Loving Cars

Grand Basel displays collectible cars as art

1968 Lamborghini Miura, grand basel car show
A new Mona Lisa? Source: Paul Hammer/Grand Basel

Cars as masterpieces of engineering and design — veritable works of art — is the theme of Grand Basel, a new auto show opening this week in Switzerland. In fact, the backers hope there will be a large overlap between Art Basel patrons and visitors to the auto show featuring luxury vehicles from vintage classics to concept cars.

“Many art collectors are interested in special cars,” said organizer Mark Backé. The cars will be displayed in simple frames like artwork, just as if they were in a gallery. “We won’t have any dancers, laser shows or bells and whistles,” in contrast with standard car shows around the world, he said. “The world doesn’t need another auto salon.”

Seeking investments

Collecting art has long been a way for the wealthy to invest in appreciating items that they can also show off. But no luxury collectibles have risen in value as much as classic cars — more than 330 percent over the past 10 years, according to Knight Frank’s Wealth Report.

Now the operator of the Basel fairs, MCH, wants to cash in on that trend. Its flagship fair, the Baselworld watch and jewelry show, has been flagging. After years of declining attendance, Swatch withdrew as an exhibitor, leading to MCH CEO René Kamm’s resignation.

Mr. Backé expects Grand Basel to draw a third of revenues from exhibitors, a third from visitors and the remainder from sponsors. Exhibitors will pay 25,000 Swiss francs ($25,700) per display; visitors pay 45 francs for a day pass. In line with Art Basel’s successful formula, the fair will travel on to Miami in February 2019 and Hong Kong in May.

What to see at Grand Basel

About a hundred luxury cars will be on display, ranging from iconic vehicles like the 1968 Lamborghini Miura (above) or the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato to a “surprise” model from Tesla, which many people expect to be its new roadster, introduced as a concept car last November, priced at $250,000.

grand basel car show, cisitalia 1947
A 1947 Cisitalia 202 SC. Source: René Staud/Grand Basel

Different as these cars are, they have one thing in common, Mr. Backé says. “They have something that makes them masterpieces,” he said. To identify those masterpieces, curators included Cologne design professor Paolo Tumminelli, pop artist Sylvie Fleury and Fiat heir Lapo Elkann.

Many existing car shows have already integrated premium car auctions into their programs. Just last month, for instance, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for $48.4 million at the Monterey Car Week in California.

The Festival of Speed in Goodwood, England, and Retromobile in Paris have also integrated auctions into their shows. No self-respecting collector on the hunt can afford to miss these venues. “Everyone with money is romping around at these events, from Indian self-made millionaires to Russian oligarchs,” said Marius Brune, a classic car expert.

Mr. Brune is skeptical about the new show’s prospects. “It probably won’t be easy to get the who’s who of the oldtimer scene interested in Basel,” he said. But Mr. Backé remains optimistic. However the debut goes, he expects the show to keep revving up in coming years.

Michael Brächer is Zurich correspondent for Handelsblatt. Darrell Delamaide adapted this story into English for Handelsblatt Global.

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