About 10 years ago, I ventured to the last orange grove in Los Angeles, an area that once had so many orange groves a nearby county was named for the fruit. Our route to the orange grove took us past house after house in a nondescript residential area until we came to a fenced area that protected one lush orange tree after another — it was a beautiful sight that made the beautiful surrounding homes forgettable. Upon entering the gate, we drove between the perfectly lined orange trees down the crushed rock driveway and stopped at an oasis of several older buildings, one of which was a humble house from which the owner emerged. My escort, Auburn Cord Duesenberg restorer Randy Ema, introduced the owner of the home and orange grove as "Lady Bothwell," a woman who, along with her husband, had been at the forefront of car collecting before World War II.
"Lady Bothwell" was formally Ann Bothwell, and she had her husband, Lindley, had amassed one of the hobby's largest antique car collections by the 1950s. They were charter members of the Horseless Carriage Club of America and their passion was reflected in the incredible early brass cars they housed in their collection. Several of the cars happened to be priceless race cars from the dawn of the automobile and at that time, a few had recently been used in the film "Seabiscuit."
Maintaining an orange grove in Los Angeles during a lean time for water was an expensive proposition and by the time of our visit, Lady Bothwell had sold some of the cars from her collection to keep the orange trees bearing fruit. Yet there remained dozens of incredible cars for Lady Bothwell to show us including a 1913 Indianapolis Peugeot, 1908 Prinz Heinrich Benz, and 1908 Mercedes Simplex.
Now that the hobby has lost both Ann and Lindley Bothwell, a price is set to be fixed on their priceless car collection. Bonhams with auction the cars and the spare parts at the Bothwell's ranch in Woodland Hills, California (just north of Los Angeles), on Saturday, November 11, 2017.
Here are a few highlights of cars set to be sold by Bonhams:
1913 Peugeot 4.5-Liter L45
The 1913 Peugeot 4.5-Liter L45 is not only regarded by many as the father of all racing engines, but this specific car ran in the 1916 Indianapolis 500. Decades later when Bothwell took the Peugeot back to Indianapolis to compete in the Veteran Class, he beat Dario Resta’s 85mph lap record at over 103mph – a record that had stood for 30 years! Tremendously historic and full of provenance, the significance of this race car cannot be overstated, particularly when one considers that it was this engine that inspired Miller, Offenhauser and a host of others. It is one of the most original and pure racing cars of this era.
1908 Benz 105hp Prinz Heinrich
In 1908, the Prinz Heinrich Tour, a famous German race named after Prince Heinrich of Prussia – an ardent fan of the nascent sport of motor racing, was won by a Benz. In commemoration of this, Benz produced a limited series of factory racers and called them Prinz Heinrich models. One of just 10 ever created and of fewer surviving, Bothwell’s extremely rare 1908 Benz 105hp Prinz Heinrich is the genuine article and was campaigned in period and then used by Bothwell and friends in historic racing events in the naissance of the hobby.
1908 Mercedes Simplex 60hp
The 1908 Mercedes Simplex 60hp, said to have been originally owned by William K. Vanderbilt, a prominent racing enthusiast and driver who himself set several speed records in earlier Mercedes cars, is another star of the Bothwell Collection. This landmark Mercedes design would set the model for high performance cars for years to come.
Among the other dozens of fascinating automobiles in the collection are examples from Austro-Daimler, Buick, Cadillac, Ford, Hudson, National, Packard, and Pope-Hartford, among others.
Bothwell was also a fan of horse-drawn streetcars and even installed over a mile of track on his property to entertain guests while keeping the streetcars in working condition. Five of these restored icons, originally from the city of Los Angeles, will be included in the sale.
Also to be sold is the vast collection of spares and automobilia amassed by Bothwell over a lifetime of collecting. Learn more at Bonhams.com/Bothwell