May 31 2014
Formula One trophies – steering wheels, crash helmets, badges – have long been collected by petrolheads and speed addicts. They are not the only Grand Prix mementos on the grid, however, as a new class of F1 memorabilia revs up to take pole position. Race-used car parts rebuilt as lamps, clocks, chairs, tables, mirrors and coat stands have become highly collectable among motorsport fans and homeowners who favour fast-lane lifestyles.
Unlike high-octane souvenirs displayed in cabinets, these repurposed pieces can be used and enjoyed around the home. And it’s not just their shiny good looks and functionality that account for the growing interest. Many come with certificates verifying their provenance, while a tour of the Infiniti Red Bull Racing factory – normally off limits to F1 fans – is included with some.
If engineering is about finding solutions to problems, then John Haigh, a former vintage-Bentley restorer, has hit on a formula for success. A few years ago he bought an F1 exhaust pipe. After lovingly hand-polishing the part, he turned it into a glass-topped table. “The shiny, organic shape looked so attractive – even my wife liked having it in the house,” he says. This sparked the idea of turning race-used car parts into homewares. All fired up, he approached Red Bull with the idea in 2009 and now sells his Part of the Team collection through online company Racing Gold. The pieces tour physically with the races and are shown in the VIP Paddock Club.
“As an engineer, I fully appreciate the beauty of the work that goes into F1 cars, including parts the public can’t see,” says Haigh. “With our collection, the pieces themselves dictate what they become. Bodywork isn’t really suitable for turning into products for the home, as it’s too brash and bold, although collectors love it.”
Haigh’s most popular designs – and the most difficult to create – are lamps. The Exhaust lamp (£14,400) is made from a hand-polished Inconel exhaust system that once fumed furiously as it travelled at up to 340km/h, with gearbox rings holding the lights. Another large lamp (£4,194) is made from a drive unit that once supported shafts and gears but now stands on Corian. Both lamps come with factory tours, as does the wall-mounted Spoke clock (£8,400).
“The clock’s casing and spokes are made from dozens of F1 parts that are normally hidden,” says Haigh. “Almost all of its components played their part in an Infiniti Red Bull Racing car. The F1 reverse gear has 12 teeth, so is ideal for mounting behind the hands.” The hands themselves are made from titanium pressure-tap pipes and carbon side-impact test components, while 12 mirror-polished titanium torsion springs act as hour markers, set on a matching bearing-spacer cage.
Further Racing Gold designs include a coat stand (£8,400, including factory visit), whose base comprises a magnesium wheel surrounding a mounted carbon-brake-disc assembly that’s cradled by a calliper with brake pads. Its hooks are special joints from the suspension assembly, while an aluminium wheel-nut safety plunger acts as the top finial. Also available are the wall-mounted Disc mirror (£954), employing an F1 carbon brake-disc frame; gleaming salt and pepper pots (£2,154 for the pair) made from gearbox filter holders and supplied in a handmade walnut box; and boxed coasters (£1,194 for a set of four) comprising gearbox dog rings set into Corian. “Each piece is made to order, so people are involved from start to finish in the design’s development – a key part of the fun for fans,” says Haigh.
The driving force behind Memento Exclusives, an online company launched in 2010, is former F1 mechanic Barry Gough. While working the pit lanes with teams such as Jordan Grand Prix and BAR Honda, he spotted a desire for more imaginative souvenirs than branded pens and caps. Now the Lotus Gold F1 Wheel Rim coffee table (£250), whose race-used front wheel is topped by toughened glass, is his bestseller. It’s also, says Gough, “a tangible piece of motor-racing history”.
Even more resonant is the Exhaust Pipe lamp (£3,500) made from Fernando Alonso’s championship-winning 2006 car. Transformed into a sculptural LED light with a carbon-fibre base, it bears its scorch marks like a badge of honour and comes with a certificate of authenticity verifying its Renault F1 heritage. While this piece is unique, a further six lamps from Renault F1 cars will also be available for the same price. “We’ll continue to work with the Formula One teams to find new ways to recycle and preserve valuable racing heritage,” says Gough.
Another company has found one such way. Swapping the roar of engines firing out 18,000rpm for melodies stored on an iPhone or iPod, the iXoost dock (from €6,950) reincarnates exhaust manifolds from 8-, 10- or 12-cylinder F1 cars. Matteo Panini and Mirco Pecorari’s team crafts every unit by hand in Ferrari’s birthplace, Modena, using the manifold as an acoustic chamber, while a 140-watt subwoofer boosts the bass emerging from the iXoost’s polished pipes. The docking station is currently available in Ferrari, Toro Rosso and Ford Cosworth engine parts, among others, and can be customised in a host of metallic finishes to match the two Schedoni leather-coated ports.
Artist Alastair Gibson, meanwhile, takes a purely decorative approach, creating eye-catching sculptures that combine his experience as race-team chief mechanic for BAR Honda with his love of aquatic life. Limited-edition designs such as Carbon Sturgeon (£14,040), Red Engineered Mackerel (£8,280) and Gold Racing Piranha 2 (£8,580) are made from F1 parts using the sport’s engineering technology and come with a detailed specification sheet listing the components’ serial numbers. Geek speak apart, these head-turners make a dramatic addition to modern living spaces.
Fancy taking the driver’s seat yourself? Then turn to RaceChairs, which reworks high-performance-car seats from track and road into one-off chairs. Among others, it has converted a seat removed from a rare new Michael Schumacher special-edition F430 Scuderia/16M into a high-back example ($25,000). The online memorabilia specialist also offers a glass-topped table ($10,000) made from a BBS magnesium wheel with a Goodyear tyre used by Michael Schumacher during the 1997 season. Other tables include one created around a wheel from Red Bull’s 2006 team and one employing BBS parts from open-wheel Formula cars ($2,500 each).
A Ferrari F40 desk ($10,000), whose aluminium frame is painted in the marque’s Rossa Corsa livery, could also tempt fans, especially as a badge graces the carbon-fibre rail holding the glass writing surface. Even greater bragging rights are offered by a clock ($10,000) made from a carbon brake disc removed from Ferrari’s 2006 248 F1 car and signed by its driver, Michael Schumacher, along with Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo and Jean Todt, president of motorsport governing body the FIA. It comes with an authenticity certificate and, as it consists of a key element of the last car raced in an F1 season by the seven-time world champion, its fan appeal is off the rev counter.
But do such items prove sound long-term investments? Toby Wilson, head of Bonhams’ automobilia department, is cautious. “We have a traditional motorsport fanbase that wants a part of F1 history, but not converted into something else. Converted parts lose that edge because they are changed into decorative domestic items.” In 2009 Bonhams sold a glass-topped Goodyear tyre table for £190 (estimate £200-£300), but a lamp made from F1 gears (£1,000-£1,500) failed to reach its reserve in 2011.
Not that this should put the brakes on enthusiasts’ purchasing plans. As Wilson says: “Some pieces made from scrap material look very effective. It’s exciting giving these parts a second life and certainly there are people who want to live with them in their ‘man caves’.” Companies specialising in F1 memorabilia are definitely going full throttle to capitalise on the concept.