All of these cars, and many more, were to be seen last week within a chilly hangar at Bicester Heritage, the classic car centre, where they were auctioned by Brightwells. And you might be surprised to learn that all these vehicles were, until they were hammered away at no reserve to an enthusiastic public last week, the property of Jaguar Land Rover. Eh? What on earth is a major car manufacturer doing with a 100-strong car collection like this? The answer is disposing of the less desirable members of an even bigger collection - much bigger - that it unexpectedly bought in 2014.
The unexpectedness lay in the fact that big manufacturers very rarely buy car collections, and certainly not on this scale, and certainly not when a large proportion of the cars are not from its own brands. But the James Hull car collection, reputedly the UK’s largest and containing 130 Jaguars, presented a one-off chance for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) to significantly bolster its collection.
There were rarities among the Jaguars and Land Rovers, too, as well as large numbers of cars from brands that were once Jaguar and Land Rover stablemates when the pair were part of British Leyland. There are also plenty of other makes, ranging from Iso and Maserati to Bentley and Citroën.
So JLR bought the lot – all 543 cars – for an undisclosed sum, doubtless some way south of the original asking price of £100 million. A condition of the sale reputedly stated that the buyer had to retain the collection complete but, according to JLR Classic director Tim Hannig, that’s not the case.
If you’re now thinking that the amazing collection of dentist James Hull is being broken up, JLR says no. According to a spokesman: “Only one James Hull auction is planned. This is not the first of a phase of auctions. Instead, we’re refining the collection, and it’s mainly duplicates that we’re selling.”
The company ultimately plans to make “the bulk of the collection available to use. Jaguar Land Rover models will be our focus first, but the others we’ll keep safe, and return to an active life in time.”
That’s great news and means Lord Mountbatten’s Mini Traveller, a Bentley previously owned by Elton John, motorcycle and Formula 1 racer Mike Hailwood’s Iso Grifo and an astonishing collection of woody wagons, plus dozens of more ordinary machines, will be preserved and continue to stay with the collection.
When you inspected most of the cars at this auction, on the other hand, you began to see why they were being sold. Many might have been rare and low-milers but they needed plenty of work, and others were the collection’s less good duplicates. There were five Allegros in the sale, two of them the snouted Vanden Plas variety, but JLR retains the more desirable (well, kind of) versions. The same applies to the multiple Leyland Princesses and Austin Ambassadors, the Austin 1100/1300s and an array, not necessarily impressive, of Austin Metros and Maestros.