The news, dating back to the beginning of this year, was one of the more juicy stories: after more than a decade, Bonhams would leave the patronage of London-Brighton to its rival RM. For RM, however, it was an unfortunate decision: no event because of Covid-19 and no auction. Bonhams took the opportunity by the horns and organized a sale that widened the range of vehicles on offer slightly, so whereas before experts only allowed cars up until 1904 (the veteran car entry cut-off date for the London-Brighton) this year they went up until 1939, thus giving rise to a sale dedicated to the “Golden Age of Motoring 1886-1939”.
The result? Far from obvious. In a period of social, economic and health uncertainties, successfully selling 19 lots out of the 34 cars on offer (55.9%) that are no longer as fashionable as they were a few decades ago without any event that could attract visitors, but more importantly selling more than two-thirds at their estimates (£3,281,000 out of £4,911,000 or 66.8%), allowed Bonhams deliver a much better result than far better-known auctions have managed of late.
1932 Fowler 10HP B6 Showman'S Road Locomotive 'The Lion’ sold for £911,000
And if the top lot was one of the four Fowler 10HP B6 Showman “The Lion” models, a magnificent vehicle, more a locomotive than a car, sold for £911,000 (£800-1,200,000), which were, in my opinion, the four most interesting cars of the day?
The most expensive car at the auction was a 1901 Panhard & Levassor Type A2 7hp Twin-Cylinder Rear Entrance Tonneau. Possibly closer to the concept of “French national heritage” than a simple car, the history of this A2 has been documented almost continuously since 1909 and even managed to attended a gathering for “old cars” in 1937! In the early 1960s it ended up in the Mercedes-Benz collection due to the Daimler engine. Mistaken for a Mercedes-Benz grand prix, in 1965 it arrived in the Schlumpf collection and only changed owners in 2010 when it was bought by the Louwman collection. The history alone was worth the £225-275,000 estimate. And yet it was sold for £322,000; although that looks like a high price, I think it is more than correct.
1901 Panhard & Levassor Type A2 7hp Twin-Cylinder Rear-Entrance Tonneau sold for £322,000
From the oldest car sold to the youngest. You already know about my weakness for the Lagonda marque, but the 1938 V12 DHC had a story that could hold up to the Panhard. From new, this Lagonda was owned by Alan Good, at the time the owner of the manufacturer who, for some unknown reason, took it to James Young in Bromley for bodying, despite Lagonda having its own excellent coachbuilding facilities. Good sold it to Alfred Moss and, perhaps, this sparked the passion for cars in his son, a certain Stirling... With only four owners over the past 70 years, well-chronicled provenance and a unique bodywork (although the colour was probably incorrect) this car was estimated at £120-140,000. The winning bid fell fair and square within the price guide: £132,250.
1938 Lagonda V12 Drophead Coupé sold for £132,250
If I read the biography of any personality I immediately recalibrate my opinion of them and I could not remain indifferent to the story of Tony Clark and his Bugatti Type 40. The Auction House had carefully chronicled the life of Tony Clark, passionate about mechanics from a young age and enrolled in the VSCC (one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious historical car clubs) since 1957. When he bought the Bugatti in 1929 probably from its first owner, on the return journey he realized it needed a lot doing to it. Not having a garage to perform the necessary repairs he decided that he would have to build another one. So Tony Clark showed us that even today certain enthusiasts are willing to get their hands dirty by doing maintenance to their own Bugatti. Estimated at £270-330,000 and sold for £310,500.
1929 Bugatti Type 40 Grand Sport Tourer sold for £310,500
The Alta 1.5 Supercharged was one of the most spectacular cars on sale, even if it did come without the original cylinder block and head castings (sent to be repaired in 1961, the owner is still waiting...) replaced with one from an Alfa Romeo 8C, a supercharger from a Maserati 4CL and was originally configured as an open four-seater. On the other hand, chassis No. 16 was only the sixth built, the bodywork was modified before the war and it had a well-documented history from the 1940s onwards. This Alta is more than capable of outshining cars that cost ten times as much and, with FIA/MSA papers in order, it was on the button and ready for the Le Mans Classic or Goodwood. “Just” £90,850 (estimate: £75-95,000) was all it took to take it home.
1932 Alta 1½-Litre Supercharged Sports sold for £90,850