The late Lindley Bothwell was a noted pioneer in the world of collectors’ cars, buying his first more than 90 years ago when the concept of the automobile itself was not so long out of its infancy. Bothwell made a fortune from a string of Californian orange groves, which, by the mid-1950s, had enabled him to amass what was once one of the largest classic car collections in America. He became a leading light on the country’s vintage racing scene too, both as an organiser and competitor who set an unofficial track record at the Indianapolis Speedway in 1949 behind the wheel of a 35-year-old Peugeot.
After Bothwell died in 1986 at the age of 84, his widow Ann continued to maintain much of the vast collection, overseeing sympathetic restorations, ensuring cars appeared regularly in public at international events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and loaning others for use in films ranging from My Fair Lady to Titanic.
But now, following her own death last year, much of the collection is being dispersed by Bonhams in a potential $7-$10.5m sale on Saturday, November 11 at the Bothwell Ranch, California, which includes hundreds of items of automobilia and a vast array of “railwayana”, ranging from model train sets to a full-size 19th-century steam locomotive that the Bothwells used on a private line around their ranch.
It is the 50 cars, however, that will draw the most attention, with one of the most notable being a c1908 75/105hp Prinz-Heinrich Raceabout, a rare limited edition produced by Benz to mark the victory by a German Benz driver called Fritz Erle in a long-distance reliability trial organised in the same year by the German Imperial Automobile Club.
Among the competitors was Prince Heinrich of Prussia, after whom Benz decided to name its bespoke, hand-built tribute cars that were capable of almost 100mph. The example on offer – which is tipped to realise up to $1.5m – was imported into America by Barney Oldfield, a pioneer racer and showman driver who used the car in the 1913 Mack Sennett silent comedy Barney Oldfield’s Race For A Life, in which he drives it to the rescue of a woman chained to a railway track.
Other star lots include a 1912 Rolls-Royce 40/50hp open landaulette, originally owned by a woman who married into a $50m fortune in 1906. Estimated to fetch $450,000-$600,000, the car will be sold alongside a c1908 Mercedes-Simplex two-seater raceabout ($900,000-$1.2m) and a 1912 Buick ($20,000-$30,000) that was used in the 2003 film Seabiscuit.
Undoubtedly the most important offering, however, is the aforementioned Peugeot in which Bothwell lapped Indianapolis at 103.24mph. It is estimated to fetch $3m-$5m – which is rather more than the $2,500 he paid for it in 1949.