If you hanker for a car that seems unattainable, you need to speak to Adrian Hamilton’s Haversham firm. There is one car, though, he’ll never sell. Words: Richard Heseltine. Photography: Charlie Hopkinson
With a car dealing, Le Mans-winning raconteur for a father, Adrian Hamilton’s choice of career was a given. Not that he ever wanted to do anything else: “I’ve been very lucky in that my hobby is also my profession and I have my father’s name to trade off: it lends more credibility than ‘Wheelspin Motors’, doesn’t it?”
Well, yes. Located in a haven of tranquillity in rural Haversham – “We’ve been here for about 12 years. I love having a view of ducks quacking in a pond rather than buses going past the window” – Duncan Hamilton Limited has long been at the centre of the mega-money historic car world: “The business was started by my father, Duncan, in 1948,” he recalls. “It was then based in Byfleet. During the ’50s he was racing hard and fast all throughout the world, becoming a works driver for Jaguar and Ferrari. Many of his exploits will be familiar to anyone who’s ever read his [highly entertaining] autobiography, Touch Wood. And all of the stories therein were absolutely true, of course!”
Recovering from a prolonged giggle, he continues: “I joined the firm in 1966 after 18 months in the merchant navy. I came ashore and got a job as cleaner/driver at the Bagshot office and moved on from there. I got involved in racing myself for a while in the late ’60s and early ’70s, running Ford Escorts for John Hine and Mike Hailwood. I also competed, just fun clubbie stuff, in a GT40.” That and the most improbable competition tool yet to grace a circuit: a Mercedes-Benz 600, the über-barge more commonly seen chauffeuring despots in third-world dictatorships in old newsreels. “It was my father’s. I borrowed the car for the weekend and entered it in a saloon car race at Thruxton.” Without telling him. “The brakes didn’t last long, but then it did weigh about three tonnes.
“Since then, I’ve concentrated on running the business and making people’s dreams come true.” And if your dreams are backed up by extreme wealth, and you have a hankering for the ostensibly unattainable, then Hamilton’s the man to speak to. “Our stock is always changing, but we keep quiet about a lot of the stuff that makes the really big money: chances are the really rare kit won’t be advertised in magazines or on our website. And I can lay claim to selling the most expensive car ever: a Mercedes-Benz W196 grand prix car.” How much did it go for? “Hmm, that information is probably a bit sensitive.” Pause. “Let’s just say that it was sufficient on the day. We’ve also sold seven Ferrari 250GTOs – at one point I thought about changing our name to 250GTOs R US – probably the same number of Porsche 917s, 18 GT40s and God knows how many D-types.
“We found one, an ex-Ecurie Ecosse car, in a North Manchester lock-up about 20-years ago. We were contacted by the deceased owner’s cousin who’d been offered £100,000 for it. We paid a bit more, but sold it for a profit. That’s what it’s all about, after all. I’m really pleased that Dick Skipworth gets so much enjoyment from that car all these years later.” Warming to the thrill-of-the-chase theme, he adds: “We also discovered an early Ferrari GP car in a cowshed in the Midlands around the same time, but I imagine that there isn’t that much left to find. Most of the really special cars are well known.”
His enthusiasm undimmed after 40 years in the trade, Hamilton is nonetheless not above diversification, other interests ranging from selling the odd helicopter and steam engine to a highly detailed website (www.wifesgone.com) “for when your other half’s left you for the milkman and you need to learn how to cook or get counselling or whatever.”
Not that there’s any danger of him cashing in and leaving the primary business behind. With recent stock including the ex-Jim Clark/Henry Taylor D-type and a Ferrari 246 Dino reconstruction (which will be raced at the Goodwood Revival by Patrick Tambay later this year) among others, one car that will not be leaving Haversham in a hurry is the C-type driven to ’53 Le Mans honours by Hamilton père and Tony Rolt. “I’ve had the Jaguar for 24 years. It took me three years of chipping away at Briggs Cunningham before he agreed to sell it to me. I love the car and obviously there’s a sentimental link. It’s provided me with a wonderful entrée into so many events and I’ve met a lot of people because of it. And that’s what I love about old cars.”