He claims to be a poor salesman, yet Gregor Fisken has built up a successful historic racing car business. It must be down to his enthusiasm and passion.
Words: Gavin Ireland. Photography: Duncan Kendall
If knowing your product is the key to successful salesmanship, then Gregor Fisken is particularly well-equipped for his career as one of the world’s foremost historic car dealers. With countless races in a multitude of classic cars, Fisken has a unique insight into the examples that pass through his eponymous company. “I’ve had the opportunity to drive some of the greatest vintage sportscars — many pre-war grand prix cars, many 1950s grand prix cars and probably all the great 1960s GTs,” says the London-based Scot, who also maintains a small family collection of carefully chosen classics.
This collection recently gained an ex-Ecurie Ford France GT40 with a history including class wins in the Nürburgring 1000Km and the Targa Florio. The way he describes the exhilaration of finding this car makes it clear that such experience is no mere sales pitch. Fisken claims to be a poor salesman, but the sheer passion he shows for classic cars is infectious and must account for some of his success.
Having started a mechanical apprenticeship at the age of 17 with Bunty Scott-Moncrieff, a renowned restorer and dealer of pre-war cars, Fisken quickly began competing in autocross and special-stage rallying near the family home in Perthshire, encouraged all the while by the Scott-Moncrieff family. Rallying an ex-works twin-cam Toyota Celica was combined with fettling vintage Bentleys and Bugattis.
With such a broad experience of classic race cars, you expect indecision from Fisken on enquiring about his personal favourite. But he still sounds awestruck as he tells of the discreet sale of a 1939 Auto Union Type D — “a car with the most extraordinary aura” — prior to which the car was stored in the showroom below his then-residence. “I used to go down and sit in it at night,” he relates.
As for a favourite race car driven in competition, there is scarcely a moment’s hesitation: “The 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO has to be the one. Driving the ex-Maranello Concessionaires example of Sir Anthony Bamford was extraordinary. To be trusted to drive a GTO is amazing, but to be trusted to drive that car [the ex-Graham Hill TT winner] and told to ‘get out there and have a good time’… It doesn’t get any better than that. With the GTO you can get away with the most amazing four-wheel drifts and the more you drive it the better it gets.”
There are few circuits better matched to this style than Goodwood, where Fisken has fond memories of winning the TT Celebration with Emanuele Pirro in 2001. The lithe Lightweight E-type pedalled to Goodwood glory contrasts sharply with the modern sports-racers he also loves driving: “I once tried making the comparison between skiing and snowboarding, but it goes way further than that. At lower speeds, where mechanical grip dominates, there is a similarity, but the aerodynamics and braking of modern cars are absolutely breathtaking. It means you’re going against all your natural instincts, whereas in an old car you’re driving it by using those instincts.”
Given the recent attention paid to safety in historic motorsport, is this a consideration for someone switching between modern and historic cars? Fisken agrees that it’s a valid concern: “It’s beguiling because historic racing is all about the social scene and driving and handling some beautiful cars, but you can’t ignore the possible consequences of an accident.” The camaraderie and mutual respect of the scene perhaps contributes to some degree of safety: “At Spa last year we had a grid of about 70 cars, from Lotus Elites to Porsche 904s and Ferrari 250 SWBs. We had drivers of all abilities from professional to beginner and by the end of the race there were no instances of body contact whatsoever.”
Fisken also appreciates that some will modify historic cars to provide a greater measure of safety, but acknowledges that discretion must be applied when dealing with unique old cars: “I understand if somebody wants to put in modern seats or belts into an old car, or a well-installed roll cage in a closed car, but there are some cases where that’s simply not appropriate, simply not applicable.”
This gives some indication that Fisken’s business isn’t simply a sales service but acts almost as a custodian of the very finest old race and road cars, some of which have passed through his Kensington Mews showrooms several times over recent years. In keeping with emerging demands in motorsport, Gregor Fisken (the business) provides comprehensive support to its clients, ranging from providing pre-sale advice on suitable events to enter with a particular car, all the way to an ‘arrive and drive’ arrangement.
With packed grids for historic races worldwide, it’s likely that Gregor Fisken will have plenty of business for years to come. No matter how busy he is, it seems inconceivable that he would sacrifice racing, as it adds such a unique aspect to his business: “Having raced all these cars, I feel I’m more qualified to deal in historic motor cars than someone who hasn’t had that experience.” Even aside from the business benefits of racing, it’s hard to see him ever giving it up. “It’s a big drive in my life,” he says. “It simply has to be done.”