French fancies

Bonhams’ first Rétromobile auction was a £7m success

As any car enthusiast will tell you, Rétromobile is the classic car world’s answer to Ascot, Henley, Cowes week or Wimbledon. A place where hours can be spent elbow-deep in spare parts bins while debating the merits of uprated leaf springs, not to mention being able to spend the rest of the afternoon at various car manufacturer stands pretending that you are the authoritative voice on their new 10-year plan. It’s only when you get home that you realise the speedometer you found doesn’t actually fit your model of MG and the person at the car manufacturer stand was in fact the CEO.

This year, after 215 years of auctions, Bonhams held its first French sale at the show under the banner of ‘Bonhams France SAS’. Having sold 70 cars for over £7 million it was unsurprising that the managing director of Bonhams’ motoring department, James Knight, praised the sale as “one of the most successful auctions our European department has ever held.” Bonhams was also keen to point out that this was a 40 per cent increase on any previous Rétromobile auction.

Some of the highlights included the 1928 Mercedes ‘S’ Type which went to a private collector for over £1.5m, a 1929 Bugatti Type 43 from the ‘Pim Hascher’ Collection which sold for £990,669, Georges Mathieu’s 1936 Mercedes-Benz 500K Cabriolet which has gone to America for £660,859, and the ex-Barbra Streisand 1926 Rolls-Royce that was driven to Paris from the UK and sold for £134,550.

Having talked about the attraction of rare or one-off road cars last month, it was interesting to see that the 1989 Sauber-Mercedes C9 didn’t sell at the Rétromobile auction. Chassis number five was hardly short on history as it was the 1989 World Sports Car Championship-winning car, came fifth at Le Mans, first in the Jarama 480km, first in the Nürburgring 480km, first in the Donington 480km – the list goes on. What is more it has been fully serviced by Sauber, is ready for the historic Group C series and is perhaps the only chance to buy a C9, as three are in the Mercedes museum, one is the property of Sauber and the other is in a private American collection. Its estimate of £1.1-1.5m was quite a sum of money, but it’s clear that people are willing to spend that much.

The problem with many racing cars from the ’80s onwards is that the sale price is very much a first step. The cost of an engine rebuild alone would make many of us faint on the spot – marry this to how often they need to be done and £1.5 million suddenly looks like pocket change. If you are running a Cosworth DFV, the first rebuild will cost in the region of £8000-10,000, and the second could be upwards of £15,000.

This isn’t beyond the realms of comprehension but when you have to do it every 1500 miles, up to once an historic season, it starts to make you think.

This is a reasonably cheap example; the Cosworth DFV was such a popular power plant that parts are readily available. Once you get into making out of stock parts you can easily be writing a cheque for £100,000 – ask someone who runs a 6R4 Jaguar engine and they’ll tell you that the words ‘engine rebuild’ are about as welcome as a kick to the head.

Add to this the idea that you can’t run many of these cars until you’ve taken them to a track on the back of your transporter, and you may start to question the practicalities of it all. This is why road-legal sports cars command higher prices than much rarer single-seaters.

The thought of racing a C9 is electrifying and it is surprising that this example is still waiting to find a new owner, but you can’t blame people for approaching the thing cautiously.

Around the dealers
Competition cars currently for sale here and abroad

This car started life as an F2 racer and was bought by Silvio Moser who, because he didn’t have an entrant’s licence, started under the name ‘Charles Voegele’ at European races during 1968. In ’72 Bernd Burger converted the car to a two-seater, re-naming it the ‘Burger P3’. Two second places at the Taunus Hillclimb and the Mainz Finthen Airport race were the highlight of ’73, and in ’74 the car received a flat-six Porsche engine. It has been fully restored and has FIA papers.
POA. Tel: +43 664 858 4701

1964 CD-Panhard LM64
One of only two examples built, this Index of Performance special raced at Le Mans in 1964, weighing only 560kg and equipped with a Panhard 1.2-litre, supercharged flat-twin engine. The car has been completely restored and is ready to race. It has FIA papers and is road legal.
320,000 euros. Tel: +33 (0) 630 096 491

1967 Cooper-Maserati
Jochen Rindt first raced chassis number F1-2-67 in the 1967 British Grand Prix, retiring after 27 laps with engine failure. This T86 was also the car that Vic Elford brought home seventh in the 1969 Monaco race, making it the last Cooper ever to compete in the Principality’s Grand Prix.
300,000 euros. Tel: +41 (0) 227 401 939

1956 Lotus XI Sports S1
Assembled by none other than Graham Hill in April/May 1956, this Eleven was originally campaigned in the 1200cc class of the Autosport Production Sports Car Championship, taking nine podiums and four race wins. It has been fully restored and comes with a comprehensive history file.
POA. Tel: 020 8614 7888