A rusty Mini car sold for 40,250 pounds ($65,382) at an auction today -- beating the price of a shiny Pontiac convertible once owned by Keith Richards.
The corroded 1959 Mini was described by Bonhams as the oldest surviving unrestored car of its type. It beat the 37,950 pounds paid for a dark-blue 1950 Chieftain Silver Streak used by guitarist Richards at a time when the Rolling Stones recorded “Exile on Main Street” at his south of France home in the early 1970s.
Both cars were bought by private U.S. buyers at an auction at the RAF Museum in Hendon, England. Classic cars often get a premium if they have interesting stories attached to them, such as famous owners, or years spent in storage before being discovered in original condition.
The Austin Mini Se7en De Luxe Saloon, registration number XLL 27, was the eighth car of its type to come off the production line at Longbridge in May 1959, three months before the official debut of the Mini on Aug. 26 of that year, according to correspondence from the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust. It had a presale estimate of 12,000 pounds to 15,000 pounds.
The Mini was designed by Alec Issigonis for the British Motor Corporation as a response to the fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Crisis. It’s believed that only three examples earlier than XLL 27 exist, and all are in restored or altered condition, said Bonhams.
Entered by a U.K.-based seller, the car had had just three owners and is in classic rusted and non-running “barn find” condition. It retains its original Bluemels number plates and an engine with the glass washer bottle that distinguishes the earliest Minis. The 30,041 miles on the clock are thought to be correct, Bonhams said.
Classic-car collectors put an increasing premium on “barn finds” in untouched original condition, said dealers.
The California-based collector Peter Mullin bought a wrecked 1925 Bugatti Brescia Type-22 for 260,500 euros ($368,320) at Bonhams in Paris in January 2010. The car had spent more than 70 years at the bottom of Lake Maggiore.
The Pontiac, with an estimate of 18,000 pounds to 22,000 pounds, is being sold by a U.K. classic car and Stones enthusiast who acquired it directly from Richards in the mid-1980s, said the London-based auction house.
The left-hand-drive convertible was originally supplied by the now-defunct Pontiac marque specifically for the European market and was Richards’s drive when he rented Villa Nellcote, near Villefranche-sur-Mer, in 1971.
Richards acquired it second-hand from a neighbor of the novelist Somerset Maugham, said Bonhams.
The band worked on tracks including “Rip This Joint,” “Happy” and “Shake Your Hips” in the basement of Nellcote. The novelist William S. Burroughs was among the visitors.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)