7 September 2016

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Lot 111

1956 Austin Princess

  • Chassis no. DH2-12785

£185,000 - £260,000

Documents: Bill of Sale

Type A135. 125 hp, 3,995 cc OHV inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, solid rear beam axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 3,353 mm

  • Formerly owned by rock and roll legend John Lennon
  • Documented with an original and signed registration
  • Featured and driven by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the 1972 documentary release Imagine
  • Customized with rear airline seats
  • Offered by the Austin Rock & Roll Car Museum

Few figures in 20th century popular music loom larger than John Lennon. As a founding member and one of two principal songwriters in The Beatles, Lennon literally changed the face of modern music, developing rock and roll from a format of R&B-based pop singles into the realm of full-blown concept albums, with traces of psychedelia, Indian music, heavy metal, and more. Lennon single-handedly penned numerous chart-topping hits during the Beatles’ ascent and artistic evolution, including “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Ticket to Ride”, “All You Need Is Love”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “Revolution”, among many others.

After being the unwitting face of such cultural phenomena as the British Invasion and Beatlemania, Lennon segued to a more withdrawn and cerebral solo career in 1969 that coincided with his marriage to performance artist Yoko Ono. In 1971, the singer released his defining solo album Imagine, and the poignant title track became an anthem for socially conscious questioning of the status quo. In conjunction with the groundbreaking album, Lennon and his wife produced a 70-minute film also titled Imagine, and it functions as both a documentary and a testament to a day in the life of the influential and introspective couple.

It is interesting to note that The Beatles had already starred in several movies to that point, and one of the consistent themes that was increasingly evident from project to project was the band’s predilection for the Austin Princess. According to Mal Evans, the band’s road manager and a future record producer himself, the Fab Four preferred the less ostentatious Austin limousines to the saloons from more exclusive manufacturers (like Bentley or Rolls-Royce) simply because the doors opened to a wider angle, more easily accommodating running leaps into the car while evading frenzied mobs of fans. True to form, John Lennon and Yoko Ono used an Austin Princess to a great degree during the filming of Imagine, and that very car is proudly offered here.

Austin had introduced two new long-wheelbase luxury models in 1947 that were positioned as competitively priced alternatives to upscale cars from Crewe or Derby. While the standard Austin-bodied premium model was dubbed the A125 Sheerline, a more exclusive version called the A135 Princess was built on an even longer wheelbase and made available for individual coachbuild. Most Princesses were bodied by Vanden Plas, but a few were sent to other British coachbuilders, and by 1956, just 3,515 examples of the A135 (Marks II and III) had been constructed before the model gave way to a Princess-badged version that omitted the Austin moniker.

Chassis number DH2-12785 was completed with coachwork by Arthur Mulliner Ltd. of Northampton (a cousin of H.J. Mulliner, the better-known coachbuilder of Bentleys). The Austin Princess was purchased in August 1971 by John Lennon, as reflected by an original registration document that features the legendary musician’s printed name (John Ono Lennon, curiously enough), and his signature. After extensive use in the filming of Imagine, it is believed that Mr Lennon customized the Princess with two rows of airline seats (complete with ashtray arms), the perfect modification for a rock star and his family.

In 1972, the Austin was sold to William “Bill” McGaw of La Jolla, California, a film producer whose documentary Journey Into Self won the 1968 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. After using the Princess to tour Ireland with his family in 1972 while filming another documentary, The Steel Shutter (depicting the conflict between Irish Catholics and Republicans), Mr McGaw returned to California and registered the car as EMAJIN, retaining possession until 1987. At that time, he consigned the car at a Sotheby’s auction in New York City, which predictably generated significant buzz with its Lennon connection, particularly as the sale occurred just seven years after the star’s death. As Mr McGaw recalled of his time with the car to the New York Times, “Wherever we went, it attracted crowds.”

In 2005, the largely original A135 Princess was purchased at Julien’s Auction House by collector Milton Verret of Austin, Texas, who donated it in 2008 to the Austin Rock & Roll Car Museum. Exhibited and adorned by thousands ever since on the museum’s gallery floors, the unique celebrity-owned car has been consistently tended and serviced as needed. According to the car’s most recent caretaker, it evidences no sign of undergoing any major restoration (both the paint and the front seat leather show a healthy patina).

In terms of automotive collectibles related to The Beatles, few hold more cachet than this remarkable Austin, which was personally owned, driven, and modified by the incomparable John Lennon. Unlike many cars with purported celebrity provenance, this A135 hearse is accompanied by important corroborative documentation in the Lennon-signed title, and the car can be seen in use during extended sequences of his 1971 film Imagine. Also benefiting from years of dedicated care by sympathetic caretakers, this highly original Princess would make a crowning addition to any collection, be it automotive or music related.

It is sure to draw significant attention at concours d’elegance and other public displays, as it charmingly epitomizes the unique and idiosyncratic artistry of the amazing John Lennon, one of the most enduring and beloved artists of all time.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

Cameron Smyth

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Ontario, Canada

Cameron Smyth joined RM Sotheby’s as a Car Specialist in 2015, working out of our corporate office and providing assistance on c... read more

David Swig

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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more