The Men Who Made The Market – Adrian Hamilton
“There have been so many,” says Adrian Hamilton with a rueful smile, remembering the cars that got away – the ones he wishes he hadn’t sold. “I totted it up the other day – I’ve sold nine GTOs and 24 GT40s, plus countless C-types and D-types. If I’d kept only a quarter of them, I’d be a trillionaire but if you’re a motor trader, you buy things and sell things.
“I didn’t have an oil well at the bottom of the garden or any other form of income, so if I’d bought a Jaguar and someone offered me £1500 profit, I thought, ‘How exciting – I can pay the gas bill this month’. The numbers were so different 40-plus years ago.”
For just over five decades, Adrian has worked for the company that was founded in 1948 by his father. In 1953, Duncan Hamilton won the Le Mans 24 Hours alongside Tony Rolt in a works Jaguar C-type. Adrian admits that, despite all those GTOs and GT40s passing through his hands, parting with that car remains his biggest regret.
“I bought it in 1984 from Briggs Cunningham, who was a lovely man. I paid him £40,000 – it took me about two or three years to chip it out of him. I said to him one year at Pebble Beach, ‘Briggs – you’re going to be really sad in a few years that you didn’t sell me the C-type’. He wanted it to go to us as a family or to Jaguar. So he said, ‘Make me an offer’. I did and he said I could have it. That was wonderful – very exciting.
“I happened to be talking to one of the PR people at Jaguar and said, ‘Tell me – how are you getting on buying that C-type off Briggs Cunningham?’ Oh, he said, I think it’s in the bag. I said, ‘I’m sorry to ruin your day, but it’s sitting outside and it’s not going anywhere’.”
Adrian joined his father in the late 1960s – a time during which he was also running a Ford Escort in the British Saloon Car Championship. “My poor parents were exasperated as to what to do with me, so I was bundled off into the Merchant Navy with a company called Sugar Line. I did that for 18 months or two years, then the old man said, ‘You can come and work for me for the same wages’, which was £6 a week. That was 51 years ago and I’m still here.”
Adrian took over when Duncan retired in 1975. The company was based at his beautiful Hampshire home for 30 years, but it’s recently moved into purpose-built premises a few miles down the road.
There were some key things that he learnt from his father: “Work hard, he told me, and do the job correctly and honestly – don’t be too silly. I was very lucky to have the old man’s name as a springboard. Wherever I went in the world, anyone who had an interest in cars, chances are they’d have heard of Duncan Hamilton. And that gave us an instant air of respect. As a result, I’ve always safeguarded the reputation of the company. I’m very proud of what he achieved – he was a big, fun character.”
Being in the industry for so long has meant that Adrian has witnessed several ups and downs, but explains that he’s optimistic about the current market.
“No party goes on for ever and in the 1980s the world was on fire. Then of course it all fell off a cliff – the world went square, then round again, then in 2008 it went square again. I still have a big feeling that the future is good for certain motor cars – things of certain substance, if they’ve got an interesting history, or race history, or whatever it may be. You can’t buy history, really.”
Competition provenance, in particular, has taken on a new significance thanks mostly to Lord March (now the Duke of Richmond) and his annual Revival Meeting. Adrian is currently offering for sale a flat-floor E-type that’s eligible for the Kinrara Trophy, something that boosts its value well beyond what you’d normally expect even for an early Series 1: “Goodwood has certainly opened up a new territory and marketplace. And Lord March does a wonderful job.”
Then there’s the question of where else people would actually invest their money when UK interest rates are so low. “You can buy paintings and that’s very good, but they attract capital gains tax in the UK. It’s very boring to have stocks and shares – it’s much nicer to have a lovely toy.”
So what does he think people should be investing in now? “I always advise people to buy the best, both in terms of quality and history. That will never let you down. Sometimes the best isn’t available, so you have to buy the second best, but there’s no point buying some horrible old thing and hoping it’s going to triple in value because it won’t.
“As to the next thing to look out for, I ask myself that every morning and I don’t know the answer. It’s impossible to say. I think whatever blip comes from Brexit or otherwise, the world will carry on turning and people will still want nice things to play with.”
Photos courtesy Adrian Hamilton (top, with his father and Le Mans-winning C- and D-types) and by James Page