Ferrari led the pack again. The Italian sports cars accounted for seven of the top 10 sales at auctions in California that fetched US$390.6 million (S$549 million).
The sales were part of a six-day car extravaganza that ended on Sunday in the coastal towns of Carmel and Monterey and at the Pebble Beach golf course.
The preliminary tally fell short of US$402.6 million in equivalent sales last year, according to Hagerty, a Traverse City, Michigan- based insurer and classic car database that tracks auction results.
Prices for classic cars are levelling off following a period of record sales driven by expanding global wealth. While demand for Ferraris is still strong, even these cars felt the pinch. The top lot this year was a US$17.6-million Ferrari, compared with last year, when a Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta fetched US$38.1 million, a record for a car sold at auction globally.
This year, 128 Ferraris were offered - the largest number ever at classic car auctions - and 25 per cent did not sell, according to Hagerty. The totals provided by Hagerty include post-auctions' private sales but exclude sales at a smaller company, Rick Cole.
"Buyers are highly selective, even if it's a new buyer with all the money in the world," said Mr McKeel Hagerty, chief executive officer of Hagerty. "Overpaying for a car can be embarrassing later."
RM Sotheby's sold the week's top lot: a red 1964 Ferrari 250 LM, one of 32 of its kind, for US$17.6 million, a record for the model. It was part of a private collection of 25 cars that included other Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bugattis.
The group took US$75.4 million, setting a record for a private collection sold during a single-day auction. The previous US$66 million record for the category was set last year at Bonhams.
An orange 1998 McLaren F1 sports car sold for US$13.8 million. A 2005 Ferrari Enzo, built as a gift for Pope John Paul II, fetched US$6.1 million. RM Sotheby's said it tallied US$172.7 million during the week, including post-auction private sales.
The biggest disappointment was a yellow 1960 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta Competizione, which was estimated at US$17 million and failed to meet its reserve price. The car did not sell privately as of Sunday, according to an RM Sotheby's spokesman.
A red Ferrari led the sales at each of the three major auction houses. "Ferraris are like Patek Philippe watches," said Mr Doug Wolford, chief executive officer of Convergent Wealth Advisors, a wealth management firm. "There will always be people who want them."
A red 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider - one of only 37 of its kind - fetched US$16.8 million at Gooding & Co on Sunday, within the estimated range.
Gooding said it sold US$128.1 million of cars. Bonhams sold a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Competizione Alloy Berlinetta, a sports car that placed third at the 1959 Tour de France car race, for US$8.5 million. It had an estimate of US$9 million to US$12 million. Bonhams said its sales totalled US$46.7 million.
Ferraris were not the only popular cars on the block. A 1956 Fiat Eden Roc, which was designed to drive people from a house to a beach, hammered for US$660,000. With no doors and no roof, the sleek, cream-coloured vehicle resembles a boat on wheels. One of only two made, it has mahogany bumpers and a wraparound rear seat.
Another Fiat - a 1953 green-blue Fiat 8V Supersonic that had the same owner for 36 years - sold at Bonhams for US$1.8 million, matching its low estimate. A 1953 Jaguar C-Type Works lightweight roadster fetched US$13.2 million at RM Sotheby's, a record for the model.
By the end of Sunday, six auction houses sold 803 of the offered 1,386 lots, representing a 58 per cent sell-through rate and average sale price of US$479,557.
That is a decline from last year's average of US$540,366 and 61 per cent sell-through rate, according to Hagerty.