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Ferrari GTO may become most expensive ever auctioned

One of the Holy Grails of the car collecting world is about to come up for auction—and it's likely to set an all-time price record.

A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO will be put up for auction by Bonhams in August, as part of the events surrounding the Pebble Beach Concourse d'Elegance. While Bonhams won't give an estimate, Ferrari experts and collectors said it's likely to fetch well over $35 million and could even top $50 million. That would top the current record holder—a Mercedes-Benz W196R racer that was sold by Bonhams last July for $31.6 million including auction fees.

Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta.
Source: Bonhams
Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta.

Ferrari GTO's are now in a class by themselves in the car collecting world. Prized by super-rich collectors for their racing history and rarity (Ferrari made only 36), prices for top GTOs have soared from under $10 million in 2000 to over $50 million today. While a GTO recently traded for $52 million in a private sale, there hasn't been a GTO offered at a public auction in well over a decade.

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"This quite likely will become the most expensive car at auction," said Marcel Massini, the Switzerland-based Ferrari historian and collecting advisor. "The market right now is just so strong."

Bonhams looks set to break that record again. The GTO it's selling was the 19th made by Ferrari and it was delivered in 1962 to a French racing driver, Jo Schlesser. The car came in second in the 1962 Tour de France.

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But the car crashed during a race at Montlhéry, near Paris, in October 1962, killing the driver Henri Oreiller. Many GTOs have crashed, been repaired and sold for sky-high prices. But the Schlesser GTO is believed to be the only GTO to be involved in a fatal crash, which could affect the price.

"We have to be realistic," Massini said. "That accident could turn some people off. But others may not care, because how many times are you going to be able to purchase a GTO with such a long ownership history."

That long ownership history started with Fabrizio Violati—an Italian car buff and heir to his family's mineral water business. He bought the GTO in 1965, after it had been repaired by Ferrari and had raced it in European mountain-climb events. Violati raced the car in classic-car events throughout Europe until the 2000s and made it one of the centerpieces of his famed Ferrari museum—known as the Maranello Rosso Collection—in San Marino.

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Violati passed away in 2010 and his family recently sold the collection to a group of investors for more than $100 million, according to people familiar with the deal. Those investors are now selling the GTO along with the 32 other Ferraris through Bonhams over the course of the year.

Since the GTO was with a well-known single owner for 49 years—the longest of any GTO—it has added value to collectors, Massini said.

Bonhams will sell the GTO along with nine other Maranello Rosso Ferraris on Aug. 14 at the Bonhams Quail Lodge Auction.

—By CNBC' s Robert Frank

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