Bobby Bell’s first Ferrari Daytona was something of a steal. The racer, car salesman, wheeler-dealer and one half of the world’s longest-lived Lotus dealership, Bell & Colvill, secured the light blue 365 GTB/4 in exchange for – take a deep breath now, this is the part where you would kill for it to be 1974 again – an Austin 1100 and a Morris Marina. “I couldn’t afford the Ferrari’s £2750 asking price but I had some part-exs to dispose of, so we did a deal.” Quite a deal.
Bobby didn’t keep that car. When he saw Daytona values rise he sold it but pretty soon had a moment of reawakening: “I knew what an amazing car the Daytona was – the fastest car in the world at that time. I thought, even at £5000 I should probably buy one because this car is going to be worth a lot more than that.” He did buy one, the red car you see here. And by 1989 Daytona values had hit £300,000. “Then the bottom fell out of the market and they were suddenly available for a sixth that, but then that’s how the market is,” says Bobby. They have gone up rather a lot again since of course.
Numbers – classic car values, lap times, profit and loss accounts – have kept Bobby Bell busy and, as he readily admits, entertained for 50 years now. He thought about being an architect when he left school but decided that by the time he’d finished the course it would be too late to know if was any good or not at what he really wanted to do: race cars.
For Bobby the motoring bug bit early but not in an auspicious way. His first was car was an MG J2 which he restored before promptly crashing it into a milk float. He got a job selling Jaguars for Combs in Guildford so “I could be close to their racing 3.8s and Lightweight E-types”. He commuted in a Lotus 7 which he raced at weekends, starting in 1962. He smashed the 7 “to smithereens” but then rebuilt it and carried on racing, winning at Goodwood in 1964.
He sold the 7 for a Lola and then a mid-engined Piper Martin V8 sports racer – it was this car that brought Bobby and Martin Colvill together for the eponymous partnership in West Horsley that in 2014 will have been selling (and racing and modifying) Lotuses continually for 44 years. Just as the dealership took off, so did Bobby’s racing career: over the years he has been up against the likes of Jim Clark, Stirling Moss, Willie Green, Roy Salvadori and Jack Brabham. And he has driven a range of cars from F5000 Trojans to Formula Libre BRMs, Chevrons to Lightweight Es, and Lister Jaguar and Maserati 250F in early historic racing.
It’s a list that reflects Bobby’s motoring wheeler-dealer side as much as his skill behind the wheel. “I have always had an eye for a deal,” he says. “I certainly never intended my motor racing would cost me any money. In those days we got paid to enter to races like support events at the British Grand Prix and Le Mans. It was a fabulous time.”
He stopped racing five years ago. What then did he keep for himself from his racing days? Time to look inside the enormous barn tucked behind his 16th century farmhouse at the end of a mile-long dirt track hidden away in the Surrey hills. Getting any car, let alone a Daytona, in and out of here would be tricky. But when the enormous doors swing open there’s the Ferrari’s unmistakable shark nose.
“I have to pick the times when I take it out,” says Bobby. Not exactly an everyday car then. “I have done just 10,000 miles in it since I bought it. Two previous owners and 34,000 on the odo. It is beautiful, sounds fabulous, and is bloody quick. Absolutely fantastic – but I just might have to put after-market electric power steering on it so I can park it.”
For all that it’s not his all-time favourite car. “The best car I have ever driven without a shadow of doubt is the Ford GT40. An amazing machine and one car I would love to have.”
Fioravanti’s iconic 1960s Ferrari is the perfect foil for the ancient oak-beamed barn, which is otherwise crammed full of motoring memorabilia and excess stock from his wife’s antiques business. But at one end there’s another flash of Rosso Corsa from beneath a silk dust sheet.
Bobby bought the beautiful little Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 in 1990, part of a “job lot” of three cars Autodelta were selling. There was probably a deal involved. The 3.0-litre V8 mid-engined endurance racer evolved into something of a giant-killer for Alfa, and despite its incongruous surroundings here it’s impossible to get Le Mans out of your head. “I raced it a lot when I first got it, and it’s a lovely car to drive. But I won’t drive it again.”
What’s missing from the barn? An F5000 BRM which Bobby still owns but which is stored elsewhere. His first classic racer, the Lister Knobbly, now long sold. Alas not here either is the Maserati 250F he bought from the Duke of Hamilton for £25,000 in 1978. He wishes he had kept that one. Despite that he says “I consider myself unbelievably fortunate. I always pretty much got whatever car I wanted. I have fulfilled my motoring dreams.”