WHILE 60,000 racing enthusiasts headed towards Silverstone the Assistant Editor turned his Sprite in the opposite direction on to the A30. The ultimate destination was the Montagu Motor Museum, where the Veteran and Vintage Auction Sale was taking place. This normally pleasant journey was spoilt by long queues of holiday-makers grinding their way to the South and West, so recourse was made to the A 31 through Alton, where traffic was a little easier. However, we arrived at the Museum long after the sale had started and a good number of the vehicles had been dealt with.
Although publicised as a Veteran and Vintage Sale it was in fact, open to all cars built up to 1941. The auction was carried out by a professional concern, with car owners having to pay a £2 entry fee and motorcycle and three-wheeler owners paying £1. In addition, if the vehicle was sold a commission of 7 1/2% was payable to the Auctioneers. The normal conditions of an auction sale were apparently in force; i.e., the owner had to declare any known faults and could fix his own reserve price, while prospective buyers could hear the engine running but were not allowed to drive the cars. Not, as one may imagine, ideal conditions in which to purchase cars at least 20 years old.
There were about 120 vehicles entered for the sale, the vast majority being vintage and P.V.T. cars, with five or six veterans, a similar number of Edwardians and about twenty motorcycles. A Mille Miglia-type ramp was situated on a gravel path and the Auctioneers stood on a raised platform. Those cars which could travel under their own steam were driven on to the ramp while the others were pushed or towed up. It was unfortunate that the various Auctioneers were completely clueless as to the mechanics of pre-war cars, apparently being more used to disposing of “good runners.” One of them. having urged the bidding up to a high figure for one car, then instructed the crowd to stand back “as these old cars are tricky to drive.”
The general slump in the car trade was reflected in the low bidding for many of the vintage cars, and although a number of dealers were present they were obviously only looking for bargains and the really high prices were paid by private individuals. Car after car failed to reach its reserve, which was not helped by the fact that in their anxiety to rush through the proceedings the Auctioneers made little attempt to sell many of the cars. There were several amusing moments during the proceedings. Once, a rather inebriated gentleman who had visited the refreshment tent a little too often, bid “a tanner” for an incredibly rusty and dilapidated motorcycle. The Auctioneer, unable to believe his ears, sold it to him for “a tenner”! A Dutch visitor bought for £230 a 1924 Silver Ghost, but when the kidding had finished he translated pounds into guilders and realised that he had paid too much! A furious argument ensued and he eventually persuaded the Auctioneers to put the car up for sale again.
The veterans attracted most attention from buyers with some very high prices being paid. Lord Montagu paid £1,050 for a Panhard et Levessor, a 1904 12-h.p. Sunbeam Tonneau went for £740, a 1900 English Mechanic (the World’s first do-it-yourself car) sold for £700, a rather dilapidated and only partially restored de Dion Bouton went for £1,100 and a 1904 Humberette did not even reach its reserve after bidding had gone to £1,050. The Auctioneers must have been pleased with their 7 1/2% of that little lot! Of the Edwardians a 1914 Humberette sold for £340 but a 1912 Daimler (illustrated above, right) did not reach its reserve after bidding had gone to £600. A 1913 Horstmann also did not reach its reserve at £210.
Of the more modern cars only those in first-class condition realised high prices. A 1931 Mercedes-Benz 370S Mannheim in very good order (illustrated above, left) sold for £310, and one of the attractive Southern-bodied Rolls-Royce Twenties went for £350 to a gentleman who had just disposed of his own car. A 1939 4-litre Darracq reputedly seen at the Paris Show sold for £410. Various Isotta-Fraschinis did not reach their reserves, nor did the beautiful B.D.M. with 8-litre Bentley chassis and model-J Duesenberg engine after bidding stopped at £800. A magnificent 36/220 Mercedes-Benz was not sold mainly because the Auctioneer wanted to commence the bidding at £1,500!
A Model-T Ford Ambulance fetched £120 and a 1930 G-type Dennis Charabanc went for £50, but some of the more desirable vehicles with high reserve prices did not sell despite some keen bidding by private individuals.
The Auctioneer drew another laugh when he announced that Jack Brabham had won the British G.P. in a Cooper-Lotus! With evening drawing on, the crowd began to melt away and as we left we could still hear the Auctioneer bellowing: ” Come now. gentlemen, that’s no price for a fine old car like this.” During the day over £23,000 was paid over for about 60 cars and the organisers voted the day “A complete success which will definitely be repeated next year.” Whether the buyers and sellers agree is another matter.