It was late on a Wednesday afternoon, and I was hoisting the Coleman tent and sleeping bags onto the roof rack of our Defender 90 in preparation for the weekend’s vintage Land Rover tour. Then the phone rang.

It was Jamie Knight, Group Director of the Bonhams Motoring department.

“Hello Keith,” he said. “It’s Bonhams’ 25th anniversary, and we’re having a little dinner to celebrate it at our London headquarters. I hoped you and your daughter would be able to attend.”

“Terrific,” I replied. “When?”


I thought about it for a second. I was leaving for the Rover trip on Thursday at noon, and planned on camping out for two days, and coming home on Sunday. I had already scheduled a trip the following Wednesday to RM Auctions’ headquarters in Chatham, Canada, to meet with Rob Myers.

But my curiosity was piqued, and my reporter’s sixth sense told me that Bonhams wouldn’t bring me and Alex all the way to London from Portland just for a “dinner.” There had to be more going on, and the only way I was going to find out was to shuck my muddy REI outback clothes on Sunday, slip on my Canali sport coat and board the plane.

I made a quick call to Alex to see if she was available to go to dinner.

“London for dinner on Monday?” she replied. “My bags are already packed.”

So that’s how we found ourselves checking into the Royal Automobile Club on Monday afternoon, freshening up and heading to 101 New Bond Street for the 7 p.m. dinner.


Bonhams founder Robert Brooks was waiting for us when we arrived. “Do you have a way to get important news out quickly?” he asked.

I told him about our “Breaking News” emails that go out to thousands of subscribers, plus our Facebook posts that reach another 10,000 people.

“Then I’ve got a little surprise for you in about 20 minutes,” he said.

As we stood in the dining room, the curtains began to go up. Revealed in a spotlight in the room we overlooked was a Ferrari GTO.

“Here’s why we’re here,” said Robert. “The ex-Violati Ferrari, s/n 3851GT, in the same ownership for 40 years, and never before offered at auction, is going to be sold at our Quail Lodge auction in August. At no reserve.”

For sports-car guys, the GTO is the Holy Grail of automobiles. With just 39 built, they represent the pinnacle of Ferrari’s achievements in the great age of race tourers, when you could drive a car to the track, race it and drive home.

Some say the last one to change hands privately sold near $50m. The numbers bandied about the room went from a low of $35m to a high of $75m.

Come August, we’ll all be there when the market speaks.

The Mercer Raceabout

Alex and I took in the Tower of London the next day and saw a spectacular performance of “The Commitments” at the Palace Theatre that night. Then it was a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call, and off to Heathrow.

She headed back to Portland, and soon enough I was landing in Detroit. A car was waiting, and 45 minutes later I was at RM’s world headquarters in Chatham.

While I’ve known Rob Myers for more than 20 years, I’ve never been to his offices before.

There was quite a contrast to Bonhams’ London offices in the midst of Mayfair. RM’s buildings are spread out in the rolling hills of the Canadian countryside.

RM is celebrating its 35th anniversary, and in the two days I spent there, I achieved a much better understanding of the comprehensive approach that the company and Myers take to the car community.

Specialist Gord Duff picked me up in Chatham in his 1966 GT350, and he gave me the chance to drive it through the countryside to RM. I had barely set down my briefcase when Myers asked if I wanted to drive the 1922 Mercer Type 35R Raceabout they will be offering at Monterey. With an estimate of $2.5m to $3.5m, you can imagine I was quite careful when I shifted the non-synchro gearbox up and down. In the process, I discovered the massive amount of torque available from the 301-ci 4-cylinder engine.

I was encouraged to poke around and discover for myself what RM was all about.

Unlike any other high-end automobile auction company, RM also operates a first-rate restoration and service facility, and four of their restorations have won our hobby’s highest accolade: Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Myers got his start when he opened an auto-repair shop after his sophomore year of high school in 1976. He said, “Once you’ve done paint and bodywork yourself, it becomes much easier to really tell what you’re looking at when someone brings you a car.”

RM’s growth has been meteoric. They held their first auction in Toronto in 1992, purchased the Monterey Auction in 1998, had their first Amelia Island auction in 1998 and inaugural Scottsdale sale in 2000. RM held its first European auction, in association with Sotheby’s, in 2007.

In 2010, the former Kruse Auction company and Auburn facility was acquired, and a second company, Auctions America, was created.

All told, in 2013 RM and Auctions America had 16 auctions and $442 million in gross revenue.

The big two

The collector car community is a young one, compared to the well-established markets for art and antiquities. These two companies, Bonhams and RM, are just 25 and 35 years old, respectively.

Both of these companies have had dramatic growth during their brief tenure. They both have key players who have been with each company from the very beginning. They also both have a continued emphasis on ensuring that their bidders see thoroughly researched and properly represented cars. For both companies, this has been a recipe for success. ♦


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