September 2013 Elite Auto Newsletter
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Eddie’s Money: The Story Behind the $27.5-Million Ferrari NART Spyder
August 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm by John Lamm | Photography by John Lamm and Eugene Robertson
Eddie Smith had just $15 in his pocket at the age of 18, when he left the orphanage he’d grown up in and took a bus to Lexington, North Carolina. It was 1937, and Eddie got a job as an usher at the local movie theater, earning $9 a week—$5 of which was dedicated to room and board. Fifteen years later he started National Wholesale, a mail-order service specializing in women’s apparel. Business was good. A decade after that, business was so good that Eddie began buying Ferraris. At this year’s Pebble Beach auctions, his family sold the crown jewel of Eddie’s collection of Ferraris.
Eddie’s first Ferrari was a short-wheelbase 250GT Spyder, which he followed up with a 275 GTB. Then he heard of the 275/GTB-4 NART Spyder. “NART” is short for North American Racing Team, which was devised by Le Mans–winner and U.S. Ferrari distributor Luigi Chinetti to promote sales for the Italian marque. As treasured as they are now, GTBs weren’t hot sellers in their day and Chinetti thought a convertible version would spur on sales. Plans called for a production run of 25, but just 10 were assembled due to a lack of demand. Eddie was the recipient of the eighth NART Spyder in March of 1968 for a price—memories and reports vary—believed to be somewhere between $8000 and $14,500. Around this time, Steve McQueen’s NART Spyder was totaled and the movie star/car guy/cult hero was in the market for another. Chinetti suggested that Eddie pass on the car destined for him to allow McQueen to have it. Eddie kept it.
And he kept it over a number of years, often driving it down to Sebring for the 12 Hours race with his son, Eddie Jr. Dad once swapped seats with Junior on the marathon run and said, “Son, you’re driving too slow; you’re ruining my average.”
There were attempts to buy the NART; Ralph Lauren even flew in to town to drive it once, but a deal never materialized. Eddie once told former Ferrari F1 pilot Phil Hill, “I bought it for the right reasons and kept it for the right reasons. Because I really love it. I feel like it’s a part of me.” Eddie was as proud of that car as he was of the local Lexington barbecue—the southerners among you will understand.
Eddie Smith passed away in 2007 and soon after, Eddie Jr. began to feel that the car, which was kept in a hangar, was “sort of being imprisoned,” so the family put it up for sale at RM’s Pebble Beach auction. Bidding started at $10 million and didn’t stop until Lawrence Stroll, Ferrari collector and owner of the Mont Tremblant circuit, lodged the final bid of $25 million—commission bumped the NART’s total to $27.5 million, a record auction price for a roadgoing automobile.
Maybe the best aspect of this story is the Smith family remembering where Eddie Sr. came from. Eddie Jr. has announced that the proceeds from the $25 million sale price will go to charity. Anyone who knew Eddie Sr. can picture the smile that will have brought to his face.