Talk about a costly failure to communicate.

In one of the oddest occurrences at any such event, the auction by RM Sotheby's in Monterey, California of the only remaining 1939 Porsche Type 64 in the world went for naught after the auctioneer kept mispronouncing the bids.

The misheard pronunction by the Dutchman Maarten ten Holder (the auctioneer) first caused confusion, then consternation then finally anger among the bidders. The net result was the auction was called off with the 1939 Porsche Type 64 remaining unsold.

Media accounts said ten Holder started the bidding at $13 million. The giant digital monitor at the auction room, however, showed the first bid as $30 million. The next bid was $14 million, but the screen showed $40 million. 

The string of errors continued all the way up $17 million, when the screen showed $70 million.

The crowd broke into shouts of joy as the price on the screen showed the Porsche was selling for a record-breaking price. RM Sotheby’s expected a selling price “in excess of $20 million.”

At $17 million, ten Holder suddenly stopped the bids. He said the screen showing $70 million was wrong. Instead, he said the correct leading bid was $17 million.

“I’m saying 17, not 70,” said ten Holder. “That’s 17 million.”

The guests immediately started booing and shouting at the error. Some of the bidders believe that because ten Holder is Dutch, his “17 million” sounded like “70 million.” The net result was both the digital display operator and audience were confused.

There were no more bids after $17 million, which was below the minimum price required by the seller, in this case renowned Porsche collector Dr. Thomas Gruber of Vienna, Austria.

Dr. Gruber bought the sportscar, which was among the first motor vehicles produced by Porsche, at an auction in 1997. The sportscar was formerly owned by Otto Mathé, who kept it until his death in 1995.

“The car didn’t meet reserve,” said RM Sotheby’s. “We will make every effort to sell the car post-sale.”

RM Sotheby’s defended its conduct of the embarrassing fiasco.

“This was in no way intentional on behalf of anyone at RM Sotheby’s, rather an unfortunate misunderstanding amplified by excitement in the room,” said the company in a statement.

“Without the Type 64, there would be no Porsche 356, no 550, no 911,” according to Marcus Görig, Car Specialist at RM Sotheby’s.

“This is Porsche’s origin story, the car that birthed the company’s legend, and it offers collectors what is likely an unrepeatable opportunity to sit in the seat of Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche. With this car, the new owner will not only be invited to the first row of every Porsche event worldwide—they will be the first row!”

porsche type 64 The oldest car to wear the Porsche badge goes on view at Sotheby's on May 21, 2019 in London, England. The only surviving 1939 Porsche Type 64 Berlin-Rome, No. 3, this rare piece of motoring history was the personal car of Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche, predating the first production Porsche, the 356. Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby's