How to Buy Your Own Formula One Car
British dealers are selling the money-spinning leftovers from the world’s greatest motor racing series.
Mechanic Barry Gough collects old cars and mechanical bits on his farm deep in the Northamptonshire countryside. But this is no ordinary rural scrapyard – Gough’s extraordinary business is recycling the leftovers of the multi-million-dollar business that is Formula One racing. That means Gough currently has millions of dollars’ worth of former F1 cars for sale plus a huge range of souvenirs, gifts and artefacts from the world’s top motor racing series.
“I’m lucky enough to have the contacts,” he says. “The teams give me a ring and then we go and pick up a truckload of stuff from them.”
As a former number-one mechanic for F1 driver Jacques Villeneuve and staff mechanic for Jordan and BAR teams, Gough is in pole position to deal with the motorsport world. His farm is a long skid away from the famous Silverstone circuit. Now his business, Memento Exclusives, is selling the cars and parts the big-money teams no longer need.
“We take almost everything from a car,” he says. “Body panels, wheels… We have thousands of gear ratios here that we’re going to make clocks with.”
But it’s the whole ex-race cars that are the most exciting goods for sale. Gough supplies F1 cars to collectors all over the world. “I’m just shipping one to Argentina now. He’s just going to show it to his mates and keep it in a garage. It hasn’t got an engine. We’re just putting three engines in three cars for a Chinese collector at the moment and two more are going to Brazil soon.”
The pride of Gough’s paddock at the moment is an original bright yellow Jordan EJ13 F1 car, complete with its original Cosworth V10 engine. The 321km/hr single-seater was driven by Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralph Firman in F1 races in the 2003 season. It features the original steering wheel, a seven-speed sequential Jordan gearbox in a carbon casing and even the original pit equipment, including the pre-heater, fuelling rig and setup sheets. The price is US$543,000.
Gough is clearly an enthusiast, getting quite animated when I suggest that that’s a lot to pay for a car that can’t be used on the road. “Imagine driving an original F1 car on the track and knowing it’s your own car. Nothing beats that,” he says.
There’s another reason to spend up to half a million dollars on a piece of motor racing heritage. Another UK-based F1 dealer, Matthew Mortlock, explains: “An F1 car is like a work of art,” he says. “There’s a high initial cost but it will appreciate in value by around 5–10% a year.”
That’s because these unique racing machines have a built-in rarity value. Only 50 F1 cars are built each year, so the market is never going to be saturated. “If you get the right car you are never going to lose money on it,” agrees Gough. “They are such high-end items.”
Mortlock is based at another farm, this time in Cambridgeshire, and has spent 25 years selling F1 cars to private buyers. “I’ve sold over 100 cars in that time,” says the former parachute instructor and part-time motorsport driver. “Their value depends on which driver used them and how much success they had on the track. Some makes, like Ferrari, Williams and McLaren, also carry a premium.”
The cars come directly from teams and from private collections. Both Mortlock and Gough are proud of hunting down long-lost F1 machines. “Cars have strange pathways,” says Gough. “It may go to the sponsor until links are severed then sold off, maybe to a nightclub or museum, then it might end up with a collector or at auction.”
So, what happens to these former F1 cars when they have been hunted down and sold? Some buyers are searching for a head-turning automotive showpiece for their garden patio or the foyer of their business. Others are passionate collectors with a garage full of history, while others are performance car enthusiasts who want to be able to drive their own unique set of F1 wheels.
“About half are sold with an engine, half purely as a showpiece,” says Mortlock. “Some have the original mechanical specifications, while others are fitted with an easier, more reliable engine.”
Whatever form the car is supplied in, business seems to be booming for Britain’s racecar retailers. Mortlockhas just signed a deal with Sauber team for 26 of their cars. His current stock list includes Patrick Alessi’s former Benetton car from 1997 in full running order (from US$324,000) and Giancarlo Fisichella’s engine-less Benetton from 2000 (US$97,000).
Gough has Jacques Villeneuve’s BAR Honda from 2001 and Jenson Button’s 2004 BAR. Both are without engines and cost around US$77,000. Gough often acts as a broker for publicity-shy clients. Often their more prestigious cars will be mentioned to genuine callers and known collectors – but not advertised in the general stock list.
Dealers like Gough and Mortlock arrange worldwide vehicle transport for their customers and offer a variety of mechanical modifications and maintenance extras. Gough has former F1 mechanics on his team and they can help maintain a customer’s F1 car. “These are often extremely wealthy people. They may have their own team of people or we can run the car for them if they want,” he says.
Mortlock meanwhile is proud that he can offer ‘same-day’ delivery of F1 spare parts to the US East Coast. He told me how he once flew to Canada with a gearbox part and personally handed it over. “It was a very valued customer,” he said. “And he wanted it ‘now’.”
Enthusiasts have always coveted F1 vehicles, but Mortlock suggests a recent trend is encouraging buyers. As well as the pleasure of ownership and the appreciating value, many owners can earn money from their cars. “They can be hired out like a work of art and you can charge an appearance fee to bring it to an event. So, you can use it to race at a track day and be paid for bringing it along.”
For those who can’t afford a whole car, perhaps you’ll be interested in part of one. Everything from nose cones to helmets can be bought. Mortlock has a stock of Benetton race suits for sale (from US$580) while Gough has a 1988 Cosworth ‘show’ engine from a Benetton F1 car on sale for US$3,000.
Memento Exclusives also makes clocks from gears and key rings sliced from racecar bodywork. It recently produced 4,000 paperweights made from F1 panels for a business to distribute to its customers. The task of scavenging every possible part of F1’s residue appears to know no bounds.
As Gough spoke to me he had to raise his voice over the noise in the workshop. I asked what was happening. He explained that Kevlar body panels from Formula One race bodies were being cut up into tiny slices – to make souvenir F1 wallets.
When former taxi-driver and garage-manager Simon Heptinstall switched to journalism he was soon described by Private Eye as “a miserable little squirt”. Luckily, he’s grown a bit since then and cheered up slightly, so only the “squirt” part applies. Since then he’s helped launch BBC Top Gear magazine, worked for Autocar, AutoExpress, Redline, and What Diesel, and helped out behind the scenes on Jeremy Clarkson’s Big Boys’ Toys TV series. Simon has also been an editorial consultant for Toyota, Peugeot, Lexus and BMW and once broke the world record for motoring madness by driving to 12 countries… in one day.