Bonhams Sale Festival of Speed July 2013.


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The Festival of Speed at Goodwood just keeps growing – huge motor manufacturer presence both in the number represented and the scale of their display structures.  And for an event that plans for rain, the arrival of a heat wave just built attendance and the enjoyment.

The marquee behind Goodwood House that houses Bonhams sale reflected the main event – huge crowds and overwhelming heat.  Never mind the expression “standing room only”, there was barely room left in the place to even stand.   But full marks to the organisers – ice cold bottles of water were given to everyone and an announcement made that there was plenty more available and people could help themselves – it offered some respite in the heat.

The sense of occasion and theatre were palpable – every telephone manned and every sale being applauded.  The first four lots sold easily enough and the momentum barely checked when an Anniversary Countach missed its reserve.  We only had to wait to Lot 7 for the first of the Astons – a restored manual DB6 with an upgraded 4.2 engine.  It was definitely not a first division restoration – overspray on the bumper rubbers shows that they didn’t even remove the bumpers to spray the car and the rear bumpers were showing the first signs of pitting. Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’pworth of tar!  It is probably why the hammer came down at £135,000 (£147,000 with premium) a little less than the car’s true potential.

A strong showing on the ex John Lennon Ferrari 330 GT was matched on the ex John Whitmore Lotus Cortina – the market loves provenance – and the long term ownership on the next Aston – a DB5 Convertible – proved a draw.  Presented in a condition that showed long term care, but potential for improvement, the hammer price of £475,000 (£533,500 with premium) was very fair.

But all of these lovely cars were mere hors d’oeuvres to the spectacular main course, Lot 320, the 1954 Mercedes Benz W916 R Racer.  Mercedes had lent a contemporary transporter to enhance the presentation and with Stirling Moss and fellow driver, Hans Herrmann in the front row of the audience, a Mercedes representative presented a bound report validating the complete originality of the car.  With Robert Brooks, Chairman of the auctioneers presiding, the team on the telephones was ranged like a Zulu Impi in an arc ready for battle. The formation was flanked on one end by James Knight, Managing Director of Bonhams and, rather bizarrely at the other end by Simon Kidston, ex Bonhams Europe but now running his own operation!

The car opened at £3.5 million and rose inexorably in £500,000 increments with the telephone bidders joined part way through by someone in the front row of the audience whose final bid of £17 million was trumped by a telephone bid just £500,000 higher.  It is only when the £17.5 million hammer price is converted to the full £19,601,500 inclusive of premium that the scale of the commission prize leads one to re-appraise the Zulu Impi analogy into something closer to the farmyard and snouts in a trough!

There were plenty more cars that in other circumstances would have been stars of the show – a 1955 Maserati 300S Racing Spyder bringing over £4 million with premium and a 1934 Alfa Romeo Le Mans Tourer raising a shade over £1.9 million.

Disappointingly the remaining Aston Martin a 1930 1 ½ litre International did not find a new home – theirs is a very specialised market place that auction houses rarely serve well.

But all credit to the Bonhams team in other areas and especially Sholto Gilbertson – time after time, sellers had cause to be grateful for his eyesight.  His shrill “Sir, Sir”, like an enthusiastic fourth former catching the attention of his teacher, drew the auctioneer’s eye to bidders in the heaving mass of humanity in front of him.  And when the hammer had fallen on the Mercedes, Robert Brooks called out to James Knight the words “Press Call” and it certainly worked – the Five o’clock bulletin on Radio 2 carried as its final item, the news of a record breaking sale at Goodwood.

Great theatre but, as always, room for improvement!


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