Race-used memorabilia: don't forget the sniff test

The smell of success — Expert View

Andrew Francis portrait wide

Here’s an exciting topic: race-used collectibles. Can you get much cooler than having an actual F1 front wing mounted on your wall or one of your hero’s race-worn crash helmets on display? This is the sort of stuff that collectors spend years tracking down.

During the early days of the World Championship, drivers like Moss, Brabham and Clark bought their own overalls, helmets and boots. Teams didn’t supply them, so they are very personal possessions that sometimes lasted years, but were often discarded when worn out. Things changed in the 1970s when sponsors got involved and would supply race gear with logos on. A helmet might last a whole season; in the modern era a driver will have three helmets per race!

One of the best tips in this area is to not expect perfection. Likewise, some also have their own distinct aroma. Racing is a sweaty sport and that takes its toll. We once had a helmet that had to be kept in a display case because it had a whiff to it.

We did a signing at a world champion’s home recently and he showed us bags of overalls, gloves and boots. While they’re valuable and historically important, they did pong a bit – as they’d been used, never washed and stuffed into a bag!

Race-used car parts are a big market. The best are those from ex-factory staff who either made the bits themselves or were given them by the team. They’re authentic, have solid provenance and almost qualify as museum pieces.

Then there are the bits that get upcycled. Does a Ferrari V12 engine look better as a coffee table? I’m not so sure. Things like that become art or kitsch. If done right, it can be a second life; if done wrong it just ruins the original.

Andrew Francis is director at The Signature Store