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Last Night in London

by Steve Wakefield

All the pre-sale talk at Bonhams' newly (£30m) refurbished headquarters yesterday was of the possibility of one buyer snapping up the entire Ecurie Ecosse Collection, its centrepiece being the famous 'Corgi Toys' transporter. When F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and (heir apparent?) Christian Horner strode into the packed ground-floor showroom just 40 minutes before the auction, it was clear: Bernie was riding to the rescue of former properties from one of the most charismatic teams in British motor racing. Saving them for the nation and all that.

As it turned out, neither scenario came true. The first lot in the Collection was the carefully catalogued 1961 Austin-Healey Sprite, a recreation of the team's 1961 Le Mans entry based on "a pile of bits in a packing case". Those looking to amass all eight Flag Metallic Blue lots in the sale would have to bid strongly. Whether that was the case or not, the tiny racer achieved a weighty £61,980.

Ex-Ecurie Ecosse C-Type once lived outside in Belgrave Square and Mallorca but was 'pukka': top seller and good value at £2.9m

Next up was the C-type, the most usable of the Ecosse cars and, although much less so than the 'D' and the Tojeiro-Jaguar, a well-travelled, restored and raced car with a few replacement components along the way. In the case of the Tojeiro, which sold for £382,300, these included an entire chassis. In today's market, that so prizes originality, the results were perhaps unsurprising: £2,913,500 for the 'C' and £2,577,500 for the 'D'. The team's 1951 Jaguar XK120 Roadster was the subject of fierce bidding, though, being very well sorted for the track and eligible for any meeting worldwide, selling for a whopping £707,100.

The two sports-racers, ironically the ones most often carried inside and on top of the Commer, were good-value purchases. One will no doubt be seen on the circuits in 2014, in the hands of its Home Counties' motor trade buyer. For the record, the 1960 Cooper Monaco raised £219,900, the 1962-63 Tojeiro EE-Buick Endurance Coupé £214,300. Great provenance, well-prepared and potent machines both.

'Badly damaged... sold, unrepaired but in its entirety' (quoting the catalogue) didn't bode well, but it will look great atop the transporter with the C-Type

Last up was the transporter, displayed outside the back of Bonhams' Bond Street HQ where it was a hit with local builders (the new Crossrail station is currently under construction below). Auctioneer Robert Brooks drew the mostly two-way bidding out over at least 20 minutes and finally brought the hammer down at £1.6m - £1,793,500 with buyer's premium, approximately treble the 'Refer Dept.' estimate, to rapturous applause throughout the building.

So, in the end, the collection was split up. But we can report that the C-type, D-type and iconic transporter were bought by one newcomer to the market from the other side of the Atlantic.

Pity the poor vendor whose car falls immediately after such a dramatic bidding battle. Last night this was the unlucky owner of the 1949 Talbot Lago T26 Record Cabriolet, which failed to sell amidst the post-transporter hubbub.

Robert Brooks attempts flight - anything for one more bid, and it worked

The event commenced with a 1968 Aston Martin DB6 Vantage going to the London trade for £180,700, and later on achieved what must be a World Record at auction for a pre-War Aston Martin when the 1934 Ulster sold for £1,300,700. Some in the room were surprised. This writer was not, given the model's fine lines, blue-blooded lineage, useful performance, eligibility for so many prestige events and, to be frank, excellent value compared with similar-era Bugattis and Alfas. The DB4GT perhaps suffered from a similar fate to the Talbot Lago, achieving a relatively sensible £1.57m, but at least its new, TV and radio personality owner will have a companion for his Zagato-bodied version (as well as moving on his 2.5-litre SS100 the same afternoon).

One can only raise an eyebrow at the bravery of investing £617,500 in something which redefines 'limited usability'. At least the vendor persuaded Bonhams to offer their ex-Schumacher 1994 Benetton-Cosworth Ford B194 Formula 1 car, as it had been declined entry at another recent top-level London sale for this very reason. Nevertheless, someone was prepared to pay the equivalent of TWO 1973 Carrera RSs or a matching set of 'Daytona' and Dino Ferraris for it. Perhaps Bernie felt sorry for the vendor?

Rivals, former colleagues... everyone turned out to watch
Telephone bidders were active, especially from the US

Looking at some of the older cars, Brooks was adamant that the 1903 Clément 12/16-hp Rear-Entrance Tonneau was good value. At £348,700 I'll take his word for it - and expect to see it on next year's London to Brighton Run. Someone clearly wanted the 1938 BMW 328 from the late, great John Coombs' estate as Brooks' commission bid trumped anything the packed room or 'phone could throw at it. It sold for £785,500, and we'd still consider that decent value. Coombs' 1952 Frazer Nash Targa Florio (wrong colour, less than-perfect replacement body) went for £270,300 to a trade friend of the late garage-owner, racing driver and entrant.

While the lines of the 1912 Rolls-Royce 40/50hp Silver Ghost 'London-to-Edinburgh' Light Tourer impressed many, there was similar talk of the 101-year-old's remarkably sparkling and perfect condition. Didn't stop it selling for £830,300, though. Unlike the rakish but unsold 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III Sports Sedanca de Ville, one of Simon's favourites.

Bonhams HQ was even more heavily restored than some of the cars. Coffee is banned (sorry, cream wooden floors)

What else? A somewhat lonely bidder won the 'Ringo Starr' Facel Vega (£337,500), and only some quick post-sale horse trading with the underbidder ensured that the 1956 Bentley S-Series Continental sold on the evening for £292,700 after the original auction bidder vanished.

The 1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SZ was a little too 'race-prepared' for some, but that did not stop it selling for an impressive £270,300. Its sister team car in historic racing, the ex-Filipinetti 1964 Porsche 904 GTS, went unsold, its failure down to price, not lack of merit.

That's Bonhams truck driver on the left, now wondering what his rig is worth...

The 'ice cream parlour' factory demonstrator Healey 100M brightened up the saleroom and doubled its pre-sale estimate, going for £161,660. That's provenance again. And finishing the event was another 'time-warp', the LHD 1961 Jaguar E-Type Series I 'Flat Floor' 3.8-Litre Roadster, a car catalogued as having "only 7,200 miles from new". This, its faded layers of BRG paintwork and early specification made it a nice curtain-closer for the Bonhams motoring team at £186,300.

And what can we learn from this? Well, the Ecosse Collection was always going to be a one-off, the often below-estimate prices for the cars (XK120 excepted) reflecting the importance collectors are increasingly placing upon originality, and only the owner of one or more Ecosse cars would pay big money for the transporter. Which they duly did. Looking at the values of both E-types, the vibrant Healey (and £203k Mangusta), the Alfa SZ and the BMW 328 one would say that the market is in rude health - but not yet running a temperature.

And let's make a comparison with RM's recent sale at Sotheby's New York offices. Here are two big auction houses presenting cars in salerooms more commonly used for offering the works of Picasso and Matisse. 'Cars as art' - and as investments. Next January, the scene moves on to the more prosaic surroundings of Scottsdale, Arizona, where you're more likely to find a deep-fat turkey fryer that you are a Titian, but will nonetheless see many more millions traded on classic cars.

Images courtesy of Tom Wood, Corsa Research, Steve Wakefield, Bianchi-Piras and Peter Marshall