Let's buy a Williams at auction

The team behind Nigel Mansell's F1 triumphs is auctioning off part of its rich heritage
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Looking for the ultimate track-day car? How about the Williams FW12 Formula One racer driven by Nigel Mansell to two podium finishes during the 1988 Grand Prix season? Or the FW16B used by Damon Hill to secure four wins in 1994? Either could be yours when the auctioneer Bonhams offers more than 150 items from the Williams F1 "reserve collection" on 14 December.

The Mansell and Hill cars are among 20 historic Williams Grand Prix machines coming up for grabs in the £1.5m sale. They are expected to fetch £60,000-£80,000 and £90,000-£120,000 respectively.

But as little as £50,000 could secure you a fully working FW13B from 1990, as raced by Riccardo Patrese. Just £20,000 is expected for a 1984 FW09B, although you'll need to supply your own engine.

For the more practically minded, the very first Renault Clio Williams "hot hatch" will be sold; its estimate is £7,000-£10,000.

This mother of all garage sales is the result of Williams rationalising the huge collection at its headquarters in Grove, Oxfordshire. In 2002, the base also became home to a multimillion-pound interactive museum charting the history of Williams Grand Prix Engineering.

Williams may not be at the pinnacle of F1 right now, but the renowned organisation - founded by Frank Williams in 1977 after he entered F1 eight years earlier with a privately-owned car - has a glorious history.

The team has won 16 F1 world titles (nine constructors' and seven drivers'), racking up 113 Grand Prix victories along the way.

News of the auction has attracted the attention of F1 fans the world over, not so much because of the cars as the 150-plus lots of affordable, race-related automobilia also on offer.

"Our longstanding policy of retaining our race cars has enabled us both to maintain a world-class museum collection and, now, to release some of the cars and memorabilia to private collectors," Williams said.

Among items to excite the petrolheads are race-worn drivers' helmets, overalls, gloves and boots, and parts ranging from complete engines to exhausts. There's a half-scale wind-tunnel model built by Williams' aerodynamic team, a rear subframe from a F1 car, side pods, nose cones, brake ducts and rear wing end-plates.

Toby Wilson, the head of the Bonhams automobilia department, says: "It is exceptionally rare to find so many good pieces of F1 memorabilia coming to the market at the same time. It is the impeccable provenance of these items that makes them so desirable.

"None of it has ever been out of the ownership of the Williams team and, to make the sale accessible to as many people as possible, it has selected a broad range of items to ensure that there is something to suit all pockets," Wilson says.

Among items expected to appeal to British F1 fans is the bent suspension wishbone salvaged from Damon Hill's Williams FW16B after his collision with Michael Schumacher in the 1994 Australian Grand Prix, an incident that handed the title to the German driver. Its estimate is £500-£600.

Another evocative item is the "green sheet" (the document filled in by team engineers during races) pertaining to the 180mph tyre blow-out suffered by Nigel Mansell in the 1986 Australian Grand Prix. The sheet ends abruptly with the words: "Lap 64 - out, tyre." Mansell needed only to finish third to win the championship which, in the event, went to Alain Prost.

Other offerings include steering wheels from Juan Pablo Montoya's FW26 and Jacques Villeneuve's FW20, with electronic switchgear, at an estimated £1,000 apiece. About £1,500 should secure crash helmets used by stars such as Riccardo Patrese, Ralf Schumacher and Alex Zanardi.

Even those with a budget of £50 could secure a collector's item; that's what Bonhams is charging for limited-edition hard-back copies of the auction catalogue, 500 of which will be produced with an individually numbered "chassis plate" on the inside cover.

The sale is on Wednesday 14 December at Williams F1, Grove, near Wantage, Oxfordshire. All lots can be viewed online at www.bonhams.com; standard catalogues cost £20. For more information, call 08700 273 619

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