A fresh start. K500 speaks to the new owners of Coys
Ten months on from London auction house and dealership Coys’ final descent into administration and subsequent dissolution with debts of millions, new owner the Calleri family has a mountain to climb to regain the trust of the market. Richard Calleri told us his plans for the future.
Many people would say, with Coys’ reputation, why bother? Wouldn’t it be easier just to start a new company with a different name?
Our acquisition of the Coys brand was not driven by financial or monetary returns (very tough to make a profit in a traditional auction business these days), but a much more sentimental one. For us, it’s about the preservation of a historical British heritage and brand that has a special place in my father Antonio’s heart – from his early days staring through the Coys mews windows in Kensington, dreaming of one day being able to possibly afford one of those amazing cars…
Coys greatly contributed to launching many classic car experts and was a key driver behind the establishment of the classic and vintage vehicles industry we have in the UK today. Losing such a piece of history seemed a shame, and for this reason we acquired the brand name from the insolvency solicitors/administrators.
Tell us about your backgrounds and the cars that interest you?
My father Antonio Calleri comes from Carrù, a small rural town in the Piedmont region of northern Italy famous for its wine (the towns of Barolo and Nebbiolo are just down the road) and its food: bollito meat and truffles, and the annual ‘Sagra del Bue Grasso’.
Brought up working in his father’s blacksmith and ironmongery workshop repairing, forging and building anything from hand-forged iron gates to lock mechanisms to agricultural machinery, engines and hunting guns, he developed an early love for all that is mechanical and engineering. After studying electronics in Turin, he moved to the UK where he met and married my English mother.
I was brought up in Milan and moved to London (my mother’s native city) for university. Following this, I entered the investment banking world, where I worked for over 10 years before joining my father a decade ago in his geological services business. I have led a pretty international life, living in such cities as Milan, London, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Chicago. My wife Mireia, an award-winning photographer and a native of Barcelona and I, along with our two kids, currently live in Dubai.
In general terms, we are avid collectors of both antique and unique cars as well as motorbikes, antique blacksmith anvils and all manner of memorabilia – indeed, many of our offices around the world have a number of motorbikes and memorabilia scattered throughout them. My meeting table is a simple piece of clear glass over a 1960s Dino Ferrari engine. We also have a couple of wooden Riva motorboats we have fully restored to their original splendour that are great fun to take out in the summer on the Italian lakes.
One of the aspects of the world of classic cars that my father and I like the most is the act of restoration: to bring back the past glories of once-beautiful cars neglected by later owners, from the times when they were considered just ‘old objects’. And the search for the correct spares to bring them back to the same original specification in which they left the factory, discovering their history. Searching for the correct parts is fascinating, can take years, and risks becoming an almost full-time job!
Another thing we always admire when looking at vintage cars, especially from the first part of the 20th Century, are the pioneering technological and mechanical innovations made by the engineers and builders of that period: state-of-the-art and revolutionary solutions, many of which are still in use today.
In fact, the cars we appreciate most are the ones from the early 1900s, like my father’s 1900 Renault type C Voiturette Course, believed to be the last of its kind left in the world. We have used it in the London to Brighton a few times, as well as at Rétromobile in Paris. Another special car we own is a 1924 Detroit Electric – most people don’t know that electric cars existed at the beginning of the 20th Century. There’s also our 1930 Lancia Lambda torpedo, a revolutionary model as it was the first car to feature front independent suspension and a load-bearing monocoque body which, ultimately, became the standard of auto manufacturing a decade later.
Lastly, there is our Ferrari Testarossa that Zagato built in 1993 and was presented at the Geneva Salon the same year. Only a single model was ever produced.
It’s called FZ93 (FZ for ‘Formula Zagato’) and it was designed by the great Ercole Spada after he resumed his position as lead designer at Zagato in December 1992, following more than two decades away. The project served both as a styling exercise and a showcase of the latest technologies. As the name suggests, the major inspiration was contemporary Formula 1 design.
Will you continue to run Coys classic car auctions? If so where, and how many per year?
The Covid pandemic has dealt a severe shock to the world economy and the in-person auction that was the hallmark of Coys is no exception. Our plans are in their infancy and we are still evaluating our exact strategy for the use of the Coys brand.
And what about the Coys showroom in southwest London. Will that open again? Is there any stock, how will it be run and by whom?
A lot of work would be needed at the Richmond premises before they could again be opened to the public as a classic car showroom. As well as not keeping up with rent payments to the landlord, the previous company didn’t keep up with refurbishments. The building therefore requires significant financial investment to rectify it, from repairing a leaking roof to completely new floors and structural work. As such, when exactly it will reopen is not clear today.
So, I’m a private creditor of Coys. I consigned my car, never got paid for it and feel angry. Will I now get my money back?
There seems to be a lot of confusion on this matter, even among some of the press articles I’ve read. The company Coys of Kensington Automobiles Ltd went into administration last year and was taken over by UK insolvency solicitor firm Russell-Cooke, whose role is to recover as much money as possible from a bankrupt company to pay as many of the creditors what they were owed as much as possible. As part of this process, the solicitors ran an auction to sell off the Coys brand name and its associated intellectual property (i.e. its website and customer database).
Driven by fond memories of its past glory many years ago, my family office participated in this auction (as well as 6-8 other bidders) and, being the highest bidder, we were successful in acquiring the Coys brand name. We then incorporated a new company in the UK, called Coys of London, which became the owner of the Coys brand.
The cash we paid the insolvency solicitors following our successful bid is to be utilised by them, along with any other money they are able to recover, to help pay the old creditors of the bankrupt Coys of Kensington Automobiles Ltd.
For avoidance of doubt, we were never provided by the solicitors with any financial data or details on any creditors of the company Coys of Kensington Automobiles Ltd, as we effectively never dealt with that company, we simply acquired assets that were being sold off by the solicitors in their attempt to recoup some cash. Indeed, the extent and amount of the claims against the company Coys of Kensington Automobiles Ltd have really blown us away. It is a very sad and tragic situation, where collectors placed their trust in an auction house, consigned their cars and then never received any payment. They have every right to be angry.
I do believe this is an industry that would benefit from regulatory supervision and compliance. We miss rules and regulations that require auction houses to have clearly delimited escrow accounts for customer funds, with mandatory insurance backing to protect individual consumers – just like many other industries have today.
How safe will it be to consign a car, either to a Coys auction or as a private treaty sale in the showroom? The company made many promises in the past.
Again, we are talking about a completely different company, owned by different individuals who value classic cars and tradition. We are fully capitalised, with a very different agenda from traditional auction houses. We are car collectors who love the industry and have many personal friends who love collecting cars, too.
We see you are employing at least one ex-Coys member of staff. Is this a good idea as you are a ‘new broom’ sweeping the business clean of the past?
We are currently still building up the management team and deciding on the exact strategy for the brand.
What about online sales? The pandemic has seen dramatic growth in this part of the market. Will Coys run internet-only auctions, and what protection will buyers and sellers receive?
Online sales are here to stay, that is clear. However, I believe that whilst this model fits well the lower and middle parts of the market (and indeed is working very well for buyers and sellers by significantly reducing the fees they pay at auction), I am not fully convinced this works for the higher, more vintage, collector end of the market. I certainly like to see and inspect and touch first-hand when buying a prestigious piece of history – even the smell of the car is important!
How close an interest will you and your father take in the new business? You run a company serving the energy industry based in the United Arab Emirates, so it won’t be easy to monitor day-to-day activities.
We own over 50 companies across 40+ countries operating in a number of industries. Our traditional and principal focus is indeed the energy industry, but we also have interests in other industries such as real estate and engineering. Dubai is well located for running a global business thanks to its ‘central’ time-zone location, allowing me to work with the Far East in the morning, Europe, Africa and the Middle East during the day and the Americas in the late afternoons and evenings – although I have to admit coordinating calls with my Alaska manager with a 12-hour time zone difference is not always easy!
The way we envisage Coys will be run is that, just like all our companies, the day-to-day activities will be the responsibility of the local management team, with its own CEO and board of directors. As such, building that right team is crucial to the success of the business and in building the trust of its customers. This process is still ongoing for Coys, as is the strategic direction the company will take as it pertains to salesroom, live/online auctions and timing/frequency of such auctions. For sure, until the ongoing Covid pandemic is over, we do not see a rush in launching the business and having auctions.
Finally, how do you see prospects for the classic car industry post-Covid? The way transactions will be conducted and the appetite for collectors’ cars. Does the business really need another player in the market? Is there enough to go round?
Very good questions. For sure, the classic car auction market is mature and crowded already. The move to online has further shrunk the possible market for in-person auctions.
In the short term, I see a lot of pent-up demand that should come to market, probably during 2022.
Personal relationships and trust, now more than ever, will continue to be the driver behind which auction house a collector chooses to consign his prized vehicle. As such, in the medium to long term, auction houses that are not well capitalised or which cannot provide complete customer funds’ segregation and transparency will be shunned for sure.
Is there ‘enough to go round’ for another player in the market? Who knows!
But is there enough for a small, nimble, low-cost player, focused more on customer satisfaction and experience than on its own profitability, that targets a niche market and slowly grows over time, using as foundations the personal relationships and reputation of its owners as a springboard to then form strategic alliances, bring in key industry investors and partners, and maybe even some small, targeted acquisitions? Only time will tell...
Photos by Kidston SA