According to insurance and valuation firm Hagerty, total auction earnings were down 25% from 2018. Hagerty identified the threat of recession, economic volatility and a cluttered auction line-up as possible reasons for the disappointing numbers.

Lot #362 was the third and only surviving example of the three Type 64s commissioned by the National Socialist Motor Corps and designed by Ferdinand Porsche, then employed at Volkswagen. The Type 64 was to participate in a race from Berlin to Rome in 1939, intended to celebrate the relationship between Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Unsurprisingly, the race was cancelled and this Type 64 became Ferdinand Porsche’s private vehicle.

When Dr. Porsche was arrested for war crimes, the car was passed onto his son Ferry. The younger Porsche eventually sold it in 1949 to Austrian race car driver Otto Mathé who kept it until his death in 1995 despite numerous attempts by Ferry to buy the car back.

Using predominantly Volkswagen parts and riding a modified version of the Beetle’s chassis, the Type 64 wasn’t technically a Porsche. The first car to officially wear the Porsche name was the 356, introduced in 1948. It was around this time that Ferry Porsche reportedly added Porsche badging to this car.

A far cry from today’s Porsches, the Type 64 used a 985cc Volkswagen engine producing somewhere between 23kW and 29kW. That was still more potent than regular VWs of the era, however, thanks to dual Solex carburettors and higher compression; a regular Beetle produced only 17kW.