The racer in which Michael Schumacher won the first of his seven Formula 1 titles is estimated to sell for more than $1 million at an auction in London as the values of classic cars continue to set records.
The Benetton-Cosworth Ford B194 is restored and race ready, according to Bonhams, which is selling it on Dec. 1. The car’s minimum valuation is 600,000 pounds ($969,780) at hammer prices, with auction fees to add on top.
Single-seat classic cars with big-name associations and distinguished race histories have recently fetched high prices. In July, a 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 that Juan Manuel Fangio drove to two Grand Prix victories sold at Bonhams for 19.6 million pounds ($29.7 million), a record for any car at auction.
“Single seaters can do well in a relatively limited market,” James Hanson, director of the U.K.-based car dealership Speedmaster, said in an interview. “People who are rich enough to buy classic cars want to use them. You have to be the right size for a Formula 1 racer: you can’t impress a friend by taking it out for a drive,” said Hanson, who buys and sells grand prix cars regularly.
The Bonhams Benetton, chassis number B194-05, was driven by Schumacher in four of his eight victories in 1994. In the San Marino Grand Prix, it was meters behind Ayrton Senna when the Brazilian driver crashed fatally at 180 mph.
Earlier this month, a 1977 McLaren M26 driven by former Formula 1 champion James Hunt was auctioned for $1.2 million at RK Motors in Charlotte, North Carolina. Bidding was boosted by the recent Ron Howard movie “Rush,” focusing on the rivalry between Hunt and Niki Lauda, dealers said.
An ex-Schumacher 1997 Ferrari F310B Grand Prix car, with a less distinguished race history, was included in the inaugural “Art of the Automobile” sale held by RM Auctions in collaboration with Sotheby’s in New York on Nov. 21.
Estimated at $750,000 to $1 million, it was one of the few failures in an event that raised $62.8 million. The top price was the $14.3 million bid for a mid-engined Ferrari 250 LM that had come in eighth in the 1968 Daytona 24-Hours, showing the desirability of classic two-seat Ferraris from the 1950s and ’60s.
Bonhams’s 35-lot sale, with a total estimated value of 12 million pounds to 16 million pounds, also includes a group of seven Ecurie Ecosse cars collected by Dick Skipworth, who races classic cars. The Edinburgh-based Ecosse team, formed by the Scottish businessman David Murray in 1951, won consecutive victories at the Le Mans 24-Hour race with Jaguar D-Types in 1956 and 1957.
A D-Type that was raced by Ecurie Ecosse in the U.K. and Europe (though not at Le Mans) in 1956 before being sold in 1957, when it was badly damaged in a crash, is the most highly valued car in the collection. Restored to its original Flag Metallic Blue livery, the Jaguar is estimated at 2.5 million pounds to 3.5 million pounds.
The valuation is considerably lower than the minimum estimate of 5.5 million pounds put on another Ecurie Ecosse D-Type entered by the Scottish businessman and historic racer Irvine Laidlaw at RM Auctions in London in September.
That car, and other GT racers from Laidlaw’s collection, failed to sell. U.K. and European bidders balked at expectations raised by the $301.9 million -- a record for any series of classic car auctions -- achieved at a bellwether series of sales in California the previous month.
“The market in the U.S. is ahead of the U.K., and Britain is ahead of Europe,” said Neil Dickens of the Wiltshire, U.K.- based dealership the Hairpin Co. “The Skipworth cars have had hard lives and Bonhams have been realistic with their valuations. Though people are getting fussier and fussier, the best cars are selling for ever-more insane prices. And at least with a D-type, after you’ve bought it you can drive it away down Bond Street.”
The Skipworth group also features a 1952 Jaguar C-Type, estimated at 2 million pounds to 3 million pounds, and the original 1959 Commer “Ecurie Ecosse” transporter painted in the team’s livery that inspired a best-selling 1:48-scale model made by Corgi Toys.