The Emperor’s new car?

At some point in the last year, Hans-Gunter Zach – an industrial enterpreneur based in Muhlheim, Germany – decided he wanted to sell his well-known collection of Rolls-Royce motorcars. Not entirely unusual in the collector car world; we’re used to seeing RM or Gooding and Co. advertising a collection for sale.

However, it’s fairly obvious that Hans-Gunter Zach hasn’t employed a professional auction house to handle the sale of his cars. My guess is that Herr Zach decided to go it alone to prevent hundreds of thousands of Euros from flowing into an auction house’s coffers thanks to the commission on the sales.

However, if you go it alone, you’re going to need some PR support. Usually the auction companies go to town with full-page colour ads in the classic car press, and even a little PR story in the national newspapers if they’re lucky. Without their muscle, Hans-Gunter would need a serious news hook.

And what better news hook than to say that one of the motors that you’re selling – the Rolls-Royce Phantom II ‘Star of India’ – is set to become the “world’s most expensive car”?

Rolls-Royce Phantom II Star of India

I don’t know who approached who, but given that the Daily Mail and Telegraph articles covering the sale have exactly the same last line of copy, there was obviously a press release sent out at some point.

What a bit of creative PR – it doesn’t look like there was much sense-checking from those who chose to cover it, and I can’t find comment from ‘notable collector car expert’ in any of the coverage. If they’d actually gone and asked Rob Myers at RM or Tim Schofield at Bonhams, I wonder what kind of soundbite they’d have got…

One piece of coverage suggests that the car is so famous that if you Google “Star of India”, there are so many articles that it would be impossible to read them all. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but does anyone else think this could have something to do with the fact that the ‘Star of India’ is also the name of the British Indian Flag, a historical Museum Ship in the USA, and also the largest star Sapphire known to man…?

Next – does anyone have any idea where this figure of €10m came from? The article I read on Classic Driver states:

Its value would be difficult to assess; however, on the open market, as an individual sale it could be as much as 10 million euros.

So where did this figure actually originate? The very same article opens with the words:

Hans-Günther Zach is selling his spectacular Rolls-Royce museum and is inviting bids of 5m euros or more for the complete collection

Right – so it’s a minimum of €5m for the entire collection, but they reckon the Star of India could fetch €10m alone? If that’s the case, why isn’t the minimum bid €10m? You’d be getting 20-odd other cars as well, so it’s not exactly unreasonable.

As for the words “could” and “on the open market” – let’s remind ourselves that this isn’t an open market sale! He’s flogging the whole lot at auction, apparently as one lot, and apparently via a sealed bid process. We may never know what the collection goes for, which I suppose paves way for the inevitable commentary in five to ten years’ time when it’s up for auction again: “the Star of India was part of Hans-Gunter Zach’s sale in 2009 – whilst the bidding was secret, it is thought to have sold for €10m…” – and in that instant, to some extent it becomes a €10m car.

If you actually look at what’s gone for serious money recently – pre-war Bugattis and Mercedes in original condition; post-war Ferrari racers and Californias; the odd company/works special (think Jaguar E2A and Shelby’s Super Snake Cobra) – then it’s hard to see where the mainstream market for this Phantom would be.

With the exception of the very few spectacular coachbuilt cars, Rolls-Royces just don’t have the aura of the pre-war European cars, nor do they have anywhere near the investment potential of Ferraris with serious racing provenance.

You can easily pick up a Thrupp and Maberly 20/25 for £40,000, so it’s not surprising that in many people’s eyes this particular British coachbuilder has about as much romance as a candlelit meal of spam and Yorkshire puddings…

The Star of India is not the most famous or exclusive, nor the most collectible or most beautiful motorcar we’ve ever seen. Nor is it the most historically-signficant, so I find it odd when I see people almost convincing themselves that it’s somehow worthy of being the most expensive car ever sold at auction.

Maybe I’m wrong and it’ll absolutely fly, but I’ll be amazed if it breaks even €1m…The only way I see it going for more is if someone just has to have it, and convinces themself that it’s worth that much to them.

Have a read of this article from SCM about a TR4 that went for silly money back in 2006 for a parallel.

Oh, and if you are in the market for a Rolls-Royce Phantom II, I noticed that Paul Russell and Co. in the USA (which specialises in 300SL Gullwings) has a stunning Brewster-bodied Henley Roadster for sale – a snip at just $1,000,000…

14 thoughts on “The Emperor’s new car?

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