The Bonhams auction at the seaside resort of Knokke-Heist in West Flanders is now one of the autumn’s classic sales and, with the latest 8th edition under its belt, it managed to set itself a new record.
Until 2019, the auction was held in conjunction with Zoute’s Concourse d’Elegance – which was later joined by the rally – but this year, due to the pandemic, the event was reluctantly cancelled. From London, however, they decided to persevere even without the “main” event.
The result? Splendid: with 20 cars sold out the 30 listed for sale, which translates to 66.66% but if we look at the values, with some €10,370,000 on offer, they could hardly have done better than the €8,139,700 collected, equivalent to 78.49%. If we really wanted to make a comparison, those same takings in 2019 were some 35% higher but that number included 30% more cars plus all the peripheral events. So, all in all the 2020 result was better than 12 months ago. Not bad at all.
What about the cars? I usually select four cars “from the basket” of those on offer but this time I chose four with something special that unites them. Each of these four cars was made for a king (or almost…). As the British might say, they were “fit for a King”.
The 1955 Aston Martin DB2/4 Saloon was delivered to King Baudouin of Belgium. He was one of the most ardent supporters of the brand from Newport Pagnell; the very same year he took delivery of this car, Paul Frere won at Spa with a DB3S, which was followed by the famous “test drive” on the Brussels-Antwerp road with the King himself on board. Returning to the DB2/4, this was delivered new in its current state, i.e. Imperial Crimson and Connolly beige interior as befits its regal origins. The lot came with a photo of the royal with his brother (the current King of Belgium, Philip) driving the then Paris-plated car, probably for security reasons. Restored between 2001 and 2008, it was purchased by the current owner in 2011 for €333,500 (above the estimate of €200-240,000). Perhaps also due to the non-original engine (announced during the auction) this time the seller did not have the same luck: after nine years of possession and use, it changed hands for €264,500 (compared to its estimate of €250-300,000).
The top lot of the auction was also delivered new to a member of a European royal family. Bought new in 1959, the BMW 507 Roadster S2 of the then 19-year-old Prince Constantine II of Greece may have accompanied him to the Rome Olympics the following year where the prince himself won a gold medal at sailing. It appears to have hardly been used during the nine years he was King of Greece (1964-1973) and it remained there when the royal family was forced into exile after the coup. Acquired by its current German collector in 1989 and restored over the following three years, it appeared at the auction white with a black interior, without a shadow of doubt a non-original colour combination because in the black and white photos of the time (present at the sale) the car was a dark colour. Despite this colour discrepancy and a non-matching engine (albeit one with a slightly higher power output) the 507, estimated at €1.9-2.3 million, changed hands for €2,070,000. Fun fact: the designer of the 507, Count Albrecht von Goertz, was also noble.
The Americans don’t have noble families of their own, let alone royal households, but Lew Wasserman is known as “the King of Hollywood.” Wasserman’s personality smacks of clichés but his is the typical American dream: born in Ohio to children of immigrants, he climbed the social ladder spectacularly and in 1962 bought Universal Studios and Decca Records, becoming the king of Hollywood until 1990 when he sold MCA to Matushita Electric (Panasonic) for the “modest” sum of €6.6 billion. The Bentley S1 Continental Coupé dates back to 1956 and is one of 185 cars bodied by Park Ward and one of just 33 left-hand drive examples. Restored in 1990 in England and, despite the work being 30 years old, it was in absolutely pristine condition. Delightfully elegant in dark grey with burgundy interior, the car was very regal. Sold for €368,000, perfectly in line with its estimate of 330-390,000 euros.
Not a King per se but Claude Sage could rightfully be called a prince of Swiss motorsport. Despite having raced at Le Mans twice and also being the administrator of the Paul Ricard circuit (as well as president of the Geneva Motor Show), Sage is most famous for being the manager of Ecurie Filipinetti, the most famous private Swiss team. Having also participated in the development of the Ford GT40, when its heir was introduced at the beginning of the millennium, Sage immediately rushed to get one for himself. He wanted his “Mark II” black with classic forged aluminium wheels and no horizontal stripes. These three accessories, combined with its European specifications (only 101 examples produced) make it both extremely rare and exceptionally beautiful. With just 5,800 miles on the clock, it was in excellent condition. Unfortunately, this GT returned to its owner despite being offered €270,000 – the estimate was €300-400,000. My guess? They simply lacked eligible buyers because even the other Ford GT, a third generation from 2018 did not sell… but that one didn’t have a “royal” connection!