Schumacher’s 1994 Benetton Racer Sells for $1.01 Million

The 1994 racer in which Michael Schumacher won the first of his seven Formula 1 titles sold for 617,500 pounds ($1.01 million) at a classic-car auction that included the highest price ever paid for a commercial vehicle at a public sale.

The Benetton-Cosworth Ford B194 had been given a minimum valuation of 600,000 pounds by Bonhams in its inaugural classic car event at the company’s redesigned headquarters in London. The restored racer, in its original blue and green “Mild Seven” livery was bought yesterday by an unidentified bidder on the telephone.

Single-seat racing cars with big-name associations and distinguished race histories have recently fetched high prices, despite having a more limited market than classic road cars. 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, a record for any car at auction.

“I was surprised the Benetton sold,” said Simon Kidston, founder of the Geneva-based classic car adviser Kidston SA, who was among the crowd of about 1,000 people who attended the auction. “You can’t do much with a modern Formula 1 car. There are no historic races for them, you need a bank of computers with the right software to start them and you need to be the size of a jockey to fit into them.”

Described by Bonhams as being in “race-ready” condition, the 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.

Ecurie Ecosse

Bonhams’s sale also included a group of seven restored Ecurie Ecosse competition cars collected by U.K.-based Dick Skipworth, who races classic autos. 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 1952 Jaguar C-Type two-seater that Ecurie Ecosse entered in U.K. sports car races in 1953 proved the most expensive, selling for 2.9 million pounds. Recently driven by Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart at classic auto events, it had been estimated at 2 million pounds to 3 million pounds.

A D-Type that had been 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, took in 2.6 million pounds, just above its low estimate of 2.5 million pounds.

‘Monstrous Crash’

“Condition is particularly important with D-Types, and that one had had a monstrous crash,” said Kidston. “It held the bidding back.”

Kidston said that a Le Mans-winning Jaguar D-Type in good condition could be valued at more than $12 million in the current market.

The Ecurie Ecosse C- and D-Types were both bought by the same U.S.-based telephone bidder, said Bonhams. The buyer, based on the East Coast, stunned the auction room by giving a further 1.8 million pounds for the team’s original 1960 Commer TS3 three-car transporter.

Immortalized in a best-selling 1:48-scale model made by Corgi Toys, the transporter took almost 20 minutes to sell and achieved a price that was a record for any historic commercial vehicle sold at auction, said Bonhams.

The seven cars and transporter of the Ecurie Ecosse group, all painted in the team’s distinctive Flag Metallic Blue livery, raised 8.8 million pounds against a low valuation of 5 million pounds. Published auction results include fees; presale estimates are based on hammer prices.

Pension Savings

The Bonhams event came at the end of a year that has seen rising prices for the most desirable classic cars. The $301.9 million achieved at a bellwether group of sales in California in August was a record for any series of such auctions. The London-based HAGI Top Index, which charts auction and private sales of exceptional historic automobiles, was at 206.64 in October, a 29 percent increase since the start of the year.

“Investors are taking their money out of pensions and others savings and putting it into cars,” John Goldsmith, of the Wiltshire-based Aston Martin restoration and race preparation specialists Goldsmith & Young Ltd., said in an interview. “The returns can be exceptional.”

Goldsmith smiled with approval as a 1959 Aston Martin 4.2-liter DB4GT coupe sold for 1.6 million pounds. He said he bought a similar, slightly later DB4GT for 380,000 pounds in 2003.

The market still has its pitfalls, though, particularly for sellers of less fashionable prewar cars. A 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Tourer, estimated at 270,000 pounds to 360,000 pounds, was one of six unsold lots in the auction. More than 365,000 pounds had been spent on its restoration, according to the catalog.

The Bonhams sale raised 16.9 million pounds, beating its upper estimate of 16 million pounds.

“The market is heavily hyped and increasingly populated by speculators,” said Kidston. “Everyone is keeping an eye on what a car will be worth tomorrow. It’s increasingly rare to hear the question, ‘What’s this car like to drive?’”

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