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Lot 516: the 1914 french grand prix 4I litre opel works team car Registration Number: EI 976

Important Edwardian, Pre and Post War Collectors' Cars, Motorcycles and Automobilia

by Sotheby's

November 24, 1997

New York, NY, USA

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Description: Bonnet Number: 30097 Engine Number: 30097 Estimate upon request The five Opel brothers, whose father Adam was a sewing machine maker in Germany, acquired production rights to the Lutzmann, winner of the first competitive motor car event in Germany in 1897, and the Russelsheim company was later granted a licence to build Darracq cars in Germany. Opel presented a 10/12hp car, the first model off the drawing board, at the Hamburg Show in 1902, and the brothers actively campaigned the 10/12 in sports and racing events, collecting over 100 victories. Opel, beloved of His Imperial Majesty the Kaiser, built a team of three cars for the 1914 season, with engines of the conventional dimensions of 94 x 160mm (4441cc), with four overhead-valves per cylinder, operated by a single overhead camshaft, driven by a vertical shaft at the rear end of the engine. Adam Opel entered one of these cars for the 1914 Brooklands Easter Meeting, to be driven by his son Carl Jorns. A driver from the heroic age, Jorns had successfully represented the marque since 1908 and, attired in racing silks of dark green and violet, was 'on scratch' for the '100 Long Handicap' at the banked Weybridge course, lapping at 99.41mph to place third. The epic French Grand Prix of 1914, described by one authority as 'a magnificent and moving finale to the Edwardian era of motor racing', saw the A C F elect to restrict capacity to 4I litres, with a weight limit of 1100kgs. A challenging 23.38 mile circuit was devised near the great industrial centre of Lyons, testing the skills of engineer and driver alike. The starting order was decided beforehand, by ballot, and for the first time the field was started in pairs, at 30 second intervals. Never before had so many spectators attended a Grand Prix and on 4 July, 1914, at 8.00am, Jorns' white Opel (racing No. 2) was flagged off the line at the start of the sixth Grand Prix de L'Automobile Club de France, a contest destined to enter racing legend. Two of the Opels, the lightest cars in the Grand Prix, driven by Emile Erndtmann (racing No. 16) and Franz Breckheimer (racing No. 30) retired after 12 of the 20 laps. Jorns, withstanding a pit-stop to replace a broken radiator cap on the second lap, finished in 10th position, following home a victorious 1-2-3 Mercedes formation. Edwardian Europe had gathered for its last and greatest motor race. Never again would the Grand Prix appear the same. Reverting to Brooklands, Adam Opel sent two of the cars to Weybridge for five races at the final August Bank Holiday fixture in 1914, nominating Jorns as one of the drivers, but, with the world about to change forever, the veteran driver returned hurriedly to Germany. The two works Opels were stored by the concessionaires in Halkin Street, London and, following the Armistice, were obtained by Phil Paddon, of Paddon Brothers, a well-known Rolls-Royce specialist who also dealt in racing cars, and taken to his depot in Cheval Place, off the Brompton Road, formerly the London repair shop of Benz. Opel I retained its bolster-tank Grand Prix body and was registered in Sligo by Paddon Brothers. The second car had been fitted with an Opel-made, single-seater body before the war, with the objective of attacking Percy Lambert's hour record in the Talbot, standing at 103.84mph. Paddon handed both cars over to Captain (later Sir) Alistair Miller to try out and assess their capabilities. Miller, ex-Irish Guards and an R F C pilot, was a colourful figure whose social round, recorded in his diaries, might encompass the Cafe Royal, the Hyde Park Grill, the Grosvenor, the Savoy and the Berkeley Grill - all in the same day. He established his own motor business, trading in used cars, lived at Brooklands for a spell - where he drove all manner of cars - ran a competition department for Wolseley from 1921 and succeeded to a baronetcy during his racing career. Brooklands Track re-opened in 1920 and the two Opels were prepared by S C Cull to Miller's instructions. The modified single-seater was designated Opel I by Miller, and the ex-Jorns car, largely in 1914 Grand Prix trim, and now with a grey bolster-tank, was known as Opel II. Hornsted, the celebrated pre-war Benz driver, was allocated the re-numbered Opel I and H O D Segrave, set to prove to Louis Coatalen his potentiality as a team driver for Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq, (and an investor in Miller's company), worked on, and raced, Opel II. Henry Segrave, old Etonian, war-hero, social idol and preux chevalier of motorsport, was one of the greatest drivers of the 1920s. The first British driver to win a Grand Prix, at Tours in 1923, he was heralded as the 'fastest man on earth' after his record-breaking win at Daytona in 1927, in a Sunbeam. He raised the Land Speed Record again in Golden Arrow and was knighted for his services to British prestige. Seagrave's intrepid spirit - he lost his life on Lake Windemere while in pursuit of the water speed record - is commemorated in The Segrave Trophy, awarded in his memory to those with the 'Spirit of Adventure'. Drama attended the entry of Opel II at the 1920 B A R C Whitsun meeting when record crowds saw Segrave, at speed, well-up on the banking, lose the off-side rear tyre without warning. The car swerved, settled on the rim, and leapt upwards to the edge of the banking, but was checked and held square with, to quote The Motor 'thrilling skill by its driver'. Segrave, undeterred by his experience, brought the Opel out on the concrete again, easily winning The Whitsun Spring Race form scratch at 88Imph, with a best lap at 100.41mph. On the Western Esplanade in the Westcliff Speed Trials in July of the same year, Segrave took first in class in the Opel. Cull, writing in 1954, recalled 'strangely enough the single-seater had nothing over its two seater stable mate'. The same correspondent suggests Opel II was sold by Phil Paddon in August, 1920, to a Miss G E Curie, who lived in Yorkshire. The Opel was next heard of in Fleet, Hampshire, where it was exhibited at the crossroads outside the 'Oatsheaf'. The publican's daughter is rumoured to have sometimes driven the car. In 1931, the car, painted maroon, was offered for sale by B M C Motors of Brick Street, London and acquired by M N Mavrogordato for GB40.00, GB5.00 below the asking price. The car was written up by Kent Karslake in Motor Sport and, when the story appeared in the December, 1931, issue, the vendor's attempted, without success, to persuade Mavro, as he was known, to sell the Opel back. It has since remained in the same family ownership. Noel Mavrogordato, a former Cambridge University Clubman, apprenticed to De Havilland at Stag Lane, bought the Opel for use on the road and to tow his racing motorcycles, on a trailer, to various meetings such as Syston, Donington and Brooklands. Mavro, a veteran of eleven Amateur and Manx GP and one TT, flew as a commercial pilot between the wars, was the owner of three bi-planes, including a Bristol Fighter, and piloted Lord Nuffield's Leopard Moth. The Opel, re-painted white, gave good service as an ordinary car - the wheels were rebuilt in 1932, the coil ignition dates from 1934 and the AT speedometer is probably of 1920's origin - and in 1938, following the introduction of the VSCC Edwardian class, was timed on Shelsley Walsh at 51.17 seconds. The car appeared in an early BBC television film, History of Motor Racing, at Crystal Palace in 1939. Laid up throughout the war, while Mavro was a Flying Instructor, it was decided to strip the Opel down for painting and careful re-assembly. Work was in progress by July, 1969, to restore the historic car to its ancient glory and finally completed on 24 December, 1976. The restoration of this, so nearly, one hundred per-cent original Edwardian, was the work of a great enthusiast. Mavro, writing to Patrick Lindsay, one-time owner of the single seater Opel and fancier of Opel II, of his test drive after completion, observed: 'I have not forgotten how to drive it, after a lapse of 38 years! It was a real thrill, and the car ran perfectly as always'. The original German Serck brass radiator, the stone guard, and the bonnet, stamped 30097 on the brass hinge, and with 13 inclined louvres, were retained and the body, of angle-steel framing covered with aluminium, and painted white, is original. The seats were re-upholstered by a Bournemouth firm and the tail is offset by the original bolster fuel tank, and a 'pepperpot' on the end of the exhaust pipe. The wooden handle gear and brake levers are outside the cockpit. On the big, four-spoke, wood-rimmed steering wheel are the two levers, in their quadrants, for ignition advance and retard and hand throttle. There is a tool-box under the petrol tank and the spare wheel is behind the tank. Kigass, a petrol priming device, is fitted to the near-side front dumb-iron to assist starting. Taxed from April, 1977, the car was featured by Bill Boddy, editor of Motor Sport in September of the same year and was a star turn when driven to Brooklands reunions. Mavro confirmed 70mph as a cruising speed, and used the car for local excursions. M N Mavrogordato died in 1984, when ownership passed to his son and daughter. Stored by the family in Hereford it is now a number of years since the engine was started, and the brass tubed radiator requires attention. Essentially, a general recommissioning of the car is recommended. The car, offered with a V5 registration document, is thought to have covered a low mileage overall. In 1978, in a letter to Motor Sport, Mavro wrote: 'In all important respects, the car is exactly as it ran in 1914 French Grand Prix'. The Opel remains, unquestionably in a category of one. An exceptional opportunity to acquire a surviving Grand Prix car of inestimable historical importance, from the now-far distant period of Edwardian road-racing.

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