Spotting the Phantom of the opera (well, a West End show anyway)


Author: Martin BuckleyPublished:

This weekend involved another trip to London see a West End show (The 39 Steps – very funny) but not, sadly, in an old car. Once again 50mpg had its attraction and there was not even the fallback position of the cream W123 because I sold it just after New Year to about the most delighted buyer I have ever encountered – he even liked the fact that it was red under the bonnet and cream on top.

Had the Fiat 130 been around I'd have taken the mpg on the chin and driven that, but it’s away in Maidstone at the moment having a modern gearbox fitted. On the way down I spotted a nice looking 2002 cruising down the M4 just to make me feel guilty for driving a diesel Skoda and then, in the Hammersmith fly-over snarl up, a really smart Mini Clubman. Don’t they look just tiny now? 

In town I managed to feed my habit by taking a trip to Motor Books in Cecil Court off St Martin’s Lane. It seems to be operating on a lesser scale now, no doubt due to internet sales, but it still occupied me for 40 minutes and I managed to dig out a Brooklands book about six-cylinder E3 and E9 BMWs which reminded me of a call I got from a guy called Jim in Kent before Christmas who had quite a feasible sounding 2500 4-speed manual saloon for sale.

A nice smoker to replace the 200 saloon? No, keep focused. Two door Range Rover... two door Range Rover... two door Range Rover.

After the show I was delighted to see a 1965 Phantom V parked outside a theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue with an ‘official car’ badge on its screen. It looked so elegant and almost self-effacing compared to its bling modern counterpart and I fantasised about hopping on to the West of England cloth back seat and taking a snooze as I was driven back to the Cotswolds.

Instead, with energy flagging, we took a long walk through the West End back to Kensington, popped into an unbelievably posh bar in Knightsbridge where I wanted to punch nearly everyone (nice toilets, though) and was finally permitted to take to my bed at 1am, lulling myself to sleep with Bill Boddy's assessment of a BMW 2500 saloon in Motor Sport.

Next morning it was a tour of the charity shops – I discovered a great one devoted to books where I found a presumably quite rare autobiography of Shelia Van Dam.

This week I’ve got to get to grips with the engine running on the Mercedes 300SE (or decide whether to send it off somewhere) and weigh up the future for the manual XJ-S I’ve bought.

More soon.



Were people much smaller in the '50s? My BMW mini makes the original seem almost like a Dinky Toy. I followed one the other day and had to keep rubbing my eyes to register that yes, it was indeed a mini. Similarly the Fiat 500. The new one seems small but the original seems ridiculous. How could a family of four get into either car? No wonder Issigonis was obsessed with interior space, designing wicker storage baskets to fit under the rear seats. The Radford sold last year at Bonhams didn't seem so small. Maybe Peter Sellers was tiny, as so often celebrities turn out to be. They look better on TV that way.


The Phanton belongs to the self-effacing film director and restaurant critic Michael Winner, who bought if off James Bond producer Harry Saltzman. I've seen it on the M4 heading back to London with Mr Winner sitting happily in the back. I've also spotted him on Park Lane in his Bentley - a very nice, late T1 in silver - which he drives himself.


Your mention of Motor Books in Cecil Court reminded me of the last time I went there.
I spent a LOT of money in there, but sometime back in the eighties I was looking through some American marque books, can't remember what for, but definitely a regular buyer. The chap in charge back then was middle-aged, tweedy type with those distinctive half-round specs and he sent the young assistant out front to put the closed sign on the door and bring in the sandwich board which he then put in the corner of the left hand half of the shop; that is on the left as you walk in.
Boss man came to check on him and saw me there. He then went off on a rant about how I had just come in and didn't I see the closed sign etc, shouting "get out, get out now!"
I tried to say I had been there ten minutes and was about to purchase some tome or other, but he carried on shouting. I think the young fellow was about to say something in my defence when he was told to shut up and get sweeping.
I left, never to return, instead taking several hundreds or thousands of pounds worth of business to Chaters from that day on.
There's customer service for you.


I once sold about 12 copies of Autocourse to Motor books. I agreed a price on the phone and took them there in a suitcase as they was very heavy! when Igot there he told me he wasn't going to pay the price agreed (nothing to do with condition, they were all in very good condition, a lot better than the ones they were selling!). In the end I agreed because it was hard work getting them there, but I won't buy from there anymore either.


I was in Motor Books recently looking for a book on Cobras. Nothing. Also went to St Martin's model shop for a 289 Cobra model. Again, nothing and a complete lack of interest in helping a customer. I think the model shop had gone now ( I think they moved briefly to Cecil Court).
Not that it matters: I won't be back.



In the early seventies I found i could fit a wife, 2 daughters in early teens, a large picnic basket AND a Great Dane in to a Fiat 500.
All very well, but, the Fiat refused to come home under its own power.


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