We chat to Hexagon Modern Classics owner Paul Michaels about his love for all things Porsche, racing and his ever-growing car collection.
The most enjoyable motor museum going must surely be the kind where the prize exhibits – at least some of them – can actually be bought and driven away by new owners.
As well as having much more buzz than conventional museums, as cars, customers, new stock and money flow in and out, a place like this also gives non-buying visitors more hope. Maybe one day, they think, I’ll own a car like these.
This new kind of car collection is exactly what Paul Michaels, one of the UK’s best and most experienced classic car experts, has just opened in his familiar stamping ground of Highgate, north London, right next door to a Lotus dealership he also owns on a surprisingly quiet and leafy part of the Great North Road.
Hexagon Modern Classics, as the place is called, is already open for business and, as we discovered on a recent visit, it makes a fascinating destination right now. But building works are still in progress and Michaels would be the first to admit there’s a couple of years’ work ahead.
When Hexagon Modern Classics is finished, though, it will be transformed into a complete car lover’s paradise. There will be two restaurants, a deli, a café bar, an art gallery (Michaels’ wife, Racheline, is an expert in fine art, especially porcelain), a shop selling car-associated gear, a museum that will display selections from Michaels’ own collection of fine cars, and a top-class car emporium where you can browse the best and possibly buy a modern classic of your own.
Some exhibits straddle the line between art and stock, clearly showing the kinds of cars Michaels intends to offer. Within minutes of arriving, we’re looking at a pair of amazing low-mileage 1965 E-Types: a roadster with 8700 miles on the odo and a coupé with 10,500. “This is the level we want to reach,” says the proprietor, proudly. “Cars like this can be hard to find, but we tend to be the first port of call for sellers.”
Accompanying the cars is one of the UK’s best collections of automotive wall art – posters, paintings and photo images – and Michaels’ own office (into which favoured visitors are invited) contains an array of automobilia of such astonishing depth that any visitor would take several days to appreciate it all, let alone hear the fascinating tales inevitably attached.
Michaels has been using the Hexagon brand since he started trading in cars from a tiny Belsize Park mews back in 1963. His father was a car man who was forever bringing home interesting machinery, and when the time came to leave school and seek a career, the young Michaels knew exactly what to do next. “I founded the business in 1963,” he says, “and began messing about with cars.”
‘Messing about’ isn’t quite the truth of it. Michaels, full of energy for the car business, set about building a modern multi-franchise business – before such conglomerates became fashionable in the City – and at various times held agencies for Alfa Romeo, Lotus, Reliant, Marcos, BMW and even Monteverdi, always using the Hexagon name, which was chosen because Trident, Quadrant and Pentastar were already taken. He even started a van-based performance improvement wing called Hexagon Tune, but he had to find a name that more precisely defined its activities when he started getting calls from local owners of pianos…
His business grew rapidly, dealing in all kinds of interesting modern machinery, eventually becoming London’s premier BMW dealer, and when the funds became available, he also moved into racing, another passion.
First, he started racing D-Types, before moving into hairy and spectacular Formula 5000 racing. Then in 1973-1974, years he describes as Hexagon’s “most adventurous period”, he moved to Formula 1, first buying a March with an odd-looking nose (which they corrected) and eventually a Brabham BT44 from then team owner Bernie Ecclestone and retaining John Watson as driver. The grand prix involvement was short but memorable. And as many period pictures on Hexagon’s walls make clear, Michaels will always be proud of what his tiny team achieved: a fourth place in the 1974 Austrian Grand Prix and six priceless championship points in the bag.
Racing remains a passion, which is one good reason why the Highgate showroom still contains a near-perfect 1987 Porsche 962 that he bought 16 years ago because it finished sixth and later eighth at Le Mans. It’s technically for sale, but you get the impression that it would take an outsized cheque to prise it from Michaels’ ownership.
Apart from the Lotus franchise, dealing in new cars is behind him now, Michaels says. It’s time to indulge his love of classics, especially Porsches. Air-cooled Porsches are one of Michaels’ special passions and he often has as many as 40 in stock. He not only admires their unique specification and legendary lasting qualities but also seems to feel that he can find better homes for deserving cars than the next person. Car trading is no charity, clearly, but for Michaels it’s most definitely a passion.
He also has a thing for the “crazily undervalued” Porsche 928 V8 range. “They’re terrific,” he says, “although they can be very expensive to keep going.” We view a fine GTS auto in the showroom at £40,000-ish, but he reckons a really good manual is worth as much as £20,000 more.
Michaels’ own eclectic collection of 20-odd cars is a movable feast – to the extent that he keeps a list in chalk on a blackboard outside his office. Fixtures include a 4.7-litre Eagle E-Type roadster (his smoker on sunny days), an Aston Martin DB4 Zagato Sanction Three, a 1952 Fiat pick-up, a lightweight Ford GT, a Land Rover Series 1, an Aston DB2 and various Jaguar XK120s. And various Porsches. “I was a dealer,” he says. “I know how good they are.”
The future? Michaels acknowledges an easing of auction values following Brexit and a flow of classics away from the UK, because our devalued currency suddenly makes cars seem cheap in foreign parts. “ I just sold a couple of BMW Z8s to Germany,” he says. “The buyer reckoned they were cheap.”
Michaels believes UK values may not rise in the short term, but the market for traditional classics should remain pretty firm. However, modern cars that depend heavily on complex electronics – even cars like the latest Porsche 991-series 911 R – may become hard to own. This complexity will “load value” onto perennials like the 993-series 911, Michaels believes, and he’s very rarely wrong. Shop now…