THE backbone of Bonhams’ September 3 car sale at Goodwood Motor Circuit in Sussex was the little-known but highly impressive collection of the late George Milligen.
Milligen was an East Anglian farmer with a passion for cars
and engineering models which he had kept secreted away on his
Norfolk farm. What made his collection so unusual, and in auction
terms so sought after, was that, having started to collect before
the Second World War, he purchased most of his cars from their
first or early owners, often in very original condition, and then
held on to them.
Many of his pre-war purchases were still in his possession 65
years later (including a sports car bought for his 17th birthday
that he was still driving in 2004). By then many had become vintage
rarities, most with less than 10,000 miles on the clock.
The double bonuses of provenance and originality paid dividends -
no less than £6m of the £7.7m (inc. premium) generated by this sale
was provided by the Milligen property.
Giving a very large helping hand to those statistics was one
particular Milligen purchase, the £3.8m (£4.18m including buyer's
premium) Mercedes Benz SSK.
The 7.1 litre, 1929 two-seater sports tourer was supplied new from
Mercedes' Stuttgart factory to Major John Coats (of Coats cotton
reels fame) of Dundonald, Northern Ireland, and it is to this first
owner that it owes its registration number, GC96. Milligen was its
11th owner, paying £400 for it in 1941, a considerable sum in
troubled wartime Britain for what at the time was the product of an
Mercedes usually supplied their own bodies for their cars, but
Major Coats evidently wanted English coachwork for his, so GC 96
was delivered unbodied and bespoke carriagework added by the
Carlton Carriage Company of Willesden. Given that only around 36 of
these cars are thought to have been built, this extra feature can
only be an added bonus.
Like all the Milligen cars, the Mercedes was in remarkably good
original condition. The main repairs appear to have been to the
radiator core and the engine castings and these are thought to have
come from SSK's half sister, a Mercedes Benz 38/250 known as 'the
black car", which Milligen bought in 1944 for £75, mindful,
perhaps, of the paucity of available spares in the UK.
Bonhams were originally reckoning that the SSK would make around
£1m-1.5m but with the interest shown, expectations kept creeping up
towards the sale date and by the time it came to the auction a
figure nearer to £3m was being bandied about.
In the event there were no fewer than five telephones bidders
still interested at that level, all long-term established
collectors according to Bonhams' chairman Robert Brooks, with the
final price paid by one of them, a continental collector. While
obviously delighted with the result, Mr Brooks also views the price
as significant as "the first time in the modern market that a car
has gone back into the stratosphere".
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