A car doesn’t have to be expensive to have a great story. An example is the 1939 Mercury Eight Series 99A estate car on the docket for H&H Classics’ upcoming auction at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England.
The car with amazing history is expected to sell for £25,000 to £35,000 ($34,200 to $47,900).
Malcolm Campbell is known for setting speed records on land and water. As the “hands-on” director of Ford subsidiary Lincoln Cars Ltd., he was able to order an “overseas market” Mercury Eight Series 99A as soon as the V8-powered town sedan was launched for the 1939 model year.
According to H&H Classics, Campbell’s plan was to use the Mercury as crew bus for events featuring his Blue Bird land speed racer. He delivered the car to Windovers of The Hyde, Hendon, to be fitted with a station wagon-style body and with rear seats that folded flat to form a bed.
“That way,” H&H notes, “Campbell’s mechanics could take it in turns to get some rest while burning the midnight oil during one of his record-breaking adventures.”
World War II erupted before Campbell could take the Ford out on tour. But he put the vehicle to another use.
Campbell had been a pilot ferrying aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps in World War I. He was deemed too old for combat in WWII, but he did serve in both the military police and the General Service Corps. When Campbell learned that British entertainer George Formby was heading out to entertain the troops in North Africa, Campbell offered the Mercury for Formby’s use.
The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers further modified the vehicle for the desert, including larger wheels and tires, and they painting out some of the windows to reduce the sun’s glare on those inside.
“Formby took pains to familiarize himself with the Series 99A and was seen driving around Singleton for weeks before embarking upon a massive 53-day ENSA tour in August 1943 that encompassed Italy, Sicily, Malta, Gibraltar, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine,” H&H notes.
The car served as accommodation on the road for Formby and his wife, Beryl, and was equipped with a lean-to tent to provide shelter for his pianist and valet.
On the trip, Formby, remembered as “the ukulele-strumming star” had entertained 750,000 troops, traversed a minefield, dined with Field Marshall Bernard “Monty” Montgomery, and been proclaimed the Eighth Army mascot.
After the war, Formby returned to driving Rolls-Royce and Bentley vehicles and sold the Ford to Earl Peel of Hyning Hall, Lancaster. Peel kept the Ford on his estate, using it to transport grouse-shooting parties, for more than 20 years until his death.
The car was then owned by William Logan, first president of the George Formby Society and a hotel owner in the Lake District who used it to shuttle guests. In 1977, the Mercury became part of the eclectic Sorn Castle collection, where it was restored and fitted with a period-correct 3.9-liter V8 engine.
The Mercury took part in various historic military-vehicle events. In 1988, following the death of Lord Sorn’s son, Bobby McIntyre, the collection was sold at a Sotheby’s auction, where it was purchased by British businessman Keith Schellenberg, “who was variously known to the public for participating in the 1956 and 1964 Winter Olympics, rolling a Vintage Bentley on the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon, and his contentious ownership of the Scottish Isle of Eigg.”
Car collector Graham Greenwell reportedly spent five years convincing Schellenberg to sell him the Mercury, which occurred in 1995. Greenwell, H&H notes, was enthusiastically used and improved by Greenwell until 2008, when he sold it to Mike Ebling, father of the consignor.
“Renowned in historic military-vehicle circles for the quality and accuracy of his restoration work, the late Mr. Ebeling decided that the Series 99A was not to his exacting standards. Dry stored awaiting a ground-up refurbishment that never happened, he had got as far as stripping ancillaries and minor parts off the Mercury before ill health intervened.”
H&H notes that the car “surely (is) worthy of a return to its former glory and a place in a museum or major collection.”
It adds that with the car comes a historical file including correspondence Malcolm Campbell correspondence about the car and “a wealth” of George Formby-related literature.