Q. What is the most expensive car ever sold at a professional auto auction? A Bugatti? A Ferrari? A Duesenberg? — M. S., Washington, D.C.

A. It was a rare, gorgeous 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa race car, which recently sold for $16.4 million. (“Testa Rossa” is Italian for “red head”—this Ferrari’s engine cylinder heads were red.) The car competed at the famous Le Mans 24-hour race in France, thus establishing a racing history, but did not win the event. However, the famous Testa Rossa model did win lots of major races for Ferrari. If that seems like too much to pay for a car, consider modern “art works” that have sold for fabulous prices at auctions and look as if the painter was a practical joker trying to pull one over on art snobs.

Q. I know most teens don’t know how to drive a stick-shift car because nobody ever taught them. But is it true that manual transmissions are even being phased out at the Richard Petty Driving Experience racing school. In short, I hear there will no longer be a need to use a clutch pedal to learn how to drive a major league stock car. The school will let students get behind the wheel and be push-started by another vehicle so no shifting will be needed. It says every driver’s full attention now will be on the instructor and gradually increasing speeds on the school’s oval track.— E.A., New York City

A. It’s true and makes you wonder how much real racing experience can be gotten using only the steering wheel and gas pedal.     

Q. Any thoughts on the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon versus the Cadillac SRX crossover vehicle — E.E, via Internet

A. I’d opt for the Sport Wagon. 

Q. What do you think of the virtually identical-looking Mercedes-Benz 230, 250 and 280 SL convertible/hardtop models built from 1963-71? I’m thinking of buying one partly because this SL made the cover of the October, 2011, issue of Sports & Exotic Car magazine, which had a glowing article about this car. What should I pay? – A.K., Seattle

A. I don’t think much of those cars, although they had a really nice interior. While the 250SL and 280SL had more snap than the 230SL model (first in that model line), they were plain-looking and had middling performance.  They replaced the exciting Mercedes 300SL coupe, which had flip-up doors and similar 300SL convertible—and slow 190 SL, which slightly resembled the fast 300SL models. The Old Cars Report Price Guide puts the 230SL-280SL  in average condition at $25,000 to $28,000, although you’ll likely pay a lot more for a really good one. Don’t get one that needs work because it will be a money pit.


Q. I own a  1955 Ford two-seat Thunderbird built in 1954 with a 1955 VIN number. I’m told it was one of the first 1,000 made to use for advertisements and to generate sales. Do you have any information about it? – D.T., via Internet

A. No, but check with the 1950s two-seat Thunderbird club. They’re sure to help you. The T-Bird was shown in 1954 at the Detroit and Chicago auto shows as a “concept car” that most knew it was an upcoming production model. It officially went on sale in the fall of 1954 as a 1955 model and was built through 1957, when a four-seat T-Bird replaced it to get greater sales volume.

Q. I’ve got the serial number of my De Tomaso Pantera, but don’t know where it was built. Who was it first delivered to?—J.O., Spruce Grove, Alberta Canada

A. Your best bet is to contact the national Pantera club.  It may have a record on most Panteras built and their serial numbers. It may help to know that the car, made in Italy, initially had an American Ford V-8 and then an Australian Ford V-8. It was sold by Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury dealers from 1971 to 1974 and in similar form by other parties from 1975 to 1989. The early rakish, fast Pantera was troublesome until faults were corrected by both Ford Motor and Pantera owners. I drove one of the first ones sent to America. It was a blast!

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