It’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do but a classic car devotee is parting with the ‘world’s best collection’ of 16 vintage Humber vehicles – including two with royal pedigree and one linked to pop star Madonna.
Allan Marshall, 64, from Hull, is auctioning off his remarkable motors, gathered over 60 years, first by his father Reg and then by him, because of spiralling maintenance and storage costs.
He said: “I don’t really want to let them go, they’re so special to me. It’s taken me decades to build up the best collection of Humber vehicles in the world. They’re unmatched anywhere. But I’m in my 60s now and I won’t be here forever. Ideally, I’d love to see them sold as one lot and put on public display to be enjoyed by everyone.”
That’s something Allan, a retired potato merchant, has endeavoured to do. His unrivalled fleet of legendary vehicles are stored in Cleveland Street, east Hull, and he’s always welcomed visitors from all over the world.
He said: “It’s not a museum but people think it is. It’s got a 5-star rating as a museum on Tripadvisor and is listed as one of the top 20 things to do in the city. Some of the comments are so lovely. I was almost in tears when I read them. Celebrities have visited including Jools Holland, Stirling Moss and Michael Aspel – and they were all amazed.
“I’ve even had a letter from Prince William and Kate as, ahead of their wedding, I won a competition to decide which car was fit for a queen. I entered the Humber and it won. I couldn’t let Rolls-Royce win.”
Now Allan’s cars are set to be sold by Hansons Auctioneers and could fetch between £200,000 and £250,000 thanks to their star quality - and rarity. The first Humber car was produced in 1898 in Beeston, Notts. Less than 1% of the vehicles still exist, the lowest survival rate of any British car manufacturer.
The Humber used by the Queen Mother.
And yet in their heyday the motors were adored by royals and prime ministers alike including Sir Winston Churchill who had five. One vehicle being sold belonged to the Queen Mother. The 1952 Super-Snipe MKIII delivered her to church during the reign of her husband, King George VI, and bears a lasting memento. Her finger nails are believed to have made marks on the grab handles inside the car.
One of Allan’s favourite Humbers, a 1930s 80bhp Snipe, found in a Northamptonshire scrapyard, was used by Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson, later known as the Duchess of Windsor. The British king’s plan to marry the American divorcée caused a constitutional crisis that led to his abdication.
Allan said: “They used it to get around London in secret. Thanks to its small back window you couldn’t see who was inside. It was made for privacy.
“The Wallis Simpson Humber has always been popular with Americans because she was the closest thing they ever really had to a queen.
“When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tied the knot it gained lots of attention as people saw their marriage as history repeating itself.”
The Humber used by Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson to travel around London.
Such is the importance of Allan’s collection, American musician and film star Madonna requested use of the Wallis Simpson Humber for W.E. – a 2011 film about the royal couple.
Allan said: “Her agent contacted me but I had to say no. They said, ‘nobody says no to Madonna’. I said I’m afraid I have to because that Humber has got its engine out at the moment. I’ve had to turn down lots of film work but one of my cars up for auction is in 1965 spy thriller Operation Crossbow, which starred John Mills and Sophia Loren, and another was in a Buddy Holly film.
Other highlights in the sale include a Humber Imperial built for King George VI, who sadly died before it could be delivered; a 1967 Imperial saloon used in 1978 film The Big Sleep starring Robert Mitchum, and a car that featured in 2015 movie A Royal Night Out. Two Humber bicycles and memorabilia relating to the famous Midlands-based car, bicycle and motorcycle manufacturer are also in the auction.
Allan Marshall's Humbers have been used for weddings.
But the most precious vehicle of all as far as Allan is concerned, and one that will only be sold if a single owner buys the entire collection, is the Humber that started it all.
Allan said: “My father bought his first Humber in 1960 for £90. It was a 1954 Pullman built for Baroness Rothschild. She used it in London and kept it at Claridges. I always remember the day I took the back seats out to deliver spuds to fish and chip shops in Hull.
“I don’t want to part with her but if we find someone willing to buy the whole collection for posterity it will be included. I hope my cars stay in the country. They’re like my family. I call them my girls and that first Humber bought by my dad is the boss. I always park her so she can see the others.
“My Humbers took my three children and most of my eight grandchildren to their christenings. I had a procession of seven Humbers at my daughter’s wedding. I used the same car to take her to church that I used for her christening.”
Allan Marshall seen in days gone by carefully polishing one of his beloved cars.
“But the time has come to let go. The costs of keeping them are too much for me now. My wife, Barbara, and I haven’t had a holiday for more than 40 years and if it's a choice between my cars and my wife there’s no contest.”
Rik Alexander, who is managing the sale for Hansons, said: “We are absolutely bowled over by the brilliance of Allan’s Humbers. Every single one of them has a special story, a special place in history. The royal ones are particularly magnificent. I’m expecting worldwide interest in what is a unique example of British motoring history.
“Classic cars are soaring in value and are a great investment, particularly with global markets in turmoil right now. They’re something you can rely on and enjoy. Celebrity Humber owners include Jools Holland, Richard Branson and Chris Evans, who apparently contacted Allan for advice on parts.”
Humber Limited was listed as a manufacturer of cars, bicycles and motorcycles in 1887 after Initially starting out as a cycle business in 1868 owned by Thomas Humber. Humbers are claimed to be the first series production cars made in England. Produced in Beeston, near Nottingham, Stoke and Coventry, they gained admiration for their robust quality and reliability.
King George VI took delivery of his first Humber in 1935 and was so impressed he ordered 47 to be sent to British embassies around the world. Every prime minister of the day arrived at Downing Street in a Humber.
The Allan Marshall Humber Car Collection Auction is due to take place on April 9 but is subject to change due to the coronavirus epidemic. However, potential purchasers keen to find out more are warmly invited to contact Rik Alexander. Email: [email protected]
Classic Cars and Hansons
Hansons regularly auctions classic cars at its country house saleroom, Bishton Hall in Staffordshire. High prices can be achieved thanks to its global bidding platform. To enquire about future sales or to find out more about Hansons' services, please email: [email protected]
Credits: Queen Mother portrait by Richard Stone/Wikipedia; Edward and Wallis Simpson images Wikipedia.