Wild horses: London’s most curious car collection

Tucked away in the centre of London, a superb collection of vintage and classic cars

The car, more than any other man-made object, has shaped the world we live in. So it is no surprise that some of the most passionate collectors are those who have dedicated their energy to the love affair between man and machine. I was lucky enough to meet and spend an afternoon with one such man, looking through his extraordinary collection of cars spanning half a century. He tells me this particular collection is an example of a very simple philosophy: buy the best example of what you like, enjoy it, and look after it.

Our collector did not spend his youth staring at delicate pieces of carbon fibre behind a velvet rope, or chasing glitzy special editions just to lock them away. He tells me about his car culture, of a time before computer aids, traction control, cynical mass marketing. Just you, the gas pedal, and your intuition, on the limit. You drove the hell out of your treasured cars; frenzied hill climbs turning into coastline blasts and racetrack escapades, usually followed by some quick repairs by the side of the road, digging around in the innards of a ticking Italian or British sports car.

The social media bonfire of the modern luxury car scene doesn’t catch any of this; it feels empty, soullessly performative. So these cars are time capsules – capturing not just the aesthetics and technology of the past, but the spirit of the people who enjoyed them and the culture they were enjoyed in.

We start with a 1961 Chrysler Newport. It’s the embodiment of the late 50s / early 60s American aesthetic, a primordial hunk of automobile decorated with all the trimmings of the jet age. Its elegant whitewall tyres give the Newport a confident presence, and chrome-trimmed wings longer than some British sports cars of the time fly out towards the rear bumper. The interior is a cave of red leather punctuated by more chrome, looking like some sort of intergalactic diner.

1961 Chrysler Newport

Before I can order a milkshake and put on a record, our host smiles and clicks a few heavy buttons on the dashboard. Suddenly the cockpit glows with electroluminescent light. The AstraDome instrument cluster has come alive, a plastic bubble housing rocket-ship gauges, each with a tiny orange indicator stalk. Not a bad party trick for what was an entry-level coupe at the time, letting customers buy into the Chrysler name without paying Chrysler prices.

If you wonder what aspiration felt like in 1960s America, this is it: a rumbling V8, devil-may-care styling, and the open road. It’s a compelling formula, and the Newport still has a certain double-take quality to it even today.

1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4

Our collector gently pulls back a cover to reveal a joyous burst of Ferrari yellow. It’s one of the finest vehicles in the collection – a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4, in absolutely pristine condition. Some would say that the 275 GTB is the most beautiful berlinetta Ferrari ever designed, one of a line of legendary V12 GTs produced in the 1960s; the GTB/4, released to the world in 1966 with a second overhead camshaft on each cylinder bank and 20hp over the GTB, was arguably the best version to drive. With approximately 330 examples produced before production moved to the 365 GTB/4, it is also now one of the rarest sporting Ferrari grand tourers in existence.

This is a car which rewards an unashamed gawp. Even standing still, the Pininfarina-designed bodywork is endowed with a the kind of beauty you find in the natural world. It’s a creature designed to flow through the air, with its elegantly swooping bonnet and cooling slats at the side like gills. It’s curved and sensual on one hand, muscular and performative on the other. The interior is simple and sober for Ferrari; it has been maintained perfectly since it was bought.

Amusingly, the richly varnished wooden steering wheel has a vintage Heuer lap timer clipped to it – the essential accessory for the gentleman racer in search of a good time,. Car aficionados of a delicate disposition would be shocked to find out that our collector has driven this Ferrari spiritedly all over Europe, without much concern for putting thousands of miles into the machine. No regrets, he says. And he’s quite right too.

Our collector moves on to uncover some instantly recognisable shapes – his prized Jaguar E Types. The 1962 Coupe and the 1966 roadster are mirror images of each other, both black, shining, and immaculate inside and out. When Jaguar sprang the E-Type onto an unsuspecting public in 1961 at the Geneva Salon (driven there at breakneck speed across Europe by legendary test driver Norman Dewis), it caused a revolution.

Here was a new breed of sports car which could reach 60 mph in 6.7 seconds and pull on to a top speed of over 150mph. Malcolm Sayer’s elegant design was beauty captured in curved steel; it was an immediate icon of British design, leaping straight from the drawing board to the road. Best of all, this extraordinary car, derived from the Le Mans winning D-Type, could be yours for just over $5000 – the equivalent of $40,000 today. Many manufacturers since have tried to match the beauty of the E-Type; many have failed. The cult appeal of this car is as powerful today as it ever was.

But there’s more. Where the regular E Types are beautiful sculptures, the silvery Low-Drag Coupe is something more visceral. It’s a Jaguar on the hunt, with muscular haunches, magnesium wheels, and 16-gauge aluminium hand-welded bodywork looking like the fuselage of a combat plane. Jaguar only made a dozen lightweight E-Types for racing; this particular car is a recreation of the famous (and one-off) factory-modified Lindner/Nöcker Low-Drag Coupe of 1962, which went on to lead the field at the Nurburgring 1000km in 1963, keeping even Ferrari at bay. Malcolm Sayer had a hand in shaping the fastback styling of the original; in the 1964 running of Le Mans it reached speeds of almost 170mph, thanks to the aerodynamic shape and 340hp under the bonnet.

This example is fully race-prepped, taking the best of the original Nöcker drawings and adding some modern performance and safety features. More at home ripping round Goodwood than sitting in a garage, the Low Drag is for those of us who like their Jaguars as wild as can be.

1958 Ferrari Testa Rossa

The 1958 Ferrari Testa Rossa is an icon of the golden age of motorsport. It is not only famed for the romance of its Scaglietti-designed body, but for a flawless racing pedigree which saw it dominate the field in some of the world’s greatest races of its day. Le Mans ‘58, ‘60, ‘61, the Sebring 12 hours, the Nurburgring 1000, the Targa Florio; in the hands of some of the world’s greatest racing drivers, Enzo Ferrari’s machine was as fearsome in competition as it was beautiful, and has gone down in history as one of the finest road racing cars ever to come out of Maranello. Only 34 were made between 1956 and 1961; while this example is a carefully constructed recreation, unmolested original Testa Rossas are some of the most valuable vintage cars in the world.

Part of the beauty of this car is also born of practicality. Scaglietti’s elegant ‘pontoon fender’ front-end design channels air towards the drum brakes, which were fitted to early cars and needed significant cooling when put to their intended use. While works cars were soon updated with disc brakes and more aerodynamically stable bodywork, the pontoon fender style was characteristic of customer Testa Rossas and quickly became a universally recognisable part of the Ferrari design language.  

We lift off the bonnet to reveal the gleaming crown jewels: Gioacchino Colombo’s 3.0l V12 from the 250 GT, putting out 100hp per litre of displacement and adorned with the famed ‘redhead’ camshaft covers. Six polished two-barrel Weber carburettors reach upwards like cathedral spires; fire up the engine and the room fills with the relentless chant of the gasoline cult. The sound of a 250 Testa Rossa is unmistakeable; it is the definitive sound of the vintage race car.

1971 Ferrari GTS/4 ‘Daytona’ Spider

At the back of the garage on a ramp sits a Ferrari 365 GTS/4 spider, or as it is better known, the Ferrari Daytona, nicknamed in honour of Ferrari’s famous 1-2-3 victory at the 1967 24 Hours of Daytona. It looks altogether more modern that its predecessor, the gently flowing 275 GTB; Leonardo Fioravanti’s masculine, aggressive wedge shapes, immediately popular on release, would be echoed in his designs for later Ferraris such as the 308 GTB, 328 and the 1984 Testarossa. Between 1968 and 1973, Ferrari made only around 1400 Daytonas, of which 120-odd were factory spiders such as this. To see one on the road today is therefore a rare treat.

On release the 365 GTB/4 coupe, with a maximum speed of 174mph, was the fastest production car in the world. However the Daytona was a beautiful sunset rather than a dawn, the last of a line of front-engined V12 GTs from Ferrari. Under the bonnet was an advanced iteration of the sonorous Colombo V12 which had powered Ferrari’s greatest race cars since the 1940s. This particular example, with its cream and burgundy leather interior and richly embroidered floor mats, is Ferrari heraldry at its finest. Today it seems a fitting garb for a tilt down a sunny coastal highway. The throaty roar of a V12, the wind in your hair. It’s the perfect combination.

1977 Maserati Khamsin

At the 1973 Paris Motor Show, Marcello Gandini of Bertone performed the last rites for the muscular curves of the outgoing Ghibli, and presented a new aesthetic to a curious automotive world; that of the wedge. The Maserati Khamsin, named after a hot desert wind which blows through North Africa, is a car famed for its angular lines and oddly compelling proportions. It was every inch the sophisticated grand tourer, with the brute force of its  4.9l V8 engine mitigated by sophisticated braking, clutch and power-steering systems from… Citroën.

Yes, it bears remembering that there was a period in the late 60s and 70s where Maserati, that most Italian of car companies, was mostly French. Cue independent suspension for each wheel, a complex hydraulic system, asymmetric vents on the bonnet, and a reputation for running beautifully when well maintained, and being ruinously expensive when neglected. Only 430 Khamsins were ever produced, which makes the this car an extremely rare sight today.

1985 Lamborghini Countach

The Lamborghini Countach, Marcello Gandini’s 1970s adventure into futurism, looks like the kind of thing you’d doodle at school – NACA ducts everywhere, gargantuan air scoops, scissor doors. But it worked for Lamborghini, sending a generation of schoolboys in search of posters to put up on their bedroom walls. Some of the older ones, like F1 impresario Walter Wolf, wanted something even more flamboyant from this rarity of the automotive world. His modified LP400s gave the world the iconic Countach form in the late 70s – flared arches, uprated engines, and enormous rear tyres.

Lamborghini realised this was a winning formula, and development continued until in 1985 they decided it was time for a super-Countach. In came a larger, 5.2L V12 engine with four valves per cylinder, and homologation into the madness of FIA Group B (albeit slightly too late for competition); out went any remaining rear visibility, thanks to the downdraft carburettors on top of the engine. 450-odd horses of Italian hopes and dreams sits rumbling in your garage – behold, the Countach LP5000 Quattrovalvole.

This is a car difficult to drive well. The blind spots are terrifying, the power is monstrous, the clutch is heavy, and the steering wheel squats in your lap in the finest Italian tradition. It is, quite simply, an icon of impracticality. But underneath it all there is a deep charm – of a car so ridiculous, so pompously, primitively masculine, that it’s mere existence is a kind of performative art. Look at those gold wheels, the entirely useless wing, the headlights that are never supposed to be used. Before the Bugatti EB110 came to steal hearts in the early 1990s, the Countach ruled the roost as the car you’d drive if you were That Guy. Today you’d be forgiven for simply rolling it into a gallery and inviting people to stare at this 1980s fever dream. You want to drive it on the road? Don’t be ridiculous.

1987 Ferrari Testarossa Spider

If a Countach was not to your taste, there was always the Ferrari Testarossa, released in 1984. The spiritual successor to the angular Daytona, and named in honour of the 1957 Ferrari which went on to win Le Mans, it is one of the most recognisable modern supercars ever produced. Pininfarina’s masterstroke for the 1984 Testarossa was to fuse the boxy appeal of the previous BB 512i with some daring aerodynamic features, including the iconic ‘egg slicer’ side strakes – the essential accessory for every budding 1980s lothario. A rear-mid mounted 4.9l flat-12 engine pushed 380 horsepower through the rear wheels; at the time, the Testarossa was highly praised for its driveability and road performance, with the engine considered one of the finest ever produced by Ferrari.

While the entire Testarossa production run (including later 512TR and F512M models) totalled about 10,000 examples,  only one factory Testarossa Spider (for Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli, no less) was produced. Spider conversions such as this example were however available in the aftermarket from specialist firms such as Straman, ready to be deployed at beach-side locations the world over. 

If asked about the Testarossa, most regular people would probably recall the desirable sparkling white supercar given a starring role in the TV series Miami Vice. Its cultural impact went deeper than that, however. In SEGA’s 1986 arcade game OutRun, you drive a Testarossa Spider at absurd speeds along winding coastal highways, with blonde passenger in tow. In the true spirit of automotive escapism, the blurb on the box I think captures the spirit of owning and driving a Testarossa better than a hundred po-faced collectors’ gazettes: “You’re cool, the engine’s hot, the girl’s gorgeous, a tank full of gas and an open road…the rest is up to you!”. You can’t get more Ferrari than that, surely.

2001 Mini Cooper S

And now for something completely different. From a distance it looks like a familiar Mini Cooper S from 2000, one of the last examples (Mk VII) of a model line which had started with the British Motor Corporation’s iconic and somewhat underpowered Mk I Mini in 1959. But we’ll get to what makes this particular car special in a minute.

Not just a fun little tearaway, the original Mini had an impact far more impressive than its designers ever expected. When F1 team owner John Cooper got his hands on this potential pocket rocket in 1960, he bored out the engine and fitted racing carburettors and disc brakes; soon enough track legends Graham Hill, Jack Brabham and Jim Clark were throwing it around Silverstone.  But it was rallying where the Mini was to make its biggest impact – victory for Paddy Hopkirk in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally was the first of four triumphs between 1964 and 1967 for the little car, prompting wild enthusiasm in Britain. The Mini’s place in the public imagination was secured and production continued until 2000, with frequent cameos on screen, from the Italian Job to the Bourne Identity to Mr Bean cementing the car as a classic piece of British design. 

All well and good – but what is a 40hp Mini doing in the company of vintage supercars? Well, from the outside it looks like an innocent runabout. But then you notice the Cooper Works S badging, and the stout wheels, and the rather modern interior with some tasty looking gauges. And a roll cage. Our collector’s eyes twinkle as he admits that this is more of a “maxi” than a mini – in that this particular car has been very heavily modified to put out around 160hp. It’s actually a track-ready monster which can bully banker Boxsters without breaking a sweat. How many victims has it claimed, I wonder out loud. A fair few, our collector laughs. I have an immediate urge to go prove my worth in this pugilistic tiddler. Then it hits me. Standing apart from its peers, surrounded by Europeans, an overperforming underdog with dreams beyond its station…

It’s Britain on four wheels, isn’t it?