<b>1948 Tucker 48</b><br />Chassis no. 1028<br />Engine no. 335-35

Always on my mind

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 58, Spring 2019

Page 41

The birthplace of Elvis was also home to an exceptional motor car museum. Mark Beech admires the Tupelo Automobile Museum Collection

The Holy Grail for many auction buyers is the sale of an entire collection from a single esteemed source. This is as true for classic cars as it is for visual art. It is even rarer for a whole sale to consist of one collection, in its entirety, that comes from a single renowned museum. Yet this is exactly what Bonhams will achieve on 26 and 27 April, when the Tupelo Automobile Museum Collection will be offered on site. The backbone of the Bonhams sale will be American classics, with headline lots including an extremely rare 1948 Tucker, as well as a Duesenberg – a particularly sought-after marque: this particular Duesenberg is a 1929 Model J Sedan.

Elvis fans know Tupelo as the birthplace of 'the King of Rock and Roll', and they may be most interested in a late purchase by the star: a 1976 Lincoln Continental Mk IV. It comes complete with a copy of the $13,386.69 check Presley wrote to buy the motor car.

The Lincoln has Presley's well-known TCB logo (it stands for the motto 'Taking Care of Business') etched into the side windows. Presley gave the car to Jerry Kennedy, captain of the Denver Police Vice and Drug Control Bureau, who was in charge of security when the star appeared in Denver.

While the collection is a feast of retro-classic chrome, it is not all Americana. The museum was built by telecommunications mogul, Frank K. Spain, who is best known for founding the WTVA broadcasting company and was one of the first to explore color technology. He also liked prestigious British and European marques. He selected only the finest, with the models offered including such familiar names as Bentley, Lagonda and Talbot-Lago. An equally significant marque is Hispano- Suiza, which originated in Spain, but decamped to France after the Second World War. Its impressive 1919 H6B was the outcome of the company's experience of aircraft engine manufacture during the First World War. Frank had an eye for classy cars, and from 1974 gradually bought more than 160 of them, acquiring models that dated from the 1890s all the way through to the 1990s.

When Frank died in 2006, his wife Jane took over the project – until now. The museum's doors will open for the last time on 25 April for a preview before the two-day sale. Jane Spain – who fondly recalls a drive from Alaska to Tupelo in the 1990s in her favorite car, a 1954 Mercury Sun Valley – explained that the museum was no longer sustainable. "For more than a decade, it has been the greatest pleasure to honor my husband and to see people come to his hometown to appreciate the collection he enjoyed building," she said. "Ultimately, the greatest legacy of his passion for engineering, design and the motorcar is for these masterpieces to be shared with other collectors, and for that reason I've made the difficult decision to part with this collection."

Although Frank was a technology guru, most of his collection was amassed in the days before the internet. This meant that, with the assistance of museum curator Max Berryhill, the businessman would rely on tips and small ads in newspapers, as well as attending sales such as that of the massive Harrah Collection in the 1980s. In many cases, Frank would drive his purchases back to Tupelo – on occasion breaking down, as happened with the Mercury Sun Valley that Jane loved so much. At first the cars were stored at various locations; then, in 1990, the 120,000 square-foot museum opened. "The collection is a cornucopia of wonderful machines," said Rupert Banner, Bonhams Vice President of Motoring. "The scale, breadth and presentation of Spain's museum is extremely impressive."

Among the rarest cars are a 1915 Winton, unique for its year, and a streamlined 1948 Tucker, one of only 50 made. The Tucker is an especially beautiful machine, with torpedo-shaped body and a Cyclops-style single front headlight that turns with the steering wheel. The earliest car in the collection is an historic 1886 Benz that is effectively a petrol-driven three-wheel cart. At the other end of the scale is a 1994 Dodge Viper, with only 12 miles on the clock. The Viper is said to be able to hit 188mph.

There is also a 1982 Barrister Corvette, created by Californian customizing operation George Barris. Barris sold motor cars to such stars as Frank Sinatra, but this one was owned by Liberace. Jane Spain is even parting with her treasured Mercury Sun Valley, and it may be other people's favorite too. "The proceeds of selling the collection will go to a charitable educational foundation," said Jane. "I hope that others will enjoy acquiring and owning them as much as Frank did."

Mark Beech is an author, journalist and broadcaster.

Sale: The Tupelo Automobile Museum Auction The Tupelo Automobile Museum Friday 26 and Saturday 27 April
Enquiries: Rupert Banner
+1 917 340 9652
rupert.banner@bonhams.com
bonhams.com/mot-car

Related auctions