Taking pride of place will be an ex-Kitty Maurice 1955 Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupé. Spotted racing at several Members’ Meetings in the period, the beautiful Sea Green coupé is offered with an estimate of £600,000-700,000. Knight can’t wait to get it under his hammer.
“It’s a pretty rare car,” he explains. “Not many coupés were built. It’s very much what you would call a gentleman drivers’ type of car. A lot of people bought these cars with half an eye on getting them to go racing as well. “
Knight has been there since the very beginning of Bonhams’ excellent relationship with Goodwood. The firm he worked for, Brooks, was the founding sponsor of the Goodwood event, which started with the Festival of Speed, now over 20 years old.
After reconfiguring parts of the race track, Goodwood’s Lord March began holding the Revival event. It was in the Revival’s first year that Lord March told Knight that he wanted to keep it predominantly pre-1966 in theme and therefore he didn’t think an auction would be appropriate. But he soon changed his mind and told Knight that it would be a good idea to hold an auction too. They have not looked back.
“We were absolutely delighted that Lord March wanted us to get involved,” says Knight. “This year we’ll be in a different spot from the one we normally have with the Revival and we’ll be on the circuit, very close to the chicane. There’ll be a tent and anywhere between 80 and 100 cars in the sale. There will be a leaning towards sports cars and also a smattering of competition cars, whether they’re single seaters, racing cars or some touring cars too.”
Knight’s own passion for cars started in a roundabout way. He was born in Brighton, the son of an antiques dealer and despite never planning to work in the motor trade, at nearly 51, he has become one of Europe’s most experienced and influential auctioneers. He sounds almost bemused as he recounts his story.
“Unlike a lot of guys I work with at other auction houses and the motorcar industry, mine’s a fairly unusual story, in so far as I sort of fell into this business, rather than having a yearning for it in my younger days,” he admits.
“I was very kindly asked to leave college for basically having too much fun and not working,” he laughs. “Dad said ‘you’re up the golf club everyday – you’re not going to be a professional golfer so you need to find something else to do’. I said that I didn’t really know what that was and he suggested the antiques trade and said the best way to get myself a job there was to go up to an auction house in London and serve an apprenticeship. More to keep him quiet than anything else I wrote to various auction houses in London, one of whom replied – Christies.
“I had an interview with them just before my 18th birthday. They asked if I knew what hard work was and I said ‘yes, I do – I worked on a building site last summer to earn a few pounds’. I didn’t tell them that I quit after a week because it was so much hard work.”
Knight started working for Christies as a porter. A few years later he was offered a position in the motoring department, doing automobilia (car mascots and painting). At this point, he had little knowledge of cars.
“I loved cars, but only had a school boys’ interest in them. I certainly wasn’t the sort of guy who could ever tell you how many times Jaguar had won LeMons in the 1950s. In fairness, I wouldn’t have even been able to tell you that there was a race called LeMons.”
Knight left Christies, along with Robert Brooks, who was head of cars, in 1989, when they set up their own company called Brooks, a specialist collectors’ motorcar auctioneers. In 2000 Brooks acquired Bonhams and it has been known as Bonhams ever since. There have been numerous, large sales. The most valuable car Knight has ever sold was the oldest surviving Rolls Royce, which dated from 1904. It sold for just over £3.5 million pounds, which was a then world record price for an auction of a Rolls, or any veteran car. But it’s some of the smaller sales that have been the highlight of Knight’s career.
“There are a number of cars that have done it for me and it isn’t necessarily through value,” he says. “Like the proverbial nurse or doctor you do sometimes get involved with your patients – or in this case your sellers. If you don’t recognise that when you’re handling a car for a client it’s very often their most valuable asset after their house, then you’re not in the right job. It is a big responsibility. Sometimes people are selling for financial or emotional reasons and you do strike up these great relationships.”
One particular sale sticks in Knight’s mind. In the early 1990s, he got a phone call from what was “evidentially a little old lady”, phoning from a caravan park in Bracknell. Her husband had recently passed away and had told her that there was a car in lock up, which would provide a good nest egg. Knight went to investigate.
“It was very touching. She was a lady of incredibly modest means and you could tell that anything would make a change to her lifestyle. The car turned out to be a Lee Francis Hyper 1.5 litre super charged car. It was in pretty sorry but quite an important car and had been one of the team’s cars. One of the works drivers in 1930s was a chap called Green. We offered this car for sale, it did very well against estimate and we sold it to the son of Mr Green, the period works racing driver, for £25,000. The woman was so delighted. Sales like this really make this business a joy.”