Classic & Sportscar
“If I can’t buy it, I still get a real buzz from sitting in or just touching the greatest cars in the World,” explains Don Williams of the Blackhawk Collection. Some of the most dramatic cars in automotive history have been through his hands during the 27 years of dealing but there are still those he craves to discover.
“I tracked down one of the greatest Mercs of all time in Spain – a streamlined Autobahn Kurier 540K – but was bluntly told I wouldn’t even know anybody with enough money to buy it! The owner had so much sentimental interest in the car he would never sell it, but at least I got to sit in it. An ex Count Roissi Mercedes owned by the king of Jordan is another great car I know I’ll never be able to buy, but the one I dream of discovering is the flamboyant ‘Flying Star’ Isotta Fraschini. There are rumours that it survives in India but I’ve yet to meet anyone who has ever seen it.”
Blackhawk, based in Danville just south of San Francisco on the golden Diablo Hills, has been transformed in the last 10 years from desert farmsteads and corrals of Mustang ponies to the home of one of the most dramatic car museums, the Behring collection. Don Williams was a driving force in finding cars for this educational institute (patron Ken Behring donated the collection to the University of California) but Williams is now independent of the museum. His new offices and showroom are almost as spectacular as the black granite showcase museum. “During the 80’s I operated like a stockbroker with a fax machine and Federal Express card from warehouse garages, but stored a set of chandeliers for seven years until the day I created the elegant working environment I wanted.” Now the Blackhawk Plaza Circle displays up to 20 cars in grand style, chandeliers et all.
Don Williams is now a familiar figure at prestige International collector’s car events from Pebble Beach to RetroMobile, bit it all began in 1966 working for the first ‘old car store’ west of the Mississippi with Sam Bergman where Don sold hi first car, a ’31 Packard Roadster. During the ‘70’s he served Hollywood finding cars for such nostalgic movies as Chinatown, Grease and Hot Wax before the industry transformed to location work. Later, in 1979, a union between Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson was Williams’ instigation, helping create one of the America’s largest classic car auctions, in Phoenix, Arizona. Now heading his own company, Williams has merged with collector’s car auction specialist Richie Clyne, and more recently with Rick Cole, to consolidate resources. They now run four major auctions a year – Las Vegas, Newport Beach, Monterey and the latest addition at Williams’ home base Blackhawk. American auctions have previously run to four day enduros with often as many as 450 cars but Williams’ plans to limit his consignment to just 250 with realistic reserves.
Aside from the auction and salesroom, Williams feels the most important recent market development is his Exposition: “The concept was created because I felt the era of raising your hand to buy a $1 million car was over. The market needed a more private situation without cameras or press but I also wanted to facilitate a circumstance that allowed trades. The idea started in Japan back in 1990 but we didn’t present our first Exposition until Pebble Beach last year,” explained Williams. His ‘portable showroom’ has already sold such significant cars as the ‘Blue Train’ Bentley and has recently consigned the three BAT Alfas. “It’s altogether a classier way of doing business and next year we are planning Expositions in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris. Already several European companies are copying our ideas.”
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