The 1929 Mercedes-Benz SSK from the collection of The late George Milligen that was the highlight of Bonhams’ Goodwood sale at £3.8m.

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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 enemy industry.

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".