Simon Bull

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

From family heirlooms to fast cars, this television antiques expert has an eye for classic engineering

There are similarities between Simon Bull’s two prime fields of expertise: both involve fine engineering accuracy and precision timing. The scale, however, differs radically. On the one hand, Formula One racing cars, especially Tyrrells; on the other, the world’s finest mechanical timepieces. For Bull is one of the world’s leading experts on clocks and watches, and a stalwart of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.

The clocks came after the cars, though not by much. While Bull, fresh from school, was learning to make Triumph TR wings in a panelbeaters’ shop, he met a wealthy enthusiast who had a kart track in his Sussex garden and needed a weekend mechanic to keep his house-guests mobile. He also collected cars, and when Mike Salmon would bring a Ferrari from Maranello Concessionaires, the young Bull made sure he had a ride.

Work facilities allowed him to spray his first car, a lovat green Frogeye Sprite, bright Porsche orange. “That was the perfect first car,” he remembers. “If I ran a bearing I could pick up another perfectly good engine at the scrapyard for five pounds.”

This same patron collected fine clocks, and when Bull saw a large decorated bracket clock in a Brighton shop he told his friend, who said “buy it; pay whatever you think right.” Bull nervously paid £400 it turned out to be worth £4000. From then on he began to hunt for interesting timepieces, teaching himself from books, and decided this was his field.

Somewhere around 1969, Christies advertised for a clock expert, and his friend advised him to apply. “Tell them you’re an important collector and know everything. There’s no-one there who can find you out.” It was with what he calls this “considerable amount of bluff,” followed by much diligent research, that Bull turned himself into one of Britain’s top horological authorities.

Unusually for such a specialised field, fame came too, with the pilot of an unlikely TV idea called The Antiques Roadshow. Twenty-one successful yeas later, Simon Bull is still enthusing to camera about other people’s clocks, the only remaining figure from that first experiment.

After several years at Christies, Bull started his own firm dealing in clocks, watches and scientific instruments, and since 1986 has been an independent consultant in the field, retained by France’s oldest clockmaker, Leroy, and by auctioneers on the continent.

Meantime the Sprite was replaced by an MGA Twin-Cam “300 miles between pistons, regular as clockwork” after which a Morris Minor provided long-time London transport. But an acquaintance who owned three S-type Invictas made him a fan of the marque, and as well as buying one of these S-types he and Invicta expert Derek Green assembled a racer in 1992. “I’m no great driver,” says Bull, “so when I saw Martin Stretton hurling a 4½-litre Bentley around the Nürburgring, I asked him to race my S.” This spectacular combination became one of the racing highlights of vintage meets in the early ’90s.

Watching historic racing tempted Bull to get into single-seaters, and in 1992 he bought an F2 March, with which Stretton dominated the ’93 European F2 series. Apart from Martin’s highly visible contribution, Bull credits Tyrrell designer Derek Gardner. “Having sized us up, he agreed to help. He has a quite remarkable ability to predict settings and ratios just from a circuit plan.”

Next came an unstoppable Maserati 4CM with which Stretton won almost everything they entered. “I wonder if it’s the most successful pre-war car of all?” Bull muses about what he calls “a go-kart by another name. Back to my origins, really.” The Modenese go-kart was then honourably semi-retired, so the team could concentrate on the next project. “In an idle moment I asked Derek Gardner which Formula One car he’d most like to renew acquaintance with, and he said his Tyrrell 005. And by chance it came up for sale soon after.”

It was the perfect buy. As a youngster Bull revered Jackie Stewart, and here was a car specifically built around JYS. The car was tested in last month’s Motor Sport, so there’s no need to elaborate on how successful Stretton and 005 have been. “It’s notorious for its super-short chassis, but it doesn’t give Martin any problems.” Evidently: he won the FIA Thoroughbred GP title in 1995.

Perhaps Bull felt this was all too easy; he is now committed to getting one of the 034 six-wheeled Tyrrells onto the track. “There’s the small problem of tyres, shocks, body panels…” he laughs. “I must have been completely mad to take it on, but I’ve never had so much encouragement from the old-car world.”

It has confirmed his high opinion of its designer, Derek Gardner. “I think he’s one of the great racing engineers. His Tyrrells were the only serious opposition to Lotus in his day.”

It will be up to Stretton to rediscover the quirks of four-wheel steering; Bull won’t be driving the 034. “I’ve never driven my serious cars. I think a good car deserves a proper driver, and luckily I enjoy being team-manager. And somehow it’s never the right moment – I wouldn’t take the risk before the season starts, afterwards there’s always something to fix, and mid-season there’s too much going on.” He loves his Invictas, though he has retired from VSCC racing. “I like the club, it’s a wonderful outfit, but there’s no point in hammering your car in order to finish behind the specials.” On the stocks are a type 37 Bugatti (“It will be ready next year. Mind you, I’ve been saying that for the last 15 years…”) and a truly rare survivor, a racing Voisin C3.

However, even the six-wheeler looks dull and conventional alongside Bull’s latest project, now being assembled by Sam Stretton, Martin’s brother. It’s a Reliant Kitten estate. With a 1000cc Kawasaki motor, six-speed sequential gearbox, Formula Ford brakes and the terrifying threat of 160mph on tap… GC

You may also like

Related products