AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA • On a steamy March day, Jerry Seinfeld stood before a group of men, most of them in polo shirts and loafers, in a muggy tent here at the Omni Amelia Plantation Resort.
"Thank you, insane car people," he said to a round of applause.
He was here because "the Jerry Seinfeld Collection," a fleet of 18 cars - 16 Porsches and two Volkswagens - was to be sold that day by the auction house Gooding & Co at its annual Amelia Island auction.
"Let me be honest with you," Seinfeld said. "I could have gotten rid of every one of these in one day with no problem. But I wanted to be here with you all, who see these things the way I do and enjoy it the way I do. I want to see your face and feel your enthusiasm." With that, he ceded the stage to Mr Charlie Ross, the veteran British auctioneer.
"Feel the enthusiasm!" Mr Ross shouted before introducing the first item: Seinfeld's unrestored 1966 Porsche 911 with a colour described as "sand over brown".
Mr Ross mentioned the catalogue's description of its "delicious" interior smell. "It was Jerry who said, 'Smell it,'" he said. "Well, I did. I sat in it and smelled it. And it was wonderful." The vehicle sold for US$275,000 (S$369,770) (and a 10 per cent buyer's premium).
Up soon after was a blue 2011 Porsche 997 Speedster, the ninth of 356 produced. It included "a lot of cool, bare carbon fibre, which I never get tired of," the catalogue quoted Seinfeld as saying. And it fetched US$440,000.
If the Porsches attracted serious, or at least wealthy, collectors, the two Volkswagens, a 1960 Beetle and a 1964 camper van, were of greater interest to fans of Seinfeld's, said Mr Bill Noon, a classic car dealer from San Diego. The Volkswagens, he said, "were the giggle-and-grin lots to bookend the big sales." "Let's have some fun!" Mr Ross shouted as he introduced the camper.
Mr Noon got it for US$99,000 on behalf of a fan who wished to remain anonymous. "They wanted to have some Seinfeld memorabilia," Mr Noon said. "They think he's a great comedian." (The sale called to mind the Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza bought a used Chrysler LeBaron because he was under the impression that it once belonged to actor Jon Voight.)
A deep round of applause indicated that things had taken a more serious turn with the introduction of the next lot: a 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, not unlike the one actor James Dean was driving when he died. "You can't drive a sonnet by Shakespeare or a symphony by Beethoven," Seinfeld said of this car in the catalogue. "But this would be the automotive equivalent."
After Mr Ross wielded his magic, it sold for US$5.3 million.
Astute viewers of Seinfeld have noted the poster of an airborne Porsche in the apartment of Seinfeld's TV character. Since the show ended in 1998, he has become increasingly associated with collectible cars, especially Porsches, first through the star-crossed construction of a bunker-like garage near his Upper West Side home and, more recently, through his web series, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, which gives nearly as much time to vintage automobiles as it does to its guests, who have included comedian Mel Brooks and United States President Barack Obama.
During the day, Seinfeld parted with a light-yellow 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.0 built for the International Race of Champions racing series (for US$2.31 million) and a 1959 Porsche 718 RSK (US$2.86 million).
Not all pre-auction estimates were met. A 1973 917/30 Can-Am Spyder racing car, with a projected price of US$5 million to US$7 million, sold for US$3 million. All told, the 18 Seinfeld Collection vehicles brought in roughly US$22 million.
"It's not like he's selling lesser examples from his collection or cars that aren't great," said Mr David Gooding, the president of Gooding & Co. "It's a catch-and-release kind of thing."
Spike Feresten, the host of Car Matchmaker on the Esquire Network, attended as a Porsche enthusiast and as a friend to Seinfeld. He wrote the Soup Nazi and Muffin Tops episodes for Seinfeld and he has remained friends with Seinfeld in the years since.
"Jerry has been generous enough to let me drive an awful lot of his collection," Feresten said, before finding himself unable to resist making a Seinfeld allusion. "And I can tell you: They're real and they're spectacular."
NEW YORK TIMES