<b>1913 Mercer Type 35J "Raceabout"</b><br />Engine no. 1462 <b>1914 Simplex 50HP "Speedcar"</b><br />Engine no. A2-50-59 <b>1904 Peerless Type 8 Style K 24HP Four-Cylinder King of Belgium</b><br />Engine no. 585

Look past sepia-tinted notions of Brass Era motor cars, says
Richard Holt, and you'll see a technological revolution

As our era of driverless cars unfolds, people talk about times of unprecedented change. Maybe so, but imagine living at the dawn of the 20th century, when the world moved from horses to cars. It is hard to imagine a more profound change to the landscape of a country across a single generation, and nowhere more so than in America.

One of the best-known collectors of Brass Era cars was the late Oklahoma businessman Don Boulton, whose fleet of rare pre-1916 models is offered at Amelia Island on 7 March. Bonhams Co-Chairman, Malcolm Barber, said Boulton's name is "synonymous with great early cars" and the collection coming to market is "like opening up Tutankhamun's tomb". The collection includes 24 cars and the automobilia from Don's expansive garage.

Boulton was born in 1925 in Oklahoma City. After school, he attended military academy, before being drafted into the army. He was on a ship set to invade Japan but the war ended before he got there. After the war, Boulton completed a business degree, before joining the family car-parts company. This is where his passion for this particular era of car really got going.

"I think you have to be what they call a gearhead," Boulton said. "You need an innate desire to see an ancient piece of machinery come back to life. That's what I thought when I saw my first automobile in front of a gas station in downtown Oklahoma City; I knew I could make that thing run again. And I did."

The Boulton Collection includes a very rare 1908 Welch Model 4 Seven-Seat Tourer that featured on the front cover of Ralph Stein's 1961 book The Treasury of the Automobile, and a 1910 Pope-Hartford Model T Limousine that was once owned by Uruguay's ambassador to the Vatican and is said to have given a ride to Pope Pius X. Among the riches of the collection are no fewer than seven cars that may be eligible for the annual London-to-Brighton Veteran Car Run, which is open only to models made in 1904 or earlier.

Over the years, Boulton bought and restored dozens of cars. He and his wife Grace would attend car rallies to show off the vehicles he had revived. From 1965, Don served as President of the Horseless Carriage Club of America, a group devoted to Brass Era cars. Watching Boulton walk among his cars gave some understanding of how strongly he felt about them. He would caress their fenders and talk about the foibles of each motor car as though they were qualities. Leaning on the brass headlamp of a 1910 Packard, he said that a car like this "feels good at 55[mph], but at 65 something would start coming loose".

He added, "Back in the days when this car was on the road, they were all dirt – except some paved roads in cities – so you couldn't make 55, probably 35 if the road was fairly decent, and half the time you were out fixing a flat because of all the horseshoe nails and rocks in the road. They are very primitive and take a lot of attention – you are constantly adjusting them, greasing them and dealing with them."

He would delight in demonstrating how to light the headlights with a match, taking care that the gas did not blow back into his face, and explained how easily people used to burn their hands on the "frying hot" brass lights. Of one car, the 1904 Peerless, Boulton said "arguably it is the finest four-cylinder pre-1905 automobile that has survived", adding proudly: "It was a luxury make at the time and very expensive. It would have taken a real fat cat to own a car like this." Boulton himself took a fancy to the Peerless when he saw it taking part in the Londonto- Brighton run. As Don recalls, "About five years later, a guy called up and said: 'Hey Don, that Peerless is for sale. You're the first one I've called, so if you want it you've got to make your mind up, because I'm going to tell some other people.' So I made my mind up and bought it over the telephone."

It was only later that Boulton found out the seller had offered it to five people before him. He didn't only like cars made for fat cats. "Some of my collection are luxury cars and some of them are just plain cars," he said. "But they're all very fetching to me." Boulton was speaking in a video made just before he turned 90. "I'm in good shape and I intend to remain that way so I can enjoy these cars," he said. "I get a thrill when I walk down that line and I remember each of them, what it took to get it back in the condition that it is." He did indeed continue to enjoy the motor cars. He celebrated his 70th wedding anniversary with Grace last year, then – following a brief illness – he died shortly after his 93rd birthday.

So these cars are antiques, but they are also beautifully preserved pieces of cutting-edge technology that changed the world forever.

Richard Holt writes about classic cars for The Daily Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal and Motor Sport.

Sale: Amelia Island Auction
Fernandina Beach Golf Club
Thursday 7 March at 12pm
Enquiries: Malcolm Barber

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