As we all adapt to the new normal, we report on Silverstone auction’s latest virtual sale and about an astounding car with some equally remarkable bidding.
The era of Group B rallying has been compared with the Wild West: no rules, little regulation but above all, a very dangerous period. Drivers and spectators alike risked their lives at many events.
While many devotees will recall the glory days of the Audi Quattro and Lancia charging around, they might forget the Peugeot 205T16 was the most successful Group B car of its time.
It shares much of the looks with the road going 205 but its swollen body panels are much more than a conventional 205 on steroids. The now mid-mounted turbocharged 16v engine powering a 4×4 drivetrain was more like Frankenstein’s monster: pig ugly and uncontrollable. Drivers at the time reported warp-drive like acceleration coupled with tunnel vision as everything outside of the window flashed past in a blur.
The particular car on sale here was constructed by Peugeot Sport UK as a sister car to a factory T16. It was commissioned in 1984 by a wealthy American property developer Jon Woodner. He competed very successfully with the car in the US and Europe between ’84-’88. After Jon tragically died in an aeroplane crash in the Spring of 1984, his widow put the car in to deep storage. After rebuffing numerous offers to sell the car, in 2000 she finally relented. This truly global car went to its new owner in New Zealand who embarked on a no expense spared overhaul.
It changed hands again in the early 2000s when it came back to the UK. In 2005 it became jointly owned by ex-works driver Kevin Furber who knew the car and Andy Medlicott. Being so well known in racing circles, the car has enjoyed being the star of many shows and driving events in the UK and Europe.
With this pedigree and provenance, it was bound to sell wasn’t it?
The catalogue guide price was £260,000-£290,000. Being the experts we are, we had no idea whether that represented good value or not! But we have to admit, we did look at each other and think; who buys a car at a virtual auction for a quarter of a million pounds in the middle of a once in a century pandemic.
The car was introduced to much fanfare as befitting such a great car. It was then handed over to the auctioneer to get things moving. That’s when it looked like it would all go ‘orribly wrong. There were no flurry of bids. This isn’t getting away, we thought. #Experts.
Bids started very low. £240,000 from memory. Everyone could tell this wasn’t how it was hoped it would be. There were two phone bidders and at least three lurking on-line. With much skill, the auctioneer literally dragged the bidding up to £258,000. It was below the lower guide price, but we sensed with some disappointment, it would be sold. The hammer was up…going once, going twice, for a third time….a shout of ‘260’, went up, literally as the gavel was on its downward trajectory!
Bidding picked up slowly and reached £265,000. The hammer was up again. This time it looked like it would connect with the rostrum. An excited shout via the phone; ‘268!’, …..then another…..‘270’. Both London bidders.
The auctioneer asked for £272. No response. “Right! I’m selling. Going once, twice, third and final time (again!) ‘272!’ The under-bidder came back hoping to knock the previous bidder out with an increase of three grand this time, ‘£275,000’. The auctioneer smiled, “Thank you for that bid, I’ll take 278 next” he said. No response. Again, “278 or I’m selling at £275,000”. He looked determined to sell and determined to move on. ‘277’ was the confident response. The auctioneer allowed himself a wry smile. “Okay, £277,000 it is, is everyone done”? They weren’t. 278 came in. Quickly followed by 280, then 282, then a bidder upped the ante, again, 285. 287 was the response. 289 quickly came back, 290, 291, then the frenzy slowed. You could almost see the room collectively exhale.
The auctioneer injected again, it’s his job after all. “I’ll take 293 now, we have to sell this car. Its 293 or I’m selling at £291,000”. A pause. The remote camera settled on two of the Silverstone team, each talking in conspiratorial tones to their only two remaining phone bidders. Both shook their heads. Was it over? We waited. This was real drama. You could hear a pin drop.
The auctioneer broke the silence, again. “I’m selling!” He sounded resolute. “Once….twice”, a long pause,… “final time, £291,000 for the Group B Rally Car….” You guessed it, a shout of ‘292’. So close!
“Will this car ever bloody sell?” asked the auctioneer clearly enjoying himself. “I need 293, NOW, or I’m selling, no waiting, no messing, we must get on, I’m selling….” No response. “The hammer is up. I’m selling this time” Famous last words. ‘294!’, Then, quickly ‘296’, then ‘298’, then, hesitantly, ‘£300,000’.
You could cut the air with a knife. It was heavy with the tension of breaking the psychological barrier of £300k. Where would it end? We were all out of predictions. In came additional bids, ‘301’…. ‘302’… ‘303’…… ‘304’ slowly now.
Both bidders wanted this car. The price had travelled from £250k to past £300K.
Bear in mind for a moment, each lot at a busy auction like usually this takes 3-4 minutes from intro through to hammer down, job done. We’d been at this nearly fifteen minutes.
The pauses were long now and heavy. Everyone waited patiently, expectantly. As if either bidder needed reminding, the auctioneer broke the silent spell in the room recapping how unique this car was, how hard they’d worked, and asking; did either bidder want to lose a £300k plus car for a grand? They listened. A bid of £305,000 came in. Was that to be the last? A pause. Another long one. Another bid. £306,000. An inaudible gasp. This time the auctioneer didn’t wait.
Again. “I’m selling this time. Once. Twice. For the third and final time,… £306,000….”, BANG! The hammer collided with rostrum. It nearly collapsed. SOLD. A spontaneous round of applause broke out.
Breathless. Literally breathless bidding.
In all our years, of attendance, we’ve never, ever seen anything like it. We tweeted that directly. Team Silverstone instantly responded. “Neither have we”.
Whoever said you need people to make an auction? Experts? What do we know!