Ask the experts: Bob Houghton
Even if you were unaware of Bob Houghton’s standing in the Ferrari world, you’d catch on pretty quickly once you walked into his Cotswolds premises. Among the cars in the workshop are a 250 LM, a 196 SP, a 275 GTB/C, one of the seven right-hand-drive Daytona Spiders, and an Enzo. Next door is a Short Wheelbase, plus a 250 GT Lusso having its engine being put back in.
At the far end is Houghton’s beautiful little ASA 1000 GT, mid-restoration. As is often the way, his own project drops to the back to the queue when there are customers’ cars to be getting on with.
Business is clearly brisk, and Houghton has now been working with Ferraris for well over 50 years. He started as a very young man back in the 1960s, and soon met David Clarke – the Leicestershire-based enthusiast who was a pioneer of the British classic-Ferrari scene.
Houghton found himself looking after Clarke’s remarkable collection, which at that time included 250 GTO, 275 GTB/4, 330 P4, P2, 250 Lusso and 212 Export. In 1974, they started Graypaul and were entrusted with the restoration of a number of significant cars. At the time, only Graypaul and Maranello Concessionaires really specialised in Ferraris in the UK, and the latter was far more interested in selling new cars than looking after the old ones.
“Then I came down here to work with Vic Norman,” explains Houghton, “and we started Rosso Racing. We then got a Ferrari dealership and opened up in Victoria Road, Cirencester. It was a difficult time to sell Ferraris, though – they weren’t building great cars at that time.”
When Norman was bitten by the flying bug and went off to become a top aerobatics pilot, Houghton decided in 1981 to go it alone and started from his double-garage at home, before moving to Cirencester and then to his current premises.
“Nick Mason and Albert Obrist kind of started me off. They went out and bought cars for me to restore – two amazing guys, and they got me on my feet.”
From those beginnings, the business has grown to the point that it encompasses everything from servicing to restoration and sales. Bob’s son David now looks after much of it on a day-to-day basis but with Bob himself still, as he puts it, “in the background”.
“We are renowned for the old cars,” he says, “but nine times out of 10 the guy who’s got an old car has got a new car. So as soon as it comes out of warranty, we tend to take over – but I can't see us ever doing the hybrids. They're another level. We’ve got all the diagnostics for the modern cars up to the Enzo and a bit further on, but I would say that 60 percent of what we do is with the old cars.”
It’s also the case that older Ferraris that might previously have been somewhat overlooked or considered relatively unfashionable are now being brought in for restoration.
“The values have done that,” says Houghton, “although I’m finding that restorations – because of the uncertainty of everything over the past couple of years – have backed off. But from the market point of view, I would say anything that's over a million pounds is reasonably strong. Anything under that is not so strong. Because anything over a million pounds is normally thought of as a piece of art.
“It seems to be, the more money you pay for a car, the more money you're going to make – if it’s the right car and has got the right heritage. It has to have the right provenance, it has to be the right spec – and it's got to have a Ferrari [Classiche] ticket. I agree with that in some cases, but in a lot of cases I don’t, because what Ferrari say is, the car needs to be as it left the factory. I think they've gone a little bit over the top with certain cars, and that’s because of the values again.”
As we walk past a 365 BB, Houghton mentions that the carburettor ‘Boxer’ models could be worth keeping an eye on in terms of values. Are there any other more-recent Ferraris that might be a good investment, and which might one day reach the levels of the celebrated models from the 1950s and 1960s?
“It won't be like the old cars. Never will be. They’re gold bars, from a monetary point of view. The ones that will really do well are the low-volume cars, like the Enzo and the 288 GTO – not the production cars.”
Summing up what makes those older models so special is not the work of a moment.
“It’s a tough one. In those days, Ferraris just had a different feeling to them. And then there are the looks and the way they drive. When we used to race a 246 F1 Tasman Dino with Neil Corner, people just loved hearing it. We took it to Imola once and there were Italian guys crying. The sound was just amazing.”
Racing has always been an important part of the business, and Houghton worked with Ferrari UK on the Challenge series from the 348 era to the 355 and 360; in 1997, they won both classes in the 355 Challenge European series. He’s also watched as the historic-racing scene has evolved.
“There are a lot of really genuine people that want their cars to be absolutely as they left the works, which I think is great. But then you've got a lot of cars that aren't quite like that.
“I remember when we used to run Anthony Bamford's ’64 GTO. We had Frank Sytner in it and we were winning, and then all of a sudden the E-types started getting a bit rapid. Bamford said to me,
‘What can we do?’
“I told him that we had everything as it left the factory with his car. The only way we could beat the E-types would be to put a 4-litre engine in it, and he said to me, ‘No – I'm not doing that.’ He said that he would not want to change the spec, and the same went for Neil Corner.”
Houghton currently looks after the famous 250 GT Short Wheelbase ‘Breadvan’ – just one of a number of famous Ferraris that he’s dealt with. It makes choosing the most memorable a difficult task.
“The P4 was the iconic car, but there have been so many. The GTO, of course. But there’s no doubt that my favourite 1960s car is the 275 four-cam. I think it's the epitome of what a Ferrari should be. The looks, the sound – everything.
“Another one of my favourites is the F40. You’ve got to respect it – it’s teaching you all the time. You’ve got to control it or it’ll get away from you very easily. I love that car. None of this paddle-shift business…”