Photos by Mathieu Heurtault, courtesy Gooding and Company.
So-called barn finds seem to take place everywhere but a barn these days: Sheds, overstuffed garages, storage units, and even the odd basement have given up automotive treasures as of late. And as we see from the Tempo Matador Reisemobile headed to auction next month, even one of the country’s largest estates can offer up something of interest to the collector car world.
Hibernating in Newport, Rhode Island’s The Breakers since 1971, the Reisemobil emerged last year not only fully documented but also fully equipped, down to its original cutlery and curtains. According to the auction description for the Reisemobil, wealthy Hungarian Count Anton Carl Sylvester Szapary commissioned the RV from German coachbuilder and trailer manufacturer Mikafa after seeing another of the firm’s aluminum-bodied creations at the 1959 New York Auto Show.
While Mikafa powered other Reisemobils with BMW V-8s, Szapary had the firm build this one (chassis number 154900) on the Tempo Matador chassis, which by the late 1950s had switched from mid-engine/front-wheel-drive Volkswagen-sourced drivetrains to rear-wheel-drive Austin four-cylinder drivetrains. A 1,500cc four-cylinder engine would at first appear underpowered for such a rig, but Szapary and his family dictated every last detail of the camper’s build, including the lightweight German cookware, in part to bring the weight down to around 4,500 pounds.
That doesn’t mean they skimped on the amenities, however: Szapary’s wife, Sylvia Széchényi, was a Vanderbilt and thus was accustomed to a life of luxury. So according to the family’s wishes, the Reisemobil included a full bathroom, propane stove, refrigerator, heater, radio, etched glassware, Biarritz-sourced soup bowls, even a white/blue/yellow paint scheme that played through to the towels, sleeping bags, curtains, and custom-printed matchbooks.
The initial build-out took several months and reportedly cost $15,000, or about $122,000 in today’s dollars. The Szapary family – Anton, Sylvia, nine-year-old Paul, and seven-year-old Gladys – then christened the Reisemobil “Czigany” and took it on a pair of three-month tours of Europe before shipping it to the United States, where they used it over the next decade or so to travel from their home in Westchester County, New York, to The Breakers, which the countess inherited in 1965.
Those trips came to an end shortly before Anton’s death in 1972, which coincided with when the family sold The Breakers to The Preservation Society of Newport County, though with the understanding that the family would maintain a residence on the third floor of The Breakers. Presumably, storage of Czigany at The Breakers was part of the deal; it was from the mansion that the current California-based owner bought the Reisemobil last year. Since then, he has shown Czigany at the 2015 Palos Verdes Concours, the 2015 Art Center Car Classic, the 2016 Quail, and the 2016 Buellton Vintage Trailer Bash.
Reportedly one of six Matador-based Mikafa Reisemobils in existence, Czigany is expected to sell for $150,000 to $200,000 at Gooding’s Scottsdale auction, which takes place January 20-21. For more information on the auction, visit GoodingCo.com.