Bonhams' £20 million spectacular lights up Goodwood

| 29 Jun 2012

Bonhams' confidence that the collections consigned for its Festival of Speed sale would turn the annual auction into one of the year's blockbusters was well justified.

Over seven hours of feverish bidding, the company raised more than £22 million, smashing a host of records and watching a quartet of cars fly past the million-pound mark.

As predicted the Daniels collection stole all the headlines with the ex-Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin 1929 4 ½-litre supercharged ‘Blower’ Bentley single-seater – which when new raised the Brooklands Outer Circuit record to 137mph – selling for £5,042,000 and setting a new record for a British car at auction.

Second-placed was the 1912 "Corgi" Rolls-Royce 40/50hp ‘Silver Ghost’ Double Pullman Limousine, which sold for a record-breaking £4.7 million.

Some way back, at a mere £2,689,500, was another car from the Daniels collection. The famed watchmaker's 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C-2300 Spider Lungo raced at Le Mans with a roster of greats including Birkin, Earl Howe, Italo Balbo and Johnny Wakefield.

Floretta, the ex-works 1908 Itala Grand Prix rounded off the top four by amassing £1,737,500.

It was a hell of a drop down to the next lots which in their way were just as remarkable. Bentley Continental R Fastbacks have been escalating at an alarming rate for years and the £630k achieved at Bonhams confirmed their elevation to the front rank of collector cars.

Besting that Continental by some way, however, was the £785,000 accrued by a supercharged 1928 Bentley 41/2 Tourer.

Also flying high were a 1907 Damiler TP45 10.6-litre 4-seater tourer (£359,900), a 1970 Aston Martin DB6 Vantage Mk2 (£404k), the estimate-busting 1965 Ferrari 276GTS Spyder (£561,500) and a 1929 Alfa 6C SS (£371k). Even an Autokraft Daytona Spyder conversion comfortably topped £200,000. 

In the event, the remarkable Glasius collection of Lotus looked like small beer in comparison, but despite some patchy results it didn't deserve to be overshadowed.

Top-seller was the ex-Rod Carveth Lotus-Buick 19 (£158k), followed by the ex-works 1956 Lotus Eleven Le Mans (£152k, above), a 1955 Climax-powered MkIX (£118k), the 1963 Lotus-BMW 23B (£102k, below) and the 1963 T27 singer-seater (£101k).

A 1962 Elite was a good buy at under £45,000, as was a 1969 T61 Formula Ford racer at £15k.

There was a run of no-sales on the concepts and weirdies – including the Etna and M200 Speedster – while someone shelled out nearly £5000 for the M250 clay and a series of left-hooker Elites and Excels made strong money for the models.

Our favourite, the 1961 Ford Thames replica Lotus van found a new home for £23,000. 

It wasn't all about multi-million pound cars and racers. Although, continuing the Lotus theme, the ex-Lucchini 1963 Lotus Cortina made a reasonable-looking £34k for a ready-to-roll racer with documented bills that dwarfed its sale price.

A 1963 Sunbeam 4.2 Litre Harrington Alpine also looked decent value at a smidgen under £20,000 (below), while we also liked a smart 1951 HRG 1500 for £37k, a 1938 Lagonda V12 dhc for £130k and ex-Bob Gerard 1929 Riley Brooklands Monoposto that made £55,200.

Chairman of the auction house, Robert Brooks, said: "We always believed that the Goodwood Festival of Speed was the perfect place to sell two of Britain’s most iconic cars.

"Bonhams has sponsored this event from its inception 20 years ago. These results again prove the value of provenance and rarity, offered for sale in the best possible surroundings."

Doug Nye wrote a fascinating piece on the Birkin Bentley for Bonhams, so we reproduce it here in full:

It is wonderful to see this iconic car’s true value recognised by the world market.

The Birkin single-seater Bentley was, in effect, the Concorde of its time, the fastest car around the high Brooklands bankings. It was driven by a great British hero in Sir Henry Birkin and was the most glamorous racing car of the era.”

The ‘Birkin’ Bentley represents both an incredible piece of British racing and engineering heritage, and a remarkable achievement, both of which came about through the participation in a racing project of four top British personalities of the day.

First there was the fearless and charismatic aristocrat who was behind the wheel for the record lap. Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin was a Baronet who became one of the most famed of the legendary ‘Bentley Boys’ of the 1920s – 30s. For an entire generation of British motor racing enthusiasts the moustached ‘Tiger Tim’ in his goggles, wind cap and polka-dot scarf was the epitome of Imperial power, speed and daring – a very British kind of hero. Intensely competitive, he was a born sportsman who raced for racing’s sake and was whole-heartedly committed to making the most of his natural talent.

The engineering might behind the record effort came initially from Bentley founder and legend of his time, W O Bentley. Bentley’s cars were designed with the motto: “To build a good car, a fast car, the best in class”, and indeed they won the Le Mans 24-Hour Endurance Race on a number of occasions and set many records at the French track. Although the supercharged ‘Blower’ version was developed by Birkin with the backing of his financiers, it was based on the original 1927 design by W O, albeit against his wishes.

Despite the input of these two British legends in their fields, the success of the Birkin Bentley would not have been possible without the significant financial input of two of Britain’s wealthiest people at the time.

Dorothy Paget, the daughter of Lord Queenborough, was a British racehorse owner who came from a prominent family of Thoroughbred racers and breeders. Her horses won a total of 1,532 races in both flat and hurdling, including seven Cheltenham Gold Cups and a Grand National in 1934. Living for the most part in Buckinghamshire and reportedly as eccentric as she was rich, she is said to have hated the sight of men – claiming they made her feel physically sick – and to have called all her staff by different colours rather than their names, apart from green, which she also disliked.

British financier and racing driver Joel Woolf ‘Babe’ Barnato was, like Birkin, one of the ‘Bentley Boys’, and he achieved three consecutive wins out of three entries at Le Mans. A product of Charterhouse School and Trinity College Cambridge, Barnato played cricket for Surrey in the late 1920s and served in the British Army and RAF during the wars. After inheriting his family’s fortune, made out of diamond and gold mining in South Africa, he poured cash into the troubled Bentley brand, pushing through in the meantime the famous ‘Blower’ Bentley so disliked by W O.

These four remarkable personalities combined to produce a monster of a car that proved a real match for the ageing, patched, bumpy and frost-heaved Brooklands circuit, a circuit Birkin himself described as: “...without exception the most out-of-date, inadequate and dangerous track in the world... Brooklands was built for speeds of no greater than 120mph, and for anyone to go over 130... is to court disaster... The surface is abominable. There are bumps which jolt the driver up and down in his seat and make the car leave the road and travel through the air.”

Following its race career, the car was converted into a two-seater roadster before being acquired by George Daniels.

Daniels was one of the few modern watchmakers who could conceive, design and hand-make a complete watch from blank sheet of paper to finished timepiece. During his lifetime he created fewer than 100 pocket watches and wristwatches, each of which would typically involved 2,500 hours of work. Awarded a CBE in 2010, he is the only watchmaker ever to receive the honour ‘Master Watchmaker, for services to Horology’.