Tom Cotter has become famous within the collector car community as a treasure hunter who specializes in discovering cars that have been hidden away in barns and decrepit garages.
I prefer to do my mining not by crawling into dusty, dirty, critter-infested barns and sheds and falling-down garages, but by paging through auction catalogs while sitting with my feet up on an ottoman.
It’s not the big-dollar classics nor the ultra-expensive exotics that I seek, but the unheralded gems hidden away on back pages and in the nooks and crannies of the docket. Cars such as the 1997 Rover Mini SPI Margrave saloon crossing the block December 16 at Bonhams MPH sale at Bicester Heritage, the former RAF training site that has become a major collector car center in the UK.
Star cars at the auction include one of only four 1970 Plymouth Superbirds registered in the UK, a 1973 BMW 3.0 CSL, a 1997 Mitsubishi Evo IV, and a 1998 Lotus Esprit V8 GT.
Meanwhile, the nifty little ’97 Rover Mini has a pre-auction estimated value of $33,000 to $37,000, those numbers enhanced by another — the car has been driven only 6,600 miles since new — and by the car’s story.
The story begins with a Mini Mayfair built for the Japanese automotive market, which means it was equipped with air conditioning. But instead of being exported, it was purchased by a “titled lady,” a member of the Wolfson family, known in the UK for its chain of Great Universal Stores and, among other holdings, ownership of Burberry, and for its involvement in politics and for philanthropy.
But not content with the car as it was, the “titled lady” had it sent to Wood & Pickett to be upgraded to “Margrave” specifications, including a full leather interior and walnut dashboard and trim.
So, who were Wood & Pickett and what was the Margrave upgrade?
Though we couldn’t find Wood & Picket in the Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile’s Coachbuilding volume, an internet search revealed that Wood & Picket of London was founded in 1947 by Bill Wood and Less Pickett, both of whom had learned their craft working a Hooper in the 1930s.
Wood & Pickett became well known in the 1960s and ‘70s for their Margrave Mini conversions, but then turned their attention to larger vehicles, especially Rand Rovers, which they turned into convertibles, sometimes adding third and fourth doors, stretched for more seats, turned into 6-wheelers and equipped for hunting expeditions.
The Margrave was Wood & Pickett’s answer to Radford’s Mini de Ville upgrade. In addition to upgraded seating and walnut interior trim, it included front and rear “nudge” bars. When the Metro was introduced in the 1980s, Wood & Pickett also did Metro Plus and Laser upgrades on that model.
The Mini Mayfair on offer received the full Margrave upgrade in 1998 and was used as a “city car” until 2006, when it apparently was retired, though not until the second of its two owners left a business card on the windshield expressing interest in buying the car should it be for sale.
It was not, until six years later, when the second owner received a telephone call asking if there was still interest in the car. There was and a deal was struck, the second owner learning that between 2006 and 2012, the car had been driven only on rare occasions, including those when the Wolfson chauffeur took it to for its annual MoT certification.
The car had been driven only 4,500 miles when ownership changed hands, and has been driven only 2,100 more since.
In addition to the car, the third owner gets some spare parts, the vehicle handbooks, a dust cover, Connolly leather-bound London A-Z road atlas, and copies of the Mini World magazine from January 2016 when the car was the subject of a 7-page features story.