Saab, Lancia, Hupmobile – Robert Ely’s collection is one of the most eclectic there is
Robert Ely was about to do something sensible with his money, but where’s the fun in that?
Back in 2013, Robert Ely was all set to invest his hard-earned in bricks and mortar. Then he had a classic car epiphany and his plans changed. ‘I’d been saving for quite some time,’ Robert explains. ‘The plan was to buy a bigger house. But, to be honest, I’ve always been a bit antiestablishment, and have never really liked the way the housing market seems to work. Plus, newer houses have very little in the way of parking spaces. So, mid-2013 – and it really was a spur of the moment thing – I decided instead to use my savings to indulge my passion for classics... and it all started with a Piper GTT. ‘I spotted the Piper for sale online. I hadn’t actually been looking for one, but I’d had Westfields before, so the idea of owning a Grp-bodied classic really appealed. In fact, it was just my cup of tea. However, prior to buying the Piper, I’d set up a sports equipment repair business and the spiralling workload meant that the plans for the Piper, and the collection, had to be put on hold.
Fortunately, by 2014 Robert’s emergent business was looking very good and he could at last spare enough time to focus on the Piper, and his plans for the collection. ‘I sent the Piper to a local bodyshop for some repairs and painting,’ he recalls. ‘It’s been there much longer than anticipated, but I’m hoping to have it back soon. In the meantime, to tide me over, I bought a modern classic – a Lotus Elise. Unfortunately, although a joy to drive, the 1.8 VVC engine was hopelessly unreliable. So much so, I ended up selling it – one of the few cars I’ve actually sold!
‘The Elise was replaced by a 1934 Lancia Belna. I’m a huge fan of the Lancia marque, in fact I envisage my collection eventually being predominantly Lancia-based. In 2015 I entered the Belna in a rally in China. Unfortunately, because of an explosion in the port of Tianjin, my Belna and the other British competitors’ cars were detained by the authorities, then shipped back to the UK. Happily though, a number of the Chinese competitors had some cars we could borrow. I did the event using a BMW E30 318, an Alfa Spider and a Rolls-royce 20/25!
‘Despite the problems with the authorities, the trip was a huge success and everyone I spoke to agreed that my plan to collect classic cars, rather than invest in the housing market, was the way forward. Enthused and encouraged, upon my return, I rented a large industrial unit and started growing the collection in earnest.’
1973 Saab Sonett III
‘At the beginning, I was actually looking for a Volvo 142S,’ admits Robert. ‘But, while browsing Swedish auction sites, I came across this Sonett. It looked original, in great condition, was priced right, and really piqued my interest. It has such an intriguing shape and is undeniably quirky. Although I did eventually end up buying a really good 142S – which is currently in Scotland being used by my father – I bought the Sonett there and then, sight unseen. I also bought a car transporter, which has proved to be a very useful acquisition. I drove the transporter to Sweden, fourteen hours a day, right into the Arctic Circle, to collect the Sonett. I slept in the transporter at night. The only real problem was a speed limiter set at 56mph! This really slowed the journey, which took six days in total, but it was still a wonderful experience.
‘The Sonett owner was a really pleasant chap and the car was as good as advertised. It had done just 107,000km and I’m only its third owner. With its Saab 96 underpinnings it drives really well. The only annoyance is the freewheel. When you take your foot off the throttle it disengages the roller clutch, which can hinder smooth and quick progress. But the V4 engine pulls well, it sounds fabulous and the chassis inspires confidence.
‘I love the design – it’s so Swedish! There are some lovely touches such as the brown corduroy/vinyl high-back bucket seats with integral headrests, the opening rear window, Kamm-style tail and pop-up headlights. Then there’s the usual Saab safety; the Sonett has the steel floorpan from the 96, the Us-inspired impactabsorbing bumpers, three-point seatbelts and a roll-over hoop.’
1965 Autobianchi Stellina
‘Small-capacity, lightweight, nimble cars have always been a fascination. I’ve long had an admiration and desire for the Fifties and Sixties cars made, and/or modified, by Abarth,’ says Robert.
‘Sadly though, they are hugely sought after, highly prized and priced accordingly. Which is why I bought the Stellina, a two-seater cabriolet that’s based on a Fiat 600D and uses its water-cooled 767cc four-cylinder engine and other mechanical components. Interestingly, the body’s GRP over a stainless steel frame – it’s actually the first-ever glassfibre-bodied Italian car, not that this helped sales. Only 502 were made before the model was discontinued in favour of the Fiat 850 Spider.
‘This particular car came from Belgian collector Dirk Van Eyck. Again, as with most of my cars, I spotted it quite by chance. It was on an auction site and I ended up bidding on it and winning the auction. In terms of special-bodied Fiats, the Stellina is reasonably priced. Mind you, it’s certainly not an Abarth rival because it doesn’t have the urge or the handling prowess. That said, it has certainly grown on me. It’s a fun car, quite nippy, very attractive, and certainly turns heads. Plus I think that mine is the only example in the UK, although I might be wrong!’
1973 Ginetta G15
‘The G15 is everything I wanted the Autobianchi to be,’ enthuses Robert. ‘I bought it from Silverstone Auctions; I’d been looking for one for ages. This one was priced competitively and looked to be in good condition. Typically, I bought it unseen! When it was delivered I was pleased, and relieved, to discover that it was as good in the flesh as it looked in the pictures.
‘I don’t know much about its history, but it is in remarkably original condition and has obviously been well cared for. Even so, it did have a few cooling issues. These were cured by a specialist company who redid some of the plumbing and renewed the hoses. It’s been running cool ever since. Actually, the system is so effective I never have to use the electric fan.
‘I bought the Sonett sight unseen. I also bought a car transporter, which has proved to be very useful’
Ginetta G15 was another ‘bought unseen’ result