Introduction by Robert Jarman
James Martin is perhaps best-known as the Presenter of Saturday Kitchen for BBC1 which attracts 3.5 million foodies every week, and has made him a household name, but his other passion is racing Classic Cars.
In fact, he was once quoted as saying; ‘Food comes first, then cars, then my dog, and then women’….!
When we recently visited James at his home, we were greeted, on arrival, by his very glamorous partner, Louise, and then introduced to his dogs, the old retainer, Fudge, and the new upstart, Ralph, and then James appeared to introduce us to his cars!
James’s passion for restoring and racing classic cars is well-known, and one which his fame and fortune as a celebrity chef, has enabled him to indulge in on a scale which most of us can only begin to imagine.
Creating such a fine collection of classic cars, is not cheap, but fortunately, in James’s case, he has chosen well, proving to be a very shrewd investment.
The description of his car collection follows later by our Classic Motoring Correspondent, John Belsey, who is far more knowledgeable about these matters than I am. However, as an interested observer, it is clear that most of the cars he has acquired are the very best of their kind, both technically and in terms of provenance. Where restoration has been called for, it has been carried out to the very highest standards, with no expense spared. The other noticeable thing is the affection and knowledge which James displays when discussing every car in his collection.
So, what of the career which has allowed James Martin to indulge his passions in such a flamboyant style?
Well, he has achieved a huge amount in his life to date, becoming one of the best-known celebrity chefs in the UK. There are very few celebrities who write their autobiographies, aged 36, who actually have something interesting to say in them, but this is not so with James Martin, as his personal life has been every bit as exciting as his professional life. There is not enough space in this article to reproduce his life so far, but suffice it to say that his autobiography ‘Driven’ is a great read!
James’s work ethic probably comes from his family who were originally, tenant farmers on the Castle Howard estate in Yorkshire. His father was catering manager at the ‘big house’, so James was inducted into the world of fine food from an early age. It is no surprise therefore that at the age of 16, he began his formal training at Scarborough Technical College, where he won ‘Student of the Year’ for three years running.
His talent came to the attention of Antony Worrall Thompson who brought him to London to work in the kitchens of 190 Queensgate, followed by dell’Ugo. France was his next destination, working in the kitchens of some of the old chateaux, often cooking side by side with the mothers and grandmothers of the grand old families as well as honing his skills in 2 and 3 star establishments.
Back in England, he worked at the 5 star Chewton Glen in the New Forest, for two years as pastry chef, and in 1994, at the tender age of 22, James was offered the job of Head Chef at the very first ‘Hotel du Vin’ in Winchester, by Robin Hutson, who had been the Manager at Chewton Glen, and the Sommelier, Gerard Bassett.
The Vintage Magazine has written about Robin and Gerard and their ground breaking approach to modern hotel design and management in our article entitled Robin Hutson – The Hotel Guru, which makes for a fascinating story in its own right. (To be found under the Business and Finance section, sub heading, Movers and Shakers)
Hotel du Vin was an instant success, with James Martin playing a pivotal role in the crucial early stages, with his innovative style of cooking and the hotel kitchen’s daily changing menu. It certainly was a spring board towards James’ future success as a television celebrity chef.
James Martin has made a great impact since he began to appear on television in November 1996 and has rarely been off screen since. He first came to the attention of a wider audience through BBC’s Ready Steady Cook and since then his on screen presence has grown so much so that he is completely at ease in front of the camera, confident rather than cocky and has become an accomplished interviewer being able to promote whatever guest celebrity’s latest book, acting role or achievement is being ‘plugged’ whilst whipping up, with consummate ease, some delicious culinary masterpiece to the 3.5 million people who watch him every week on Saturday Kitchen.
His easy charm and straight forward ‘Yorkshire’ approach to life make him a natural for TV and his good looks certainly are no hindrance!
He is also, like so many Celebrity Chefs, a hugely successful ‘Author’. The market for celebrity cook books has grown exponentially over the past twenty years and he has ridden the crest of this wave, selling millions of books during this period. Authors who are watched by 3.5 million people on television each week, are a publisher’s dream, because that sort of exposure is beyond price! I know, because I was a publisher, and you could not buy that sort of national publicity on a weekly basis.
So, James is a very busy young man. Apart from opening in 2012 his second restaurant inside the newly refurbished hotel, The Talbot, at Malton, North Yorkshire, and achieving a place in the Michelin Guide by the end of 2012, he is having an equally busy 2013 with many events booked, including the Good Food Shows and is currently filming some new series including another Hospital series due later this year. He also has a new cookery book due out in the autumn.
A different television experience in the Autumn of 2005 brought him to the attention of a whole new army of fans when James reached the semi-finals with his newfound prowess on the dance floor in Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1) which was watched by 9 million viewers, and made him a true, ‘household name’.
However, probably one of the highlights of his television career was filming ‘Racing Legends’, with Sir Jackie Stewart which aired in December 2012 on BBC as racing is James’s other passion. He can be seen regularly racing classic cars around the UK and Europe. His love of speed on the ground can now be matched in the skies as he holds a fixed-wing pilot’s license and is currently learning to fly helicopters.
James is just about to take part in Carfest, the brainchild of his good friend, Chris Evans, which is staged at the very beautiful Laverstoke Park Estate in Hampshire, which belongs to another friend, the former Formula One racing driver, Jody Scheckter and that is followed by the Festival of Speed at Goodwood from 11th-14th July.
Other petrolhead friends include Jay Kay, the lead singer of Jamiroquai, who also has owned over 60 luxury cars, mainly sports cars and Nick Mason, drummer in Pink Floyd, whose collection of vintage ferraris is one of the best in the world, with around 40 cars in his stable. We can’t say how much the garage is worth in total, but here’s a hint: His Ferrari 250 GTO is valued at some £23m, or about $37,000,000.
James Martin’s Collection is not really on this scale, but then he is 27 years younger than Nick Mason, so he has plenty of time to catch-up!
So, as you can see, James is never short of something to do – he clearly believes in the philosophy that, ‘you are here for a good time, not a long time!’, and this guy really knows how to pack in as much fun as possible.
Now, John Belsey, our Classic Motoring Correspondent, will give you the detailed information about James Martin’s Car Collection, which may be smaller than those of some of his friends, but is nevertheless ‘perfectly formed’.
Classic Cars à la Carte – Chef’s Selection by John Belsey (photography by Doug Garvie)
James Martin probably came to the wider attention of the classic car world when, in 2007, he bought a 1952 Maserati A6GCS sports-racer with the right provenance to gain an entry for the highly prestigious historic Mille Miglia in 2008. The somewhat rushed preparation and his participation were televised in a TV documentary.
Unfortunately, James failed to complete the event due to mechanical woes. However, the car was sold on profitably in spite of the prodigious preparation costs, James having realised, perhaps, that his interests lay in more robust machinery.
Then, there is the true story that, when he bought his house near Winchester, knowing that he was going to rebuild the bungalow into something more stylish and substantial, he first built two garage blocks for his cars while living in a motorhome. Today, the prominent garages form a courtyard with the house and remain a major part of the ambiance of the completed property.
In a most welcome display of early summer sunshine, the garage doors were already open when we arrived, and the tailored car covers removed. It was obvious we were in for a treat as mouth-watering as James’s cooking.
In the order in which they are garaged, we started our viewing with James knowledgably filling in some history:
First up was an ultra stylish Ferrari 250 GT 2+2 – GTE from 1963, in Chiaro blue metallic with Crema leather. This lovely example demonstrates how inappropriate it is that this member of the iconic 250 family has for so long been underrated. It should surely be the equal of the contemporary and and now highly sought after Aston Martin DB4 but is not yet valued as such by the collector’s market.
Next came a brace of Abingdon built competition Mini Cooper ‘S’s’. The famous 1963 1275 ‘S’ works team rally car 8 EMO driven in period by Rauno Aaltonen and later owned, and driven in competition, by Raymond Baxter. In traditional Tartan red, with a white roof and Minilite alloy wheels, the car was obviously in very good condition, displaying just the right amount of patina from competition use.
James will be demonstrating it on the rally course at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July. In BMC works team use, James says it ran all three ‘S’ type engines – 970cc, 1071cc and the 1275cc which it retains, along with Hydrolastic suspension which was a prototype version.
The second car OBL 48F was built by the works Competition Department as a private entry in 1968, after BMC had ceased factory participation due in part to the less than even-handed treatment the team had received from the French Monte Carlo rally officials.
This car displays the same exhaustive and detailed preparation features as the earlier car but is now configured for track use. The list of modifications carried out by Abingdon to the production version ran into the 100s by the time this late example was built up.
James has another, blue, Cooper ‘S’ which he has been invited to race at the Goodwood Revival race meeting in September, in the St Mary’s Trophy; his co-driver will be Andy Harrison. He is also doing some modern GT endurance racing this year in both an Aston Martin Vantage and a Ferrari 458 Italia Corsa; his ultimate ambition is to take part in the Le Mans 24 hours.
Next, dwarfing the Minis, sat a somewhat menacing 1967 Shelby Mustang GT350 in metallic grey with mat black stripes in the style of ‘Eleanor’ the Shelby Mustang driven by Nicolas Cage in the film ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’, being also the same fastback body style as the Steve McQueen ‘Bullitt’ car.
Although appearing period correct, this car has been modified for enhanced driving pleasure with a larger Ford 6.0 litre pushrod V8 engine, still on carburettors and producing 500 bhp, with a five speed gearbox and re-engineered independent rear suspension to help put the power down.
An appropriately loud American sound track accompanied its emergence from the garage for photography; Italian V12’s may be stirring but Detroit also has its place in the souls of enthusiasts.
Last in the first garage block, was a bright yellow Benson & Hedges sponsored Jordan Peugeot Formula 1 car from 1997, driven by Giancarlo Fisichella in period.
Apparently the B&H gold of the cigarette packaging, so familiar to smokers of a certain age, could not be used as it did not show up well on television. It now has a Ford Cosworth DFV engine installed for ease of operation because James likes to drive this car on track, but not with the rock hard original Goodyear tyres which I was relieved to hear are for display purposes only. James also has examples of Benetton and Jaguar F1 cars but they were elsewhere; an indication perhaps that he considers these cars to be undervalued.
First in the second block, we came to the ‘ Jewel in the Crown ‘ of the collection, a wonderful 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB/C, the ultra rare and desirable competition version with lightweight aluminium bodywork, of which only 12 examples are believed to have been built, with this car being the only right-hand drive version as ordered by its first British owner.
In its immaculate Argento metallic finish, with business-like black trim, de-bumpered and sitting on wide Borrani alloy wheels, this short-nose car looks every inch a racer, brutish and elegant at the same time, both more purposeful and modern than the beautiful long-nose road-going version which is usually seen with wire wheels.
After some whirring of the starter motor, the 3.3 litre V12 burst into life, little silenced and producing a symphony of mechanical percussion blended with an exhaust tenor of Il Divo O2 Arena filling proportions – truly a ‘hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck’ moment.
Next up was a superb low mileage, one previous owner example of arguably the most desirable ‘modern’ road going Ferrari, the first Modenese supercar, a 288 GTO in traditional Ferrari red, of course. This was only the second ever ‘Omoligato’ model produced by the factory, the first being the famed 250 GTO, both of which were true homologation specials to enable road cars to be competitive in international motor sport.
It produced 400 bhp from its 2855cc twin-turbo V8 engine and employed the latest technology in its construction: fibreglass, Kevlar, carbon fibre, Nomex and aluminium honeycomb were combined to clothe a lightweight tubular framed chassis with an exquisite evolution of the 308 by Pininfarina.
With a production run of only 273 cars, made between 1984 and 1986, it was first intended for racing and rallying. However, with the early demise of the Group B category, at which it was aimed, which had led particularly to monstrously powerful and dangerous world rally cars and the tragic death of Henri Toivonen driving a Lancia, Ferrari found that far from having something that its customers had no use for, it had a runaway success on its hands as a road car.
This opened Ferrari’s eyes, and others, to the potential and highly lucrative ‘limited production’ supercar market. It was followed by the better known F40, which was mechanically similar but more compromised for road use and less attractive, the F50, the Enzo and now La Ferrari, each of which has tried to milk the market first created by the 288 GTO, along with products from other manufacturers, such as Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin, Bugatti and Pagani.
Finally in this garage, James’s ‘bargain’ purchase, a Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe in black, a two year old fully optioned car that would have been close to £400,000 new but which he was able to buy at a trade price of little more than a third of that through his contacts.
As he says, it was too good a deal to turn down.
Both garages were dressed with a selection of appropriate memorabilia as well as a selection of other ‘boys toys’ – a monster jet ski, a remote control model Wellington bomber, a Peel P50 Microcar, Vespa and Lambretta scooters, a 999R Ducati Superbike and other older motorcycles, winding up with an original 1960s Fiat 595 Abarth – small enough to be garaged in the kitchen although, obviously, this chef’s workplace is not small!
Whilst James loves his cars, and is a genuine enthusiast, he also applies his business acumen to his purchases as well as his heart. By buying the best he is reaping the investment potential of collectors’ cars, enjoying substantial growth in their value along with the very tangible pleasure of ownership, although he has no intention of cashing in yet.
His first classic was a Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe, a car so good that he sold it to MB for their Mercedes Benz World at Brooklands when they made him ‘an offer he couldn’t refuse’.
One would have to say that, with hindsight, whereas most markets have performed erratically in recent years, it would have been difficult to improve on his chosen medium of investment, his cars.
While being able to enjoy using his portfolio, and being motivated primarily by what he likes, one gets the feeling that it is not by chance that his cars are appreciating strongly, in the same way that it is not by chance that he is a top chef.
John Belsey, The Vintage Magazine’s Classic Car Corresdpondent, James Martin, Celebrity Chef and proud owner of this classic car collection and Robert Jarman, Founder and Editor of The Vintage Magazine
Special thanks to Doug Garvie for taking all the photographs for this article.