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Bring on the Prancing Horses

Bring on the Prancing Horses

Classic Ferrari dealership Talacrest offers what have been called the most beautiful cars ever made. Superdealer John Collins gives SRS a tour of his fabled showroom.

John Collins can remember the moment he became infatuated with cars. He was just a toddler on a bus in Glasgow cradled in his mother’s arms when he lost the Dinky model car she had just bought him. He wailed so much they had to go back to the shop to buy another.

Jump forward and Collins’s dealership Talacrest he has sold more than 1,800 cars worth in excess of $1 billion. Collins sells cars priced from anything between £250,000 and into the millions, driven by demand from the Far East, the Middle East, Switzerland and the US.

His Ascot-based dealership Talacrest was awarded a Queens Award for International Trade in 2016 for earning £59 million in overseas sales the previous year. In 2018 Talacrest celebrates 30 years in business.

Not bad for a dealership that only employs three people.

Collins, a laconic Scot, has not always been the Ferrari superdealer. He grew up on a council estate and left school at the age of 15, before managing to get a job on the Scottish Daily Express “as a teaboy” before becoming its youngest-ever trainee reporter.

This led to a successful stint as a photojournalist, travelling on assignment around the world for Paris Match and Stern. His reportage included everything from Grace Kelly’s death in Monaco to seal culling in the North Sea and covering John Paul II during his papal visit to Ireland. Collins got himself into such a good vantage point that priests were passing their cameras up to him to snap a photo of the Pope.

He bought his first Ferrari – a Dino 426 GT – in 1977 for £7,000, which cost him nearly two thirds of his annual salary. Today, that same car is worth around £350,000.

Collins then moved to America and worked for American scandal sheet National Enquirer, where he covered Eighties icons including Joan Collins during her Dynasty years and the casts of Dallas and Miami Vice.

“Not blowing my own trumpet but I was one of the bestin the world. They paid me stupid money, six figures a year,” he says.

A friend gave Collins a duff share tip and he lost everything in the 1987 stock market crash. Even worse, he had just down a job as editor of National Enquirer which would have paid nearly a million pounds a year in today’s money.

Lightbulb moment
On his uppers, Collins had to sell his beloved Ferrari to a dealer for £41,000, only to find out it was back on sale the very next day for a whopping £70,000. That was his lightbulb moment.
“I thought, if you can do it, I can do it,” he says.

In January 1988 he raised £350,000 from friends and used the money to put 10 percent deposits on £3 million worth of cars, telling dealers he would settle the outstanding balance in six months’ time when he came into an inheritance. Amazingly, the dealers played ball.

Originally it was to be a unit trust with everybody buying a thousand pound share in a car, but the Financial Services Act meant that he couldn’t advertise the scheme. Collins was forced to advertise all 12 cars for sale – making £500,000 profit in the six months before he had to pay them off. Dealers rang him up outraged at his chutzpah, selling cars which were still on their forecourt. He drily advised them to check with their lawyers, which they did and found out that he was entirely within his rights.

What is it about Ferrari in particular that so enamours him?
Collins chuckles and says it was the red Dino 426 GT that Tony Curtis drove in Seventies TV series The Persuaders. “The other guy, Roger Moore, drove an Aston Martin but I didn’t like that,” he says.

In its first year, Talacrest turned over around £12 million, then £30 million the next.

Collins attributes his success to acting like a collector – which he is, having personally so many Ferraris himself – and only buying what he loves. He buys with his heart first and foremost, which is why some Asian clients buy off him sight unseen.

Rockstar customers
The Scot says he is not about the hard sell, which is why some of his customers have stuck by him for 30 years. It is said that Collins has one of the best Rolodexes in the world, with clients including the Sultan of Brunei. Celebrity buyers include radio and former Top Gear presenter Chris Evans, rock stars Chris Rea and Mark Knopfler and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason.

Yes, but why Ferraris and not an equally iconic Porsche or a sexy Lamborghini?

Collins says: “There are so many Porsches and they all look the same. A classic 911 looks like new ones you buy today. As for Lamborghinis, I never really liked them. For me, Ferrari is the best brand in the world. I love all Ferraris, even the new ones – what’s not to love?”

The Talacrest showroom has around 10 cars for sale at any one time. The most expensive car Collins ever sold was a £30 million classic Ferrari.

Indeed, Ferrari engineers used to come over to England and genuflect at what is, after all, an altar to their artistry and engineering.

Classic Ferraris are probably one of the best performing investments you can make, assuming you have a spare few hundred thousand in your pocket.

To illustrate, Collins says that a 250 GTO that he bought for an eyewatering £2 million in 1994 is worth an astonishing £45 million today. Two years later he sold a California Spider for £750,000 that today is worth £12 million. “It’s one of the most beautiful cars ever built,” he says dreamily. “You can’t make that kind of money on many other things.”

So, what would Collins say to a Savile Row reader thinking of buying a first classic car?
“It depends on the individual. Buy something that you love,” says Collins. “That’s the beauty of Ferraris. When buyers come here, I take them through the car’s history and also how they want to use it. Do they want to race or go on casual tours or even just Sunday driving? I want to sell to people who love the cars, not speculators.”

Classic Ferraris dipped in value in the wake of the Brexit vote in June 2016 but Collins claims it was overheated anyway. At one point prices quadrupled within two years. “The market rose too quickly and went too high,” he says. The price correction also weeded out of the speculators, he says, as opposed to the true enthusiasts.

1962 Ferrari 250 GTO by Scaglietti

Collins still goes to auctions or people approach him and sell privately. “I’ve been quite lucky at auctions with cars that have slipped through the net,” he says. One case in point being a
Disney 14 Louvre 250 TDF that he bought for $6.7 million and sold it within one day at a higher price.

Some of the best and rarest Ferraris in the world have passed through his hands, including – for the petrolheads among you – most of the P-cars, including the P3, P4; the 410 Superamerica; 250 GTO; and the 330 LMB – the rarest Ferrari ever made.

Like children, Collins is hard pushed to pick a favourite of the cars he has sold, but he does have a soft spot for the 250 California Spider.

He points out that the sheer amount of cash needed to have the number of classic Ferraris he once had in his showroom would be impossible today, now that a GTO costs up to £70 million.

“Nobody will ever eclipse what I’ve achieved,” Collins says with some satisfaction. “You couldn’t afford the stock I had back in the Nineties.”