You may not have heard of Hubert Fabri, but you can bet the Belgian car collector is smiling to himself. Next month, 15 of his rare Aston Martins, Bentleys, Bugattis, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Lancias will go under the hammer at Gooding & Company’s Passion of a Lifetime event in the U.K. Industry observers expect records to be broken.
On September 5, the collection of some of the world’s most sought-after cars will be brought to the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, a stone’s throw from the River Thames. From there, a virtual auction will take place. If estimates are met, the auction will set a record for the highest average price per vehicle—a staggering £2.5 million ($3.34M)—and six of the 15 vehicles on offer could a record for their individual models.
Fabri made his fortune through African rubber and palm-oil plantations. And while Fabri is widely known to be the seller here, Gooding states that it does not wish to confirm the owner’s identity. “These cars are of such significance, it hasn’t been hard for people to figure out who is selling them,” a representative said.
Gooding is based in California, and the Passion sale is the first that the company has held outside of America. Originally scheduled for April, the auction was postponed until September due to the pandemic. “These 15 extraordinary cars,” the firm says, “hail from one of the world’s most revered private collections and represent the culmination of decades of research and dedication. The collector’s meticulous passion for the very finest brings together the most coveted and valuable examples of European sports and racing automobiles of the 20th century.”
Here are six highlights from the Passion of a Lifetime auction, along with the relevant standing records.
Estimate: £7,000,000–£9,000,000 ($9,361,800–$12,036,600)
Current record: £9,422,773 ($12,602,017), RM Sotheby’s
Revealed at the 1960 London Motor Show, the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato was limited in production, if not appeal. Just 19 examples were built, making the car considerably more rare than a Ferrari 250 GTO. (The Aston’s immediate rival was the GTO’s more affordable relative, the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta.) With more than 300 hp from its twin-cam straight-six, the British car was a valiant effort against Maranello’s competition-spec Berlinettas.
This model, chassis 0176/R, was the sole example finished in Peony, a dark red. Its first owner was Teddy Beck, who bought the Zagato new in October 1962 for £5210, from Hersham and Walton Motors in Walton-on-Thames. Subsequent owners included Victor Gauntlett, the former chief executive of Aston Martin.
Fabri has owned this Zagato since 1985, but he hasn’t always been complimentary toward it. “Why didn’t it sell at the time?” he said, in 2014. “Simply because it was overpriced, too heavy, and not competitive. I’ve put my Zagato on the track, and [driving it] you soon see why. This overweight, over-high lump of an engine only generates comic understeer,” a trait worsened, Fabri said, by the car’s short wheelbase.
Estimate: In excess of £10 million ($13,374,000)
Current record: £1,321,500 ($1,767,374), Bonhams
This Grand Prix Bugatti was campaigned by the works in 1934 and ’35, with no less than Bugatti legend René Dreyfus taking the car to a third-place finish at the Monaco Grand Prix and an outright win at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. The Bugatti is powered by a supercharged straight-eight engine and can boast a royal owner in its past, King Leopold III of Belgium. The standing sales record for a 1933 Type 59, £1.3 million, was set in 2005. The house estimate for this auction states only “in excess of £10 million.”
John Wiley, Hagerty’s manager of valuations, says that the auction has created a buzz across the classic-car community. “If either of the Bugattis sell, this year could be the first since 1991 that a Bugatti has landed the year’s highest auction price. If the Bugattis don’t sell, the DB4 GT Zagato would need to sell for more than £5.31 million to beat the most expensive car sold this year—the 1932 Bugatti Type 55 sold by Bonhams in March.”
Estimate: In excess of £7,000,000 ($9,361,800)
Current record: £6,333,278 ($8,470,126), RM Sotheby’s
Bugatti built a mere 17 examples of the Type 57S Atalante. This car, chassis number 57502, was originally bought by Earl Howe, co-founder of the British Racing Drivers Club and former president of the Bugatti Owner’s Club. The car’s next owner uprated the 3.3-litre, straight-eight by fitting a Marshall supercharger. The Atalante eventually found its way into the hands of Dr. Harold Carr of Newcastle, England, in 1955. It was parked in Carr’s garage in the early ’60s and not discovered until after his death, in 2007, looking decidedly sorry for itself. Since restored, this Bugatti is as grand and opulent as pre-war cars come.
Estimate: £320,000–£400,000 ($427,968–$534,960)
Current record: £231,791 ($309,997), Gooding & Co.
This is a remarkable motor car. Widely considered a groundbreaking model, Vincenzo Lancia’s 1922–31 Lambda set the standard that competitors scrambled to match. The car featured an innovative monocoque chassis, independent sliding-pillar front suspension, and a narrow-angle V-4. The driving experience was said to be head-and-shoulders above that of the car’s contemporaries. In the same family for two generations and 60 years from new, this example has been subjected to a sympathetic restoration.
Estimate: £1,000,000–£1,400,000 ($1,337,400–$1,872,360)
Current record: £443,933 ($593,716)
The current record for a post-World War I Silver Ghost stands at nearly £444,000. The Alpine Eagle variant was based on the car that competed in the 1913 Alpine Trial. Driven by privateer James Radley, that machine won every stage of that famed reliability run, soldiering on through Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy, and beating Bugatti and Daimler in the process. Previously restored by P & A Wood, a Rolls-Royce specialist, it’s ready to recreate the Alpine Trial all over again.
Estimate: £800,000–£1,200,000 ($1,069,920–$1,604,880)
Current record: £436,355 ($583,581), Bonhams
William “Bill” Boddy, MBE, the editor of Motor Sport magazine from 1936–91, drove or rode in just about every pre-war car going. He declared the Vauxhall 30-98 the greatest of them all, writing, “For me, no car of the vintage period has the same appeal as a 30-98.”
That’s some compliment. Yet many will fall under this car’s spell without knowing of its reputation; its rare Wensum bodywork (featured on just 12 OE-Types) is both sporty and elegant, a streamlined, doorless affair that mimics a motorboat, complete with a beautifully finished deck behind the third passenger seat. The Wensum style was created by Vauxhall’s Jock Hancock, who was said to be inspired by a boat that he kept on the Norfolk Broads.
Will any of the striking automobiles listed above set a record? Only time will tell. We’ll be watching on September 5, along with many of you.