Clockwise from front: Lincoln Continental Convertible, Mercury Club Eight Convertible, Chevrolet El Camino, Cadillac Coupe De Ville, Cadillac Series 62, Packard Super 8 sedan and Rolls-Royce Phantom III.
It isn’t until we start to bring Marcus Dean’s cars outside that the connection becomes so obvious. They’re all huge. Somehow, this passes you by as you edge between them in their elegant converted stable blocks; you’re too busy discovering each one as Marcus flicks the lights on, and there’s a baffling contrast in marques and eras. Who has a ’59 Chevy El Camino hot-rod parked opposite a Rolls-Royce Phantom III? Well, Marcus does.
Line them up in the driveway and the theme is unmissable. Why the emphasis on size? I just don’t like small cars. They got bigger and bigger in America after the war because people thought they looked better, and I agree – I think the optimum size was reached in the Fifties. Look at Bentley Continentals of that era and they’re a similar length to American cars.’
Marcus has had stately British classics since the Nineties, but his first foray into American cars came a decade ago. He’s bemused by their stigmatised image in the UK and, having owned many alongside examples of our home-grown luxury marques, is well placed to compare them, I’ve always liked the style but it’s more than that – drive one after getting out of a British car from the era and you can’t help but be impressed. My first was a 1949 Cadillac fastback and after that I was hooked.’ Marcus took early retirement from his job as an architect and gained a serious collecting habit. ‘Having time on your hands, plus having the space, plus an internet connection, equals trouble,’ he says.
1947 Mercury Club Eight
Mercury’s original V8 seized so a new one was found. Marcus once drove back from London with the roof down on his Mercury Club Eight convertible at 3am -‘I nearly froze to death’.
The previous owner of this car bought it after it had spent a long time in a museum. Inactivity bred trouble, as Marcus explains.
It was made to run, but quite soon afterwards it seized and the engine was wrecked. Turns out no one had thought to change the oil beforehand and it was full of sludge. The Flathead V8 engine was replaced with an unused one built for use in the French military some time after they went out of production for civilian use, and I bought it shortly afterwards.
It chugs along very nicely. It only has three gears and a column shift, but there’s plenty of torque so you don’t have to change gear much.
‘Drive one after getting out of a British car from the era and you can’t help but be impressed’
The Mercury is a pre-war hangover before the all-new bodyshells arrived for 1949. It’s still smart enough to show off, but eminently useable and it sits chuffing away in a good-natured manner as Marcus points out the power hood, I always leave it down,’ he says. ‘Even for the trip back from London when I bought it. There’s no heater, and arriving back here at about 3am, I nearly froze to death.’
1959 Chevrolet El Camino
Originally bought for practical reasons, the El Camino never quite fulfilled that role – but Marcus still likes it, despite the wrong wheels
As we stroll over to this outrageous pick-up Marcus seems vaguely sheepish, i bought it to be a useful truck for carrying things back from the builders’ merchant, but somehow it never got used for that. I really wanted a ’59 Chevy with those almost horizontal fins, but I probably should have waited and bought a coupe.’
The El Camino debuted in 1959 in response to Ford’s sedan-pick-up, the Ranchero, and it later became an excellent seller for Chevrolet. However, they didn’t leave the factory like this one, which had been mechanically uprated before Marcus bought it. It has a warmed-over 327cu in Chevrolet V8 and Camaro front suspension and brakes, with a four-speed manual gearbox – but no conventional handbrake to replace the foot-pedal parking brake that came with the original automatic transmission. Tricky on hill starts… it can catch you out,’ says Marcus, it’ll spin its wheels easily too, despite those wide tyres. I don’t like the wheels; I must change them.’
1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville
Cadillac Coupe de Ville was once the centrepiece of a biker bar
Marcus is still frowning at the El Camino when we walk on towards the coal-black Coupe de Ville, but he perks up when asked about this remarkable find. it’s only done 28,000 miles from new and it’s original inside and out – no restoration, no re-trim, no mechanical rebuilds, only some paint here and there.’ He tells the car’s remarkable story. ‘The first owner gave it to his daughter when he died, then it ended up as the centrepiece of a biker bar in Texas. It was eventually sold again and imported to the UK where it made the local TV news down in Southampton, because venomous spiders were discovered in it and a boffin from the university came to identify them. Thankfully, they were all dead.’
Marcus bought the car six years ago. The interior has survived amazingly well and all the chrome mouldings fit with a tightness that is next to impossible to replicate. He twists the tiny key and the 6.4-litre V8 exudes a rumbling menace appropriate to its spider-infested, biker-bar past.
This Bentley Continental T is the newest car in the fleet – and still manages to be dwarfed by the Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental behind it
THE EDINBURGH CONTINGENT
Marcus is moving his cars from Perthshire to the family’s new home in Edinburgh. ‘I wanted to build a garage but planning permission was a problem. Instead, I asked if it would be okay to raise the tennis court by seven feet and got the go-ahead.’ The space under the court now functions as a garage with a pit. At the moment, it’s acting as a sick bay. The 1956 Packard Caribbean needs a bit of work to make it reliable, but I’ve got the self-levelling torsion bar suspension working again,’ says Marcus. ‘The 1941 Cadillac’s engine is out for rebuilding, but I’m doing the gearbox myself.’ Continuing to the right there is a 1937 Rolls-Royce 25/30 that’s awaiting a new keeper, then a 1958 Packard Starlight Coupe, then a 1961 Bentley S2 Continental drophead, a firm favourite, and then an imposing 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental, and a Bentley Continental T from 1998.
1965 Lincoln Continental
Marcus isn’t keen on Nigel’s suggestion of turning the Continental into a nail salon but the extended legroom on this post-1963 car should find favour with our tallest writer
I bought this one in 2008 from a Gulf War veteran in America who wanted a project to distract his alcoholic father,’ says Marcus. Is the story as much of an attraction to him as the car itself? Perhaps it helps.
I just love the simplicity of styling compared to the Fifties cars he says, it’s a design classic, and with the completely self-hiding roof it has the cleanest lines. The roof is a gimmick, I guess, but it’s fun, unless you want to put something in the boot – the roof fills it totally. It drives smoothly with sharp brakes, but it cruises safely at 90mph. If you can put up with the economy…’
It drives smoothly with sharp brakes, but it cruises safely at 90mph. If you can put up with the economy…
The Lincoln’s big-block V8 engine displaces just over 7.0 litres and has to shift more than 2.5 tons, so perhaps it’s not surprising that 11mpg is all most owners expect. The original metallic-effect green leather has been replaced with something plain, but otherwise, a life in a hot climate before Marcus bought it four years ago has preserved it well.
1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III
Previous owner spent £161,000 on restoring the Packard
Rolls-Royce almost made a fetish of complexity with these sophisticated V12 limousines – yet of all Marcus’s cars, it’s this one that inspires him to roll his sleeves up. Perhaps he’s not the rational snapper-up of other people’s restorations that he appears to be. i had the car inspected when I bought it and it got a big thumbs-up for being so unspoilt. They should have said, “Yes, it’s a nice bit of history, but you’ll end up having to do everything on it’’.’
Marcus has been through the top end of the engine, the suspension, brakes and wheels, and rewired the car. It’s been stripped to bare metal and re-painted too.
It was bought new by the Mayor of Brussels and bodied as a sports saloon by Vesters and Neirinck, but the bodywork was destroyed in the war.
A Barker body of the right age was later fitted in the UK and the car went to the Blackhawk Collection in America. Marcus lifts the nearside bonnet and we gaze at the 24-plug dual ignition and horrendous access problems, it gets a bit hot sometimes,’ he says. ‘I wonder whether I can face stripping the engine.’
1939 Packard Super 8 sedan
Packard Super 8 sedan’s epic interior space made it a useful wheelchair hauler in New York
Seek out cars that others have spent money on. It’s not a bad motto, I learned through experience,’ says Marcus. ‘People often lose money on restorations and this one is a dramatic example. ‘The restorer loved the car’s story so much that he wanted it restored perfectly, and as the bills kept coming, he kept paying. I think it added up to $268,000 (£161,000) in the end, and the car is worth about $50,000 (£30,000).’
And that story? ‘The car stayed with its original owner for decades – he drove into his Eighties and took his disabled old friends around New York in it, because their wheelchairs would fit in the back,’ says Marcus. He’s right – they would have. One peep in the vast broadcloth drawing room behind the front seat is enough to understand the appeal of this car. When the effortless sidevalve straight-engine thrums into life, you become envious of the driver as well as the passengers.
1953 Cadillac Series 62
The Cadillac Series 62 is the king of the collection – and if its previous American owner reads this, we apologise for letting it go outside. Firing up the Cadillac – about two gallons gone.
As we get closer to this 1953 convertible it gets increasingly obvious this is the jewel in the crown, condition-wise. In fact it was too fine to use – or even touch – according to the previous owner.
‘The inspector was made to wear gloves to touch the chrome, and the owner used a towel on the leather to push the seat up. When I had bought it and sorted out transportation he called me in a panic to say the people had arrived with an open trailer, which must be a mistake.’
For Marcus, this was a chance to experience what it was like buying a new Cadillac half a century earlier. It’s been eight years since it landed in the UK (‘Back when it was two dollars to the pound,’ says Marcus), but it still appears new, with bouncy seats and not a mark of wear on it. This, despite Marcus’s differing philosophy. ‘The previous owner sold it because he couldn’t bear to take it out and drive it. I don’t have that problem.’
How do you manage a collection heading towards 20, with power to add? Marcus Dean admits to some assistance from his handyman at the house in Perthshire but says this is sometimes the handymans choice. ‘Just now he’s renewing a couple of exhaust systems because he prefers working on the cars to doing the other jobs.’
The trick, says the owner, is to make time for basic servicing yourself and create excuses to drive them all, even a little. ‘I hope I can look after them all myself when they’re back in Edinburgh,’ says Marcus. Tm not aiming for perfection -I can stand a few oil drips – but I want them all to work properly.’
ALL THE CARS
1932 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental
1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III
1939 Packard Super 8 sedan
1941 Cadillac Convertible
1947 Mercury Club Eight Convertible
1949 Cadillac Series 62 Sedanette
1949 Bentley Mk VI Mulliner prototype
1953 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible
1954 Buick Century Convertible 1956 Packard Caribbean
1958 Packard Starlite hardtop
1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville
1959 Chevrolet El Camino
1960 Cadillac Coupe de Ville
1961 Bentley S2 Continental DHC
1965 Lincoln Continental Convertible
1968 Mercedes 280 SL
1998 Bentley Continental T
We talk to two friends whose mutual love of classics has led to them amassing a diverse 12-car collection that ranges from a Jowett Jupiter to a firebreathing Ford RS200