According to Michael Clerizo, George Daniels’ biographer, the recently deceased horological legend considered himself “a mechanic” as much as he was a master watchmaker. As Clerizo learned from Daniels himself, his passions were not merely the well-known duopoly of watches and cars, but mechanical objects in all their forms. Daniels’s obsession began with clocks and watches, followed by gramophones, bicycles, film projectors, and—after leaving the army following World War II—motorcycles, cars, and cameras.
A number of auctions will dispose of Daniels’ collections, including one for his clocks and watches and another for his cameras. But the sale that might generate the most publicity is that of his cars. Appropriately, Bonham’s will hold the auction at the Goodwood Festival of Speed on Friday, June 29, 2012, when the seven automobiles and two motorcycles are expected to fetch in excess of $12.7 million.
Bonham’s, when pressed, declined to provide estimates vehicle-by-vehicle, understandable when two of them, connected to the racing driver Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin, could exceed any sane figures for similar cars with less imposing provenance. Clearly, Daniels was as discerning about cars as he was about timepieces, so these could break a few records.
Last year, Daniels showed Clerizo an email with an offer from a collector for £3,000,000 ($4,766,000) for the undoubted star of the collection: the ex-Birkin 1929-32 Bentley 4½-litre Supercharged Single-Seater, which set the Brooklands outer circuit lap record at more than 137 mph in 1931. All 4½-litre Bentleys are the stuff of dreams, but this one has the sort of history that will have museums bidding heavily. It would certainly loom large in any collection of early Bentleys: some experts expect it to attract bids in excess of $6.3million.
In addition to working on his own vehicles, Daniels also drove them “in anger,” taking part in numerous vintage car races until he was politely “warned off” by the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) Motor Sports Association on grounds of age. A huge fan of the legendary “Bentley Boy” Birkin, Daniels also acquired a second vehicle associated with the driver: the 1932 Alfa Ro.meo 8C-2300 Long Chassis Touring Spider that formed part of that year’s Le Mans Team, Birkin sharing driving duties with another legend, his friend Earl Howe.
Also able to extract seven-figure sums from enthusiasts, this Italian classic is powered by a supercharged, straight-8, twin-overhead camshaft engine. It was re-bodied after its retirement from competition by Pinin Farina and was owned by Mussolini’s Air Force Minister and heir apparent, Marshal Italo Balbo. It therefore has triple appeal: as a pre-war Alfa, as a Birkin car, and as one with a strong historical link to World War II.
These two alone could exceed the Bonham’s’ total estimate, but the remaining cars are also likely to cause hearts to flutter. They include another ultra-rarity in the Itala 100hp Grand Prix Car, the ex-1908 French Grand Prix and 1910 Brooklands All-comers Plate winner, with a fastest lap at 101.8mph. For years, Daniels counted it among his dream cars, never expecting to actually own it. “Yet suddenly, and without warning,” he wrote, “came the opportunity to acquire it and I did so without hesitation. It is a giant among motor cars with a colossal stride propelled by its four-cylinder, 12-litre engine.”
A six-figure bid should secure the gorgeous (and drivable) 1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback by H.J. Mulliner, notable for having only three owners from new and with extensive service history. As similar vehicles regularly fetch between $400,000 and $700,000, this could prove to be another surprise, should the Daniels connection inspire a car enthusiast with a love for watches.
Also useable in modern condition is the 1974 Jaguar E-type Series III V-12 roadster. Its appeal is enhanced by a low 54,000 miles on the clock from new. Rough ones can be found for $40,000, mint for $80,000-$100,000, but the low mileage on this example might push it even higher.
Less easy to predict are the results for two vehicles with royal connections. The ex-Maharaja of Bhavnagar’s 1929 4½-litre Bentley Tourer by Vanden Plas has special appeal for Bentley enthusiasts, but it could also attract bids from Indian collectors interested in repatriating vehicles connected to their heritage. Daniels wrote of the 1907 Daimler 45hp Roi-de-Belges Tourer, built for the Earl of Craven, “Allowing for its idiosyncratic behavior and its occasional bouts of sulking and refusing to cooperate, it is my favorite car—the car I would keep if allowed only one.”
Clerizo believes that certain charities will benefit from the sale. As he is still at work on the upcoming biography, George Daniels: A Master Watchmaker And His Art, it is possible that the results of the auctions might make it into the text before publication. Clerizo’s book will be published by Thames & Hudson in November. Daniels’ well-known autobiography, All In Good Time – Reflections Of A Watchmaker, will also appear in a new edition, with more photos and a chapter each from watchmaker Roger Smith and close friend David Newman.