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Historic and Sporting: Gooding & Co. Return to London - All Safe and Sound


© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

© 2021 John Godley

 

During the days when a sizeable proportion of the French, British and European classic/historic car fraternity would normally be in central Paris, enjoying Rétromobile and potentially buying cars at the three associated international Auction company sales, a small but very high quality collection of cars were being counted down, and administrated by another global player.

Over on the western side of the English Channel, in a very discreet and anonymous venue north of London, the Californian based Auction House, Gooding & Company, were basing a major sale in the UK for only the second time. The initial one, at Hampton Court, also close to the capital city during the previous year, had been a terrific success, so little surprise they were chosen to represent another modest but highly valuable private assemblage of cars. In the ‘Geared Online European Sporting & Historic Collection’, premier marques of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz were all present, but this event was to be a strictly online sale, where all registered bidders would have to make offers by electronic means.

The venue’s upper floor housing the vehicles was not only perfect, in terms of security, but also ideal to meet the highest standards of current UK health restrictions, associated with defeating the ongoing pandemic throughout Great Britain. Social distancing could be practiced to the maximum. One viewer, strictly by prior appointment, and one Gooding specialist (talented racer of historics, Joe Twyman) in possibly the entire capacious building, at an agreed time. Additionally, it just happened to be an excellent, uncluttered, location for which to showcase the inventory, in both ambient lighting and contrasting visual terms.

So what of the cars? Well, all bar one were registered for UK roads, and this exception being usually domiciled in the British Territory of Gibraltar. Therefore, to start with, we had a pair of wonderful, rarely seen, Aston Martins: DB5 convertible and DB4GT. Only the tenth built among 123 drop-heads, chassis 1261/R was demonstrated from cold. Within a second of the starter, the smooth 4.2 litre (slightly enlarged) straight six fired up and settled to a purr. On the button, in the most literal sense. For the recreational driver, aided by a power-steering rack, the deep red leather seats looked sumptuous and, given it had been converted from automatic, shifting through the gears would be a tactile joy.


© 2021 John Godley

The shorter wheelbase car, with a fixed roof and chassis 0144/L, was fresh from a concours standard restoration, carried out by world renowned Aston specialists, R S Williams. Both engine and interior appeared faultless. One could imagine spirited, yet quite effortless, journeys up from the Mediterranean (and back again) notwithstanding an extra litre of capacity had been added to the original power-plant. Since the ‘60s it had been refitted with a 5-speed ZF gearbox - standard from DB5 onwards - so French and Spanish onlookers would barely glimpse the Gibraltarian number plate as the 4.7 litre Aston Martin powered past, but they could hardly ignore the glorious sound.

The Italian opposition was represented by a Ferrari 275GTB/4, chassis 09389, first delivered in early 1967 and chosen by Garage Francorchamps to grace the Brussels Motor Show. This was a rare example in black, with driver and passenger cosseted, even more unusually, in bright green upholstery, looking as new and completed only a year before. Without knowing the specific shade, I would describe it as a matt emerald. Given 95% of an owner’s time with a car is spent behind the wheel, it’s also important to enjoy the optical experience. Black and green the perfect combination in this particular case. Standing out, yet remaining understated.

Likewise the offering manufactured in Germany. You don’t see many Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadsters finished in original ‘Bisquitgelb’ (a sort of primrose yellow), but this simply worked. Complemented by its Cognac coloured interior, and with an additional hard top, the open air Mercedes was one of only 26, as completed in the model’s final year of production, 1963. Luxury and Teutonic excellence throughout, the small details were a delight. One outstanding facet was a functioning outside temperature gauge, imaginatively located within the driver’s side wing mirror. Where better to combine accuracy with ergonomy?

To a person who has never encountered one, how might one describe Rolls-Royce Phantoms? Regal, grand, elegant, imposing, in the best interpretations of the words, and from any era of car titled with that spectral name. However, only when presented before you, can their sheer size be fully appreciated. Little more needed to describe these Phantom II Continentals with coachwork by Barker in 1930, and Freestone & Webb in 1934. Both had first class provenance. Among their myriad attributes, one has featured in several books on the manufacturer (amidst so many worthy choices, it has to be exceptional), while the other had successfully completed the epic rally between Peking and Paris. Two spare wheels duly noted.

Moving to equally aristocratic British brand, Bentley, a trio of fine examples. The first one transformed, beginning with an expertly converted Mk VI chassis, into an inspired homage to the Le Mans victorious Speed-Six cars, this car now benefited from the power of a straight-eight Rolls-Royce B-Series OHV inline engine of 5675cc, and could thus be accurately titled as a 1950 Bentley B Special Speed 8. And what W.O. grouping could be complete without a vintage ‘Four and a Half’? The late model, 1930 offering, here, had the classic Vanden Plas Sports Tourer bodywork. With original coachwork, matching-numbers engine, gearbox, back axle…First owner: a Baronet, decorated Colonel and an aide to Winston Churchill. Therefore, no, for archetypal Bentley character, you couldn’t go wrong!

Then finally, also the last lot in the sale, was a car equally as impressive as the Rolls-Royces. With a similarly colossal dimensional scale this, one of the hundred 8 Litre Bentleys ever built, typified the zenith of the era, in 1931. Well known in Bentley Drivers Club circles throughout its life, 60 years ago its then owner commissioned the chassis to be shortened, to match new two seater bodywork, along the lines of the famously rapid Forrest-Lycett 8-litre. This gentleman, William ‘Bill’ Cook had also owned ‘Bluebell’, perhaps the most successful racing Bentley of all time (in results terms), formerly of L.C.Mackenzie, ‘High Priest’ of brilliant W.O. built engine preparation, and who also made Lycett’s own monster astonishingly fast, for such a huge car. Adding some unconnected earlier research, it appears a more recent aficionado has owned both the 8-litres.

Back to today, and prospective buyers had to be correspondingly quick, as the deadlines for all cars’ bids approached, these separated by a gap of only four minutes. Monitoring the progress of each one of the 9, at several interludes over the final three days when prices were steadily increasing - but in a completely random, unpredictable, fashion - it was evident that more eyes around the world were studying their computer screens, with all those registering, independently choosing their personal strategies. Some cars seemed to be dormant for many hours and then suddenly an increased figure would appear. Others were more steady. Gradually, one by one, the published reserve levels were met and exceeded, and this obviously seemed to galvanise further participation.

As with all online sales, particularly those through a worldwide auction site - offering nearly everything under the sun, rather than most exclusively, automobiles of exquisite quality - the crescendo of activity rose as the time available reduced. However, this remained somewhat measured and subtle in the final stages. All cars were doing well, and actually rising, near enough, in equal proportions to their individual estimates. Near the end, the evidence was that the Bentley fraternity thought the 8-Litre remained considerably undervalued, as one of the 100, and the bid jumped by another £40,000, extremely close to the deadline. What followed was a frenzy of counter bids. Right before my eyes I witnessed 18 of them in quick succession until, at last, the car was officially recorded as sold, for a gross figure of £627,000.

But this was only midway, in terms of the final values achieved, and four cars went much higher. The DB5 sold for £836,000, while the similarly aged open car from 1963, the Mercedes, reached £935,000. Second in most impressive stakes, and exactly double that value, was the Ferrari 275GTB Four Cam, at £1,870,000. However, star car of the whole auction was undoubtedly the immaculate Aston Martin DB4GT, one of only 30 left hand drive examples, which was electronically ‘hammered’ at £2.5 million. With premium added, an easy to calculate 10%, it was to find a new home and a happy next custodian for £2,750,000.

Overall, the collection realised some £8,453,500, and remember, this was only a single figure group of fine automobiles, but with a 100% successful conclusion. Well done Gooding and Company! We, in Britain, hope to see you again soon, once more on this side of the Atlantic.

© 2021 John Godley
Classique Car Conduits