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The Bar View – Richard Barnett picks out the more off-beat motors offered at auction

by Richard Barnett
17 October 2018 3 min read
The Bar View – Richard Barnett picks out the more off-beat motors offered at auction
Bentley 4.5 Stationwagon at Bonhams, Goodwood Revival

The cheerful colours of autumn leaves heralded the start of one of the year’s busiest classic auction months, September being full-to-bursting with sales.

Beginning with Bonhams’ Beaulieu Autojumble sale and rounding off with Silverstone Auctions’ two-dayer at its new Dallas Burston Polo Club location, there was no denying the buoyancy of the market, albeit one where the days of inflated prices are rapidly leaving the building.

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And while there were plenty of sales to visit, what was more important was the choice of cars offered. After the August slow-down, September swept in with all the fizz and vivacity of a decent bottle of cider being uncorked just a little too quickly, and with that steady sale stream came the typically Autumnal selection of more unusual cars that added truly welcome classic variety.

It is all too easy to think almost all classic sales are rammed with Morris Minors, Triumph Stags and the all-too-familiar MGB, but for every would-be owner seeking the road well travelled, there is another would-be buyer who wants something different: Not out of bloody-minded affectation, but because there are more interesting, more capable offerings to be had.

This philosophy was more than adequately demonstrated at Bonhams’ Beaulieu Autojumble sale. Always a firm favourite with the true gearhead, pre-war cars are always to the fore and among a commendably strong selection was a 1918 Phoenix which came from the collection of late Labour MP Ednyfed Hudson Davies.

The immediate post-Great War period saw numerous manufacturers spring-up, usually buying in proprietary components and assembling them in small factories up and down the country, and Pheonix, which traded from 1903 to 1928, was one such business. Built during the company’s earlier London guise, where it operated from 1903 to 1911, this skiff-bodied voiturette was powered by a two-cylinder engine, chain-drive putting the power to the back wheels.

Part of the once well-known Sword Collection, Hudson Davies bought it in 1997 and it had seen regular use. Small it might have been, and it would hardly set the tarmac alight, but it was rare, attractive, and had character by the bucketful. Plenty of the Bonhams throng thought likewise and it went on to a premium-inclusive £25,300.

Just a week later Bonhams was at the Goodwood Revival, and the sale in (almost) the Duke of Richmond’s front garden boasted many stunning motors. Among these, (and perhaps an acquired taste for those red corduroy trouser-wearing ‘enthusiasts’) was a 1937 Bentley 4 ¼-litre that, in 1950, had been re-bodied as a shooting brake. Here was slightly shabby gentility at its very best, because while by no means immaculate this matching-numbers model – fresh from 15 years’ ownership – was just right in every way. Much mechanical work was a good sign while bodily it really wasn’t at all bad. Usable, attractive and undeniably rare, there was enough attention to drive it on to a premium-inclusive £103,500.

Six-figure sums (and even higher five-figure ones come to that) aren’t necessary when it comes to buying something offbeat – not by any means – and for the buyer with an appreciation of automotive engineering Historics’ UK-market 1938 Lancia Aprilia Lusso was an utter treat.

When it comes to small-sized engineering and packaging advances, the Aprilia takes some beating – a 1300cc V4 and pillarless construction meant both mechanically and visually it was streets ahead of anything of a similar size being made in the UK, but bringing the story more up to date was the fact an Edinburgh nurse had used it as daily transport in the 1980s – surely the sign of a practical classic?

Those who like their classics to be immaculate wouldn’t have liked this metallic silver gem that boasted tidy paint, good bodywork and a new red leather interior.

Those same fussy types probably wouldn’t have liked the labels on the dashboard, marking the functions of switches. But… and it was a big ‘but’, this was clearly a usable classic with way more driver involvement than many 1960s bread-and-butter British sports cars, and that, coupled with being a Lancia, made it one for the cognescenti.

But what price such greatness? Just £16,352, which made it one of the sale’s best buys.

A few days later, at Brightwells’ Leominster sale, a dusty, dumpy British offering was a reminder of one of the earliest names in British car manufacture, and how it had fallen to being just a bolt-on addendum to another company.

Today there are few people who know the story of Lanchester, the car maker that initially pushed the technical side (in many ways as Honda would, and does), but by the time it finished (in 1955) the make was part of BSA-owned Daimler, had withered on the vine and its days were numbered.

Some might have recognised the 14’s bodywork, and with good reason, as it was also used for the Daimler Conquest, but this was a sad end to the Lanchester name.

This barn-stored, apparently-solid but needing-work rarity was shunned by many, but those wanting something different would have seen that being off-beat needn’t be dear. How much? Just £605.

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