British movie legend Peter Sellers had a passion for cars that bordered on obsession. It is said that by the age of 39, he'd owned over 80 vehicles. His close friend and collaborator from the Goon Show, Spike Milligan, humorously referred to these cars as his "metal underwear" due to the frequency with which he changed them... which was even more often than his wives and girlfriends.
Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
In 1955, Peter Sellers achieved his first top billing in the film "The Ladykillers," sharing the spotlight with Alec Guinness. By this point, Sellers had already become a household name in the UK, allowing him to fulfill his love for exquisite automobiles. He transitioned from MGs, Rileys, and Rovers to more glamorous models such as the Jaguar XK140, marking the beginning of his affinity for high-end vehicles.
Sellers' friend Anita Ekberg and her Jaguar XK140 exude glamour (1956)
It was during this time that he acquired the first of many Rolls Royce Silver Clouds, a 1956 model that had once belonged to his idol, Cary Grant. However, after a couple of years, Sellers decided to part ways with the car and chose a rather whimsical approach to selling it. The advertisement placed in The Times' classifieds section read, "TITLED CAR WISHES TO DISPOSE OF OWNER."
1956 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud formerly owned by Cary Grant
In 1958, Peter Sellers made his entry into the Hollywood film industry, starring alongside Terry Thomas in "Tom Thumb". His enhanced career led to a further upgrade of his car collection, with the purchase of a Bentley S1 Continental Sports Saloon with special coachwork by HJ Mulliner. The car retained influences of the original fastback, but reflected the fashion of the time for tailfins. It is one of just two Bentley Continentals built to that style in 1959.
Peter Sellers' 1959 Bentley S1 Continental by HJ Mulliner
During the 1960s, Sellers' car purchasing habit went into overdrive. In addition to coachbuilt Rolls Royce and Bentleys, he commissioned several customised Mini Coopers from coachbuilding specialists Hoopers and Radford. He handing over a whopping £2,600 to Hooper in 1963. This sum was four times the price of a standard car at that time. His intention was to have them construct the most extravagantly equipped Mini ever created. The detailed list of specifications and instructions concluded with a rather open-ended directive: "and anything else you can think of."
One of Peter Sellers' Mini Cooper 'Hooper' conversions
Peter Sellers' passion for coachbuilt British cars took an extraordinary twist with the 'Viotti' Bristol - a right-hand drive Bristol 407 chassis clothed in original coachwork by the Italian Carrozziere Esercizio Stabilimenti Viotti. It was a design exercise requested by Bristol Cars and appeared at the 1962 Turin Motor Show. Bristol decided against putting it into production but were persuaded by Sellers to turn the prototype into a fully-finished car, which he then bought (in addition to the production 407 he already had on order).
1962 'Viotti' Bristol 407
By 1963, the Sellers car collection had moved up another gear, with the acquisition of an Aston Martin DB4GT (one of only 75 made) and a couple of European marques - a Mercedes 300 SE Cabriolet and Ferrari 250 GTE (in white). Both the Aston and the Ferrari featured alongside Sellers in the 1963 comedy film, "The Wrong Arm Of The Law". He reputedly sold the Ferrari after a week because he did not like the colour (which is understandable). The car is reportedly alive and well, residing in the United States... now sporting red livery.
Sellers and his DB4GT in 'The Wrong Arm Of The Law' (1963)
Photographs of the Aston Martin DB4GT rarely do it justice. It looks so much better when in full flight. Thankfully, we have unearthed a wonderful video featuring a good friend of ours, Aston Martin historian Stephen Archer, living the dream behind the wheel of Peter Sellers' DB4GT.
Note: This car is due to be auctioned at Bonhams' Goodwood sale on July 14th, 2023. (Estimate £2,200,000 - £2,600,000).
Peter Sellers' DB4GT (Courtesy of RM Sotheby's)
In 1963, Peter Sellers ended his marriage with his first wife, Anne Howe, and during the same year, teamed up with Stanley Kubrick for a new project. Having previously collaborated on "Lolita" in 1962, their latest joint venture, "Dr. Strangelove," proved to be another resounding success. The following year, in 1964, Sellers starred in the second instalment of the Clouseau series, "A Shot in the Dark". It was during the filming of this movie that Sellers met Swedish actress, Britt Ekland, who was just 21 years old at the time. They married in February 1964, a mere ten days after their initial encounter. As a wedding gift, Sellers purchased a vibrant red Shapecraft Lotus Elan for Ekland, a car that had caught his eye at the London Motor Show. This was followed by a matching red Jaguar E-type Roadster and a Radford Mini Cooper.
Britt Ekland and her wedding present (1964)
Having got Britt's car collection off to a good start, Peter continued to refresh his own, with an Aston Martin DB5 Convertible in Caribbean Blue Pearl. It was one of just 123 soft-top variants and its 282bhp four-litre straight-six engine was capable of generating a top speed of 145mph. It featured fog lamps, a cigar lighter and, the height of technology for the time, a wireless Motorola radio car telephone. Sellers sold the Aston in the late 60s to his friend, society photographer Lord Snowdon, who was married to Princess Margaret.
The Sellers/Snowdon 1964 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible
Early in 1965, Sellers acquired a beautiful Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III Coupe crafted by Mulliner Park Ward, then during the London Motor Show in October, he made a couple more purchases - a Ferrari 500 Superfast (pictured at the top of this article) and yet another Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III by Mulliner Park Ward but in Drop Head configuration. This particular car made a memorable appearance in the 1967 film "There's a Girl in my Soup," starring alongside Goldie Hawn. To round off the year, Columbia Pictures enticed Sellers with a third Silver Cloud, a standard saloon model, which they presented to him as an incentive to take a role in the James Bond parody "Casino Royale."
The majestic Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III Coupe by Mulliner Park Ward
In 1966, Sellers bought another Lotus Elan - this time for himself rather than his wife. It was delivered on 22nd June, and driven by Sellers until 1969. The car passed through a succession of owners until 2015, when it was restored to 'beyond concours' condition by marque specialists Neil and Ken Myers to form part of the Piddington Collection. In February 2023, the car was sold by Silverstone Auctions for £66,000.
Peter Sellers' 1966 Lotus Elan S3-SE
The introduction of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow in October 1965, saw the company modernise its production method to unibody construction. A couple of months earlier, one of the last Silver Clouds was delivered in chassis form to Mulliner Park Ward, to be coachbuilt as a drophead coupé. The car was completed in time to be displayed at the Earls Court Motor Show later that year. It was bought by the playwright Sir Terence Rattigan, at that time resident at 29 Eaton Square, London SW1, and in February 1967 passed into the ownership of his neighbour, Peter Sellers.
Note: At the time of writing, this particular car is available for sale. Contact Us for details.
The Rattigan/Sellers Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III Drophead Coupe
As the 1960s drew to a close, Peter and Britt had divorced, and he began to spend more time at his home in Geneva. In 1969, he acquired a Celeste Blue Ferrari 275 GTB/4 from a gentleman in Lausanne, and drove the car throughout the 1970s, having streamlined his car collection considerably. Sellers reportedly once offered the vehicle to Ryan O'Neal - in exchange for his then-wife Linda Taylor-Young.
Italian style metal underwear in Celeste Blue
During the 1970s, Sellers' physical and mental health continued to deteriorate, and his affection for beautiful motorcars began to fade. Other than the occasional purchase of a Rolls-Royce here and there, he appeared to have kicked the habit. There was no appetite for the new mid-engined supercars of the period, and his only real purchase of note during the time was a black Porsche 911 Type 930 Turbo Coupé bought in 1978. The car was put on the block at the Bonhams Goodwood sale in 2017, but failed to meet its reserve.
Sellers' 1978 Porsche 930 (photo courtesy of Bonhams)
When Peter Sellers died in 1980, aged 54, there remained a car in his collection that had somehow managed to avoid the 'metal underwear' moniker. Ironically, it was a vehicle first purchased by Spike Milligan in the 1950s. Affectionately known as 'Old Min', the 1930 Austin Heavy Twelve Open Road Tourer Deluxe took its name from one of The Goon Show's many comic characters: elderly spinster Minnie Bannister. Sellers had long coveted the car, and when Milligan lost his license in 1968, he became the owner. Old Min was given back to Milligan some years later, only to be taken back almost immediately by Sellers, who was concerned that it was being neglected... having noticed that it had been left out in the rain and, allegedly, that its radiator-mounted temperature gauge had been replaced by a coffee percolator.
In 1965, following a four year apprenticeship at Aston Martin, 20 year-old Richard Stewart Williams was employed by Peter Sellers to maintain his fleet of cars. Richard looked after both his road and racing cars (while living above the garage at Seller’s Elstead home). Three years later, with £1,000 from his mother and helped by Sellers’ recommendations to other Aston owners, he set up Richard Stewart Williams Limited (RSW) under the railway arches of Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. It remains the world's preeminent company for the restoration and maintenance of classic Astons... and the occasional Austin. In 2010, Richard managed to acquire 'Old Min', and began a painstaking three-year restoration that would've met Sellers' exacting standards, with costs exceeding £45,000. Sadly, Richard died in August 2021 after a short illness, but he'd lived to see 'Old Min' pass to a new owner at the Bonhams' Bicester Auction in May that year, where it sold for £30,375 - a small sum for such an enormous history.