Matters of moment, March 1988

Auction anxieties

Car auctions have flourished impressively since Lord Montagu held the first such Christie’s sale at Beaulieu, many years ago. Their glossy catalogues provide an enticing description of those vehicles which are currently on the market, and the outcome of such auctions is both an indication of current values and a reminder that in a largely impoverished world money can still flow like water in some areas.

Auctions are a quick and convenient means of disposing of a car. But so very popular have they become, and such vast sums have they turned over, that a modicum of criticism should not go amiss. In recent times they have come in for just this.

For instance, there was that Mini Minor which purported to be the very first of its kind, a fact hotly disputed by the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust. And there have been suggestions, since no buyer has been named, that the auctioning of that Bugatti Royale which raised a record price and received worldwide publicity might just have been a publicity stunt, although Christie’s denies this, as one would expect.

Two aspects of auctioneering raise other questionable matters. One is that, under their “small print” rules, auction houses do not have to guarantee in any way the historical accuracy of their descriptions of the goods they sell. Some time ago a car which raised an unexpectedly high price for its surprised owner was listed as having been raced at Brooklands. Our records could not reconcile the car’s declared engine and chassis numbers with those quoted years ago to the Brooklands authorities, a fact we felt worth raising with the auctioneers concerned. They promised to look into the problem, if only to keep the historical path clear, but nothing more has been heard from them. The Motorfair Lotus referred to by DSJ in last December’s issue of Motor Sport is another case of this sort…

The other aspect which disturbs us is the extent to which bidders at auctions can discover the mechanical condition of a vehicle. The procedure seems to be that the seller simply submits a description of his or her car, describing it as fully or as briefly as he or she sees fit.

On one occasion when a vendor was very honest, admitting on his form that the back axle of his car would need attention were it to be used on the road, no mention of anything whatsoever amiss was published in the glossy auction catalogue. This may be an isolated incident, but it should be borne in mind when buying a car in this way rather than through the time-honoured medium of magazine or newspaper advertisements, which usually bring the would-be buyer face to face with the seller, where he has an opportunity to discuss, or even tryout, the vehicle before purchase.

Another puzzling aspect of selling by auction is the question of why old cars merit such high prices. Original paintings and antique furniture apart, how many desirable and highly-considered objects d’art command the price at which even a vintage Austin Seven is regularly marked up?

The conclusion must be either that motor vendors are very clever, or that possessions with motive power, are considered more desirable per se than static ones.

Anyone who was obliged to purchase the unexciting cheap little cars which were available before the war, and which are now highly priced, should know what we mean. Surely these cars can hardly have improved more than half a century later?

Judging on merits

It might be bad form for dog to eat dog in publishing circles, but we cannot refrain from expressing our surprise at Motor’s violent attack on Nigel Mansell recently, from the pen of Bob Ward. We hold no particular brief for the impetuous Williams driver, and we thought his melodramatic kissing of the track at Silverstone after winning last year’s British Grand Prix not in the champion’s tradition (one can hardly imagine Fangio, for instance, acting in such away). Be that as it may, each racing driver should be judged on his merits. Mansell might not be the most convincing of television personalities, and some people seem to resent his role as an Isle of Man Special Constable (although it was fine when Sir Malcolm Campbell undertook such duties!), but criticism of Mansell’s appearance, manners, voice and attitude to racing, illustrated with horrid cartoons, is something we are surprised editor Walker let through. Public figures have to accept Press comments good and bad, and we are well aware of Mansell’s mistakes and excuses — he is not, of course, the first driver to have blamed his car or other factors when others have gone faster — but we regard it as distasteful for a journalist to poke fun at the entire Formula One scene, to claim he is ashamed to admit he is English, and to be allowed to attack a British driver in such a comprehensive fashion in a British magazine

Motor’s only saving grace in this is that it published six letters from readers who strongly objected, not so much to Bob Ward’s views, as to the manner in which he was permitted snare them.

Club news

Highlight of the international Coupes de l’Age d’Or meeting at Montlhery on June 24-26 will be a race for Jaguar prototypes to celebrate the twentieth birthday of the French Jaguar Drivers’ Club. Altas, Allards Listers, Cooper-Jaguars, C Types and D Types are among the models eligible for thirty available places, one of which will be offered to an F1 or WSC star. Entry is free to competitors, and race sponsors will pay ferry and accommodation costs. Anyone who is interested in taking part should contact Henri and Beatrice Maisonneuve as soon as possible at 6 Avenue Gabrielle, 92500 Reuil-Mal-maison, France.

Membership of the Alfa Romeo 2600/2000 Register is open to all past, present and prospective owners of these models, and costs £12.50 in the United Kingdom (plus £1 joining fee) for 1988. The club magazine Alpha Plus keeps members informed of the availability of spares and services. Contact Roger Monk, Knighton, Church Close, West Runton, Cromer, Norfolk NR27 9QY for details.

Donington Park is the venue for the first round of the Ferrari Owners’ Club’s 1988 racing championship, the Michelin Maranello Ferrari Challenge, on April 16-17. This eight-round series, whose overseas jaunt is to Zandvoort in June, is for roadgoing cars in “standard” and “modified” classes; regulations can be obtained from John Swift, Chevy Chase, Leeds Road, Selby, North Yorkshire YO8 0JE.

Now in its fifth year and attracting up to 40,000 enthusiasts annually, the National Classic Motor Show will return to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham for May Day Bank Holiday weekend, April 30-May 2. Along with all the usual displays, it will boast the largest indoor autojumble in the country. Show manager Elaine Berry can be contacted at Reed Exhibition Companies, Oriel House, 26 The Quadrant, Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey TW9 1DL.

Headquarters for the Railton Owners Club’s National Weekend from Jane 24-26 is the De Vere Hotel in Cathedral Square, Coventry, where accommodation at a special rate has been negotiated. The club’s publicity officer is Bryan Tyrrell, “Homestead”, Old Mead Lane, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire CM22 6JH .

Any individual or club interested in taking part in a new nine-round racing championship for pre-1966 sports cars, starting in May and running alongside an existing series for cars of similar vintage, should contact Charlie Hayter of the MG Car Club at 49 Breach Avenue, Southbourne, Emsworth, Hampshire PO10 8NB.