‘ The cars are driven by the first own­ers you read of in auc­tion cat­a­logues’

Si­mon makes a few calls to trace the first owner of a Gull­wing and re­ceives a sur­prise visit from the man in ques­tion: Prince Sadrud­din Aga Khan…

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents -

It’s the most won­der­ful time of the year', and what could be more evoca­tive than a sleek sports car far from its nat­u­ral habi­tat in a crisp white win­ter land­scape? If you’ve ever thumbed through one of so­ci­ety pho­tog­ra­pher Slim Aarons’ books on ‘ beau­ti­ful peo­ple do­ing beau­ti­ful things in beau­ti­ful places’, you’ll know what I mean. From Gs­taad to St Moritz, As­pen to Ver­mont, the newly emerg­ing post-war Jet Set were ready to play and unashamed to be spot­ted.

The toy box over­flowed with good­ies: Bell bub­ble canopy he­li­copters make fre­quent ap­pear­ances in Aarons’ shots, usu­ally on the stern of cham­pagne-fu­elled yachts or in the mid­dle of alpine pic­nics. Riva mo­tor launches are de rigueur, helmed by slick Lati­nos as long-legged beau­ties soak up the sun astern. The cars? They’re driven by own­ers you read about in auc­tion cat­a­logues: cap­tains of in­dus­try, film stars, Euro-aris­tos with no ob­vi­ous in­come.

The mem­ber­ship of this no­madic, charmed club read like a Who’s Who of so­ci­ety fig­ures: Gianni Agnelli, Gun­ther Sachs, Count Gio­vanni Volpi… names to con­jure with, but none more glam­ourous than Prince Sadrud­din Aga Khan – cos­mopoli­tan, mul­ti­lin­gual, ed­u­cated at Har­vard, half-brother of oft-mar­ried Prince Aly Khan and, like his el­der sib­ling, a leg­endary con­nois­seur of beauty. Mo­tor­ing cre­den­tials? Im­pec­ca­ble. Be­fore most peo­ple had heard of a small sports car con­struc­tor from Mo­dena, the debonair Prince Sadrud­din had al­ready taken de­liv­ery of a string of its finest ma­chin­ery, destined not for the tough Mille Miglia but the leafy Routes Napoleon be­tween var­i­ous homes and the horse rac­ing tracks where he fol­lowed his run­ners.

No idle play­boy, Sadrud­din was a lead­ing mover in the nascent United Nations High Com­mis­sion for Refugees. And when he wasn’t in­volved in the plight of the less for­tu­nate, he could be found sail­ing, ski­ing and en­ter­tain­ing at his es­tate on Lake Geneva, so it’s un­sur­pris­ing that he caught the at­ten­tion of a daz­zling young lady, Nina Dyer. The An­glo-in­dian heiress and model had re­cently di­vorced the wealth­i­est man in Europe, Baron ‘Heini’ von Thyssen, and by 1957 Sadrud­din and she were mar­ried. Gifts in­cluded a Caribbean is­land, a Jaguar E-type road­ster (dis­cov­ered in a Ja­maican scrap­yard last year) and a green Fer­rari 250GT SWB Cal­i­for­nia Spi­der.

If you’re won­der­ing how I know this, it’s be­cause I was once en­trusted with a plain sil­ver Mercedes 300 SL Gull­wing to sell. Cu­ri­ous as to who had enough clout to re­ceive only the eighth car built, I delved into the fac­tory ar­chive and you can guess whose name came up. His ad­dress? Har­vard Univer­sity – you can imag­ine what other stu­dents must have thought.

A few tele­phone calls later and I was ex­plain­ing this to his as­sis­tant. Two days later I was in­formed there was a black chauf­feur- driven Audi RS2 out­side and a gen­tle­man ask­ing for me. ’ Hello, I’m Sadrud­din Aga Khan.’ He drove my wife around the ex­hi­bi­tion hall where we were hold­ing the sale, en­joy­ing his old Gull­wing for the first time in half a cen­tury. ’I bet you were pop­u­lar with the girls in this car,’ she laughed. ’ My dear,’ he smiled, ’I didn’t need the car.’ They don’t make cars or play­boys like that any more.

Si­mon Kid­ston is a clas­sic car con­sul­tant, con­cours judge and event pre­sen­ter. His own clas­sics in­clude a Lam­borgh­ini Miura SV and Porsche 911 RS 2.7.

Prince Sadrud­din Aga Khan slum­ming it at Gs­taad with his 300SL Gull­wing in the Fifties

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