Silverstone Auctions bids for success

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A new auction house has the venue, the people and a fast-growing client base to ensure it quickly becomes established

We’re sure that many of you could list at least five classic car auction houses around the world — there are certainly plenty of them. However, there’s a new arrival with a name all of you will recognise. Silverstone Auctions is the latest company to enter the bullring of auction houses, but this one’s just a little bit different. Silverstone Auctions will be based in the Northamptonshire track’s new ‘Wing’ pit complex and run by car dealer Nick Whale in partnership with the world-renowned circuit.

“The building of the new ‘Wing’ kicked everything off,” says Whale, managing director of Silverstone Auctions. “What Silverstone’s management realised was that the demand Bernie [Ecclestone] had made in terms of the new building, which was built for the British Grand Prix, meant they now owned something they could turn into a great facility to rent out as an exhibition centre.

“They were looking at all the possibilities this threw up, including an auction facility for classic and modern cars as well as motorbikes and racing cars. The management considered many auction houses, but felt an in-house business would allow Silverstone to capitalise on recent growth in the classic car world. I bring the operational expertise and many years in the automotive industry and, most importantly, a focus on client service and delivering the best possible experience for all parties involved.”

The auction business in general has been the same for many years, but Whale is keen to create a company that can stand up to the likes of Bonhams and RM Auctions, two of the best in the business. “I’m only too aware that there are many auction houses already,” he admits. “I’m not naive, but you may ask why are we doing this? I believe that the strong will survive and the weak will struggle. I think we’ll be one of the strong ones.

“We’re in the middle of the country, in a high-profile location, it has great access and, most importantly, it’s the home of British motor racing. Silverstone has great heritage and we want to create an auction company that mirrors the circuit’s brand values. It’s got to attract the best cars and ‘bikes, and because of that we’ve got all the right people on board.”

Ex-H&H and Coys man Guy Loveridge, MotoGP Eurosport commentator and ‘bike expert Toby Moody, experienced auction specialist Will Smith and classic car specialist Paul Campbell have all joined the team alongside newcomer Tim Illston, supercar specialist Mark Hickman, auction specialist and ex-joint managing director of Jordan GP Trevor Foster, motorbike specialist Tony Collins, researcher and wellknown production saloon car racer Lionel Abbott and administrator Graham Wood.

“The biggest lever I can pull operating this business is employing the right people,” adds Whale. “It’s all very well having a fantastic facility, but ultimately that just keeps the rain off. The people make the business. Toby Moody is new to the auction world and he’s a great character. He has a distinctive voice and style when he’s commentating, and he has lots of passion. I’ve deliberately chosen him as an auctioneer for that exact reason I don’t want some boring traditionalist, I want to break new ground.

“We want to provide the best possible experience and support for our clients, and I think we’ve started off on the right foot by employing the right people as well as having things like a secure client account and a promise of payment within 14 days. It’s the little things that make a difference, like sensible rates [10 per cent buyers premium and five per cent sellers commission]. We’re only charging a £250 plus VAT entry fee for cars and £100 plus VAT entry fee for ‘bikes. It’s fair, honest and transparent, and I think that’s important.”

News is spreading fast, and having only officially opened for business on March 1 Silverstone Auctions has already consigned several lots. Top of the list as Motor Sport closed for press was a very special E-type. The 1961 Jaguar is a Series 1 ‘flat floor’ roadster ‘outside bonnetlock’ car, of which only 91 were made. This is chassis number 80 which has been fully restored, so expect especially this year, the 50th anniversary of the model the £120-150,000 estimate to be reached with ease.

Other lots of note include a pretty one-off Deep Sanderson 301 Le Mans racer and a BMW Z8 ‘James Bond specification’ car with just 25,000 miles on the clock. The prototype Deep Sanderson, expected to go for between £46-50,000, ran in the 24 Hours in 1963-64 as well as the Spa and Niirburgring races. The car was developed by builder and racer Chris Lawrence, using a rear-mounted Mini engine. Having decided that he wanted to race one at Le Mans, he developed it into a long-distance sports car.

Also key to Silverstone Auctions’ success is that it can host sales at some of the country’s biggest motor racing events. “We were able to sit down with Silverstone’s management and organise the dates,” says Whale. “I’ve deliberately only gone for three in 2011 because I didn’t want to run before we could walk. I’ve also picked events that I think people will relate to. For example, the MotoGP round at Silverstone [June 10-121 is a massively high-profile motorbike event that is second only to the Isle of Man TT in attendance. It’s a no-brainer to have a ‘bike auction then, hence our event on the Saturday evening.

“If you’re looking for a date for your first car auction, you’d have it at an event like the Silverstone Classic [July 22-241]. It’s a huge meeting, it ties in with the classic car theme, all the car clubs are there with all the enthusiasts, and everyone’s passionate about classic cars. It was an obvious one to target and we are very pleased that Nick Wigley and his team have agreed to us having a sale then.”

So will Silverstone Auctions survive and prosper? “I know there is a shortage of classic cars and I know there are plenty of auction houses,” says Whale. “But in three or four years time if we could be considered in the same league as Bonhams and RM Auctions then I’d be over the moon. We’ve got a great facility, a great venue and a superb team of people, so why not?”

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