The driving forces behind a collection of Gulf racing cars

One man’s boyhood dream and another’s “lightbulb moment” are driving forces behind an extensive collection of blue and orange Gulf liveried racing cars. Simon de Burton reports. Portrait by Justin Leighton

Adrian Hamilton (left) and Roald Goethe with cars from the RofGo Collection
Adrian Hamilton (left) and Roald Goethe with cars from the RofGo Collection | Image: Justin Leighton

Few colours in the car world are quite so evocative as the combination of blue and orange, a livery that became part of motorsport history during the epic endurance races of the 1960s and 1970s, when it appeared on the Gulf-sponsored Ford GT40s, Porsche 917s and Mirage GR8s that thrilled the crowds with their performances at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Like many a schoolboy of the era, Roald Goethe cherished a model of a Gulf GT40 and longed to own a real one. Fast forward to the present day, and a decidedly successful career in the commodities business has enabled Goethe not only to acquire an ex-works Gulf GT40, but no fewer than 33 other significant cars that raced in the firm’s celebrated colours.

The RofGo Collection Porsche 917 in action at Le Mans in 1971
The RofGo Collection Porsche 917 in action at Le Mans in 1971 | Image: GP Library

Among them are two McLaren GTRs that competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Porsche 917 that took second overall in the 1970 event (alone worth as much as $20m), and contemporary models, such as the Lola Aston Martin LMP1 from 2009 and the Aston Martin DBR9 that remains battle-scarred and filthy, just as it finished Le Mans in 2008.

The inspiration for the Gulf-orientated focus of the collection came from highly respected classic car dealer Adrian Hamilton, whose Hampshire-based business Duncan Hamilton was established in 1948 by his father – who famously won Le Mans in 1953 driving a Jaguar C-Type. “I first met Roald back in 2009 when he responded to a magazine advertisement for a Ferrari Dino Grand Prix car that we had for sale,” says Hamilton. “He bought the car and then also acquired a Ferrari 275 NART Spider from me. Later, over a pub lunch, he told me that he would like to build a collection but couldn’t decide on what type of cars. I think it’s important for these things to have a focus, so when he told me about the model of a Gulf GT40 that he was so fond of as a child I was prompted to suggest forming a collection of Gulf-sponsored racing cars.”

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Initially, Goethe had no ambitions for the collection to become so extensive. “At the time I only had the means to buy two or three cars and Adrian explained that if I was going to go down the Gulf route, there were certain key models that I needed to obtain, such as a GT40 and the 908 and 917 Porsches. I knew very little about the classic car world, so I asked a few friends who were involved in it to give me an idea of what to look for in a specialist dealer – and they all said that the most important things were knowledge and trust. Everyone knew about Adrian’s great reputation in the business, and the fact that the firm had been around for so long meant he had unrivalled contacts – not just anyone could have found these cars for me.

“Most of them were not advertised on the open market, but had been tucked away in collections for years and were not officially for sale. Adrian is probably one of very few people in the world who would not only know where to find such cars, but also how to negotiate the purchase of them,” says Goethe. “The difficult part can be convincing an owner to sell, because they very often don’t want to – yet Adrian is such a good communicator he usually succeeds.”

The Aston Martin DBR9 as it finished Le Mans in 2008 
The Aston Martin DBR9 as it finished Le Mans in 2008  | Image: Matthew Howell

Surprisingly, despite the large sums of money involved in buying the cars (the two McLarens, for example, are valued at more than $10m apiece) the pair have never entered into a formal contract. “We have a set commission structure, but beyond that we don’t work to any written agreement,” says Hamilton. “As far as I’m concerned, Roald is as straight as a gun barrel and we have placed equal trust in each another – it’s an old-fashioned way to do business, but it’s how we like things.

“While it was my initial ‘lightbulb moment’, it is Roald’s passion that has driven the whole thing. But even though he has given me carte blanche to acquire the cars, he knows that the details and background relating to every one will be meticulously researched and the history double-confirmed before we ever make a decision to buy.”

The 1975 Le Mans‑winning Mirage GR8
The 1975 Le Mans‑winning Mirage GR8 | Image: Matthew Howell

And with classic cars changing hands for more money than ever before, Goethe believes having an expert on hand to carry out such forensic checks has become almost essential. “There are numerous cars out there that have question marks over their history, because as values go up, there is ever more temptation for people to distort provenance – which makes it vital to have a dealer you can really trust,” he says. “In fact, it is just as important to know that the person you rely on will tell you which cars to walk away from as well as which ones to buy.”

But despite the collection being worth considerably more now than it cost him (a figure Goethe does not wish to reveal), he insists that it was never his intention to buy purely for investment – all the cars are maintained in race-ready condition and regularly driven by him in competitions. Last year, for example, he drove the Aston Martin Vantage in the GT2 class at Le Mans and next month will compete in the Le Mans Classic in his Mirage GR7. “As far as I’m concerned, it is a bonus that the cars have increased in value, but the point of making the collection has always been to look after the heritage and the aesthetic – to me, these are pieces of art and I want to ensure they are seen on race tracks and at events where they can be appreciated by as many people as possible.”

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Currently, Goethe and Hamilton are overseeing the construction of a purpose-built facility in which to store and display the so-called RofGo Collection, which, in addition to the 34 searingly fast racing cars, will also showcase a vehicle that will struggle to top 50mph.

“It’s a 1967 Mercedes transporter – the actual one in which the RofGo Collection’s Porsche 917 travelled to and from Le Mans in 1971,” says Hamilton. “We found it in Florida - it was in such terrible condition that it looked as though it had spent the past 30 years on the floor of the ocean. It cost £300,000 just to restore, and a whole lot more to buy,” he adds. “But the collection wouldn’t be complete without it.”

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