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24th of November 2017

Automotive



Bothwell auction nets over $13 million, including $7.3 million Peugeot GP car

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The Bonhams auction at the Bothwell Ranch Nov. 11 brought in over $13 million in sales, including a significant 1914 Peugeot grand prix race car that topped the charts at $7.26 million. But the whole thing was more of a love story than anything else.

It’s the story of Lindley Bothwell’s love of his wife of 38 years Ann, but also of his love of his collection of great cars, cars that go back over 100 years. It’s also the story of Ann’s honoring her husband’s legacy by keeping the collection together for three decades after Lindley passed away in 1986. There’s a lot going on here.

But let’s start with the cars. 

1912 Cadillac Model 30 Speedster

1912 Cadillac Model 30 Speedster

“Lindley Sr. was collecting in the 1920s and ‘30s, before even Bill Harrah, whose collection became the National Auto Museum,” said Malcolm Barber, co-chairman of Bonhams and one of the auctioneers at the sale.

Lindley Bothwell got his first car in 1925 and kept collecting after he and Ann got married in 1948. In 1949 he bought that $7 million Peugeot that won Indy in 1916 and a 1908 Benz 75/105HP Prinz-Heinrich Raceabout that Barney Oldfield used to race.

But he didn’t just park them in a garage. He raced them, as many of them as he could find drivers to drive. You see, Lindley Bothwell basically invented vintage racing, even though at the time there was nobody to race against. He would coax as many friends and fellow racers as he could gather together, then he’d hand out the cars and they would all have at it. Bothwell vintage races took place from the streets of Santa Monica to Catalina Island. In the 1950s he ran his own tribute to the Vanderbilt Cup at Riverside Raceway, supplying most if not all the cars. This was decades before Steve Earle started the Monterey Historics.

At its peak the Bothwell collection numbered 88 cars.

“By that stage Bothwell was considered to own the largest collection of cars in the nation,” according to Bonhams. 

Bothwells and his race cars from Sports Illustrated

Bothwells and his race cars from Sports Illustrated

There is a Sports Illustrated photo from 1957 that features 13 two-seater race cars from pre- and post-WWI, all of which Bothwell and various very lucky friends raced. The photo included the Peugeot, Benz, Mercedes, as well as a Buick and Pope Hartford that sold Saturday.

“In a number of respects Lindley was utterly visionary,” read Bonhams. “The cars were not only to be saved, they were to be shared and enjoyed with friends.”

Bothwell kept all the cars in green corrugated metal sheds on the 14 acres of his Woodland Hills, Calif. orange grove, where he and Ann lived in a modest home under almost 2000 massive Valencia orange trees. He kept them there for decades, for his entire adult life. Then, most amazingly of all, after Lindley passed away in 1986, the collection was preserved by his son Lindley Jr., then by Ann and a dedicated force of volunteers and friends for the next 31 years. 

1914 Peugeot L45 Grand Prix car

1914 Peugeot L45 Grand Prix car went for $7.3 million

“I started coming here when I was five years old,” said collector Rick Rawlins, who was among those who preserved and maintained many of the cars, including the Peugeot and the Benz. Rawlins took some of the cars - and Ann Bothwell with them - to various automotive events around the world, including Goodwood and Pebble Beach. It was Rick who drove the Benz up the driveway at the Goodwood Festival of Speed with Ann in the passenger seat.

“Ann was kind of like my adopted grandma,” Rawlins said.

Jay Leno was among many others known to come by and work on the Bothwell cars. Leno appeared on sale day, too.

The auction was set in motion when Ann died last year, preceded in death by Lindley’s two children. The collection at that point was more or less in the hands of five grandchildren. It’s hard to get five people of any stripe to agree about anything, but the upshot is the collection was put up for sale last Saturday Nov. 11 on the grounds of the Bothwell Ranch. It was quite a sale.

1914 Peugeot L45 Grand Prix car side view

1914 Peugeot L45 Grand Prix car

After almost 400 lots of toy trains, two real trains and scads of automobilia, almost all of which sold, the cars came. For the most part there were neither bargains nor surprises. Most of the Model Ts went for a little over the pre-auction estimates.

The Peugeot was the eighth car on the block. Not only had its sisteer car won the Indy 500 in 1916, which may have given it provenance enough, but more importantly it influenced an import race car engine builder.

“It’s the most significant car in American auto racing history,” said historian Harold Osmer, who was sitting next to us at the auction.

“It was this car and its stablemates that came to Southern California in the late ‘teens touting new French engine technology,” Osmer would later write. “Upon finding themselves in the Los Angeles shop of Harry Miller for repairs, Miller not only repaired them to racing condition, he learned a lot about how to complete his own engine designs.

“Miller engines dominated the racing scene throughout the 1920s. Miller later sold off to Fred Offenshauser, whose engines were the premier powerplant in American racing for decades. The Peugeot sold today is a primary reason Miller engines existed, which begat Offys, and thus became the most significant car in American auto racing history. You can argue the point if you like. You’d just be wrong.”

Peugeot engine

The L45 in the Peugeot referred to a 4.5-liter inline four with with gear-driven dohc and four valves per cylinder

Bidding on the Peugeot started – started! – at one million dollars. Bids came in from all over the world, going up in increments of $100,000. They ping-ponged all over the globe for a while then went to an American buyer for $6.6 million, which, with commissions, etc. made the transaction $7,260,000.

Twleve cars later it was the Prinz-Heinrich Benz that came up for sale. American racing showman Barney Oldfield had set a land speed record on Daytona Beach of 131.7 mph in the Benz, eliciting a congratulatory cable from the Kaiser himself. Bidding on the Benz finally parked at $1.7 million. Add ten percent commission to that and you’re bumping up against the two million-dollar mark.

The 1908 Mercedes-Simplex 65HP Two-Seater Raceabout that ran in Bothwell’s Catalina Island races and other events, hammered for $975,000, or over a mil with commission.

There were other cars, lots of Model Ts, a stately 1913 Fiat Model 56 7-passenger Touring that went for a bargain $55,000 and a 1925 Locomobile 48 Series 7 Town Car that sold for $47,000. Everything sold.

“Well, I guess nothing lasts forever, right?” said Rawlins afterwards. “It’s time to let other people enjoy the cars.”

“Somebody else will be able to enjoy it, get out and run it around,” said Lindley’s grandson Bruce Bothwell, one of five heirs that will share in proceeds from the estate.

What will happen to the 14-acre orange grove is still not clear. It will almost certainly be sold, we would guess, if we had to guess. And if sold, it would almost certainly be subdivided, with the orange trees… well, we don’t want to think about the potential loss of 2000 healthy, productive orange trees.

When the auction was over and they were covering up the cars, with most of the bidders gone, we lingered just a while on the gravel road that bisected Rancho Rinconada, as Lindley referred to the place. Even though the Ventura Freeway is only six blocks away, and Ventura Blvd. was only five, you can’t hear a thing on the property. The 25-foot-tall orange trees insulate you and isolate you from everything in the outside world. Standing there in the darkness was like being transported back 100 years before The Valley was carpeted with strip malls and snarled with traffic-clogged intersections, before the Burbank  and Van Nuys Airports were built, when the whole place was just orange groves from one end to the other. Maybe someone will buy this whole place and work the ranch like Lindley and Ann did for almost 70 years. Maybe the whole thing can be saved. Who knows? Crazier things have happened out here in Dreamland. Maybe they still will. 

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