World's richest classic car collectors roll up for Ecclestone's garage sale
Motor racing magnate set to smash auction records with 'embarrassment of riches'
Wednesday October 31, 2007
Bernie Ecclestone's Who's Who entry makes no mention of his recreations. It is, however, fairly safe to assume that when it comes to hobbies the formula one magnate - ranked the 20th richest man in Britain - gets his jollies from fast cars and vast sums of money.
Those twin passions will mingle once again tonight in south London, when Ecclestone auctions off 50 of the cars in his private collection as part of a sale that is expected to attract some of the world's most thick-walleted collectors, raise up to £25m and demolish the records for a classic car auction in Britain.
One English dealer described the sale, with its 13 Ferraris, rare 1937 Mercedes Benz, and souped up Mini as "almost ridiculous; an embarrassment of riches".
Yesterday's public viewing, held in an "event space" in Battersea Park, certainly came with an embarrassingly rich entry fee - £50 to ogle the cars, although almost a kilo of glossy catalogue was thrown in for amateur enthusiasts and would-be buyers.
Inside, under a generous canopy of white fabric, lay the world's most expensive car park. At its centre, roped off on its own like the family wing of a stately home, was the star of the show, Ecclestone's 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Spezial Roadster.
The car has proved popular with powerful men; Jack Warner, president of the Warner Brothers studio, had one. So did Hermann Goering - although his was altogether higher spec, not least because it was bulletproof. He lost his distinctive model - nicknamed the Blue Goose - to US paratroopers when Germany fell. By then he had other things to worry about.
According to Rob Myers, the founder of RM Auctions, the North American firm which is running the sale with Sotheby's, the Mercedes is worth every penny of the £4m it could fetch tonight.
"From any angle you look at it, it's fantastic, there's not a bad line on the car anywhere," said Myers. "When you see models and pictures, they use this an awful lot.
"There are only a handful of great ones that exist and there hasn't been one for sale since 2001." It was, he said, quite simply a "fantastic car".
Myers, who is hoping that the inaugural London sale will become an annual event, is also selling cars from two other major collections.
But it is Ecclestone's name and lots that have attracted most attention - not least because he claims that he is only carrying out the billionaire's version of a spring clean.
"He's making room for more formula one cars," said Myers. "He has a large collection of single seat and formula one cars and he's still got a few on the list to acquire and he never uses the road cars."
Stranger still is that fact that many of the cars in the sale have never been driven. "Bernie doesn't have much time it seems. He has driven some of the cars but not frequently. And space is always a problem."
Not all the lots are as beautifully preserved as the Mercedes-Benz. In the corner of the room crouched a dusty, tatty 1922 Bentley which had been parked against a backdrop of crates, ropes and barrels designed to recreate that just-found-in-a-barn feel. Despite the fact that it could do with a new floor, its estimate is £95,000 to £125,000. Nearby sat a 1932 Avions Voisin C14, which looked like the offspring of Gumdrop and a picnic hamper.
Its smart blue bonnet and boot were normal enough, but its sides had been woven from wicker. One of its parents must have been a very expensive basket, though - it is expected to sell for £40,000 to £60,000.
Despite the entry fee, the preview attracted a diverse crowd, not all of it petrolheads and collectors. One woman, whose friend was struggling to work out exactly why the gigantic maroon 1922 Hispano-Suiza Boulogne sat so high off the ground, was clearly there to see what all the fuss was about -and to indulge in some gentle mockery.
"We have more money than we know what to do with, so we thought we'd come here," she said. "And we wanted to see what greed looks like."
Simon Lynes, who sells old Citroen DSs, had walked over to the park from his garage in Battersea.
"I came here purely out of curiosity because it's their first sale," he said. "And this is the best sale I have seen for a long time - but then they do have an incredible collection to offer." Skulking in another corner where the House of the Rising Sun played on a loop were the young pretenders - two Volkswagen Beetles, a souped-up Mini and a couple of Fiat 500s. The upstart quintet appeared to have broken in and set up a 60s themed stand of their own in the hope they would somehow blend in with their older, richer and more exotic cousins. But even the Beetles will fetch around £25,000.
A little further up the room, taking a picture of the sleek black 1957 BMW roadster, stood Gregory Brand, who is using his retirement to indulge his taste for beautiful cars.
"I collect 1:24 models of cars and this is really excellent," he said. "There's a lot here I've never seen before."
One thing, however, was troubling him. "Bernie Ecclestone has never driven these," he said, swinging his stick across the vast showroom. "I couldn't have cars like these and not drive them."