John Lennon’s Austin is ‘Princess’ of
“Imagine”: The 1956 Austin Princess, once owned by John Lennon, will join other automotive royalty for the Barrett-Jackson 46th Scottsdale Auction, January 14–22, at WestWorld of Scottsdale, just off the Loop 101.
The nine days of automotive festivities at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale 2017 will include 1,600-plus vehicles, most selling at No Reserve; 350,000-plus attendees; symposiums; family events; 200-plus vendors and sponsors; and charity consignments.
In 1971, Lennon released his solo album Imagine, breaking from the Fab Four, who had already revolutionized world music with songs such as “A Hard Day’s Night,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Revolution.” At the same time as the transformative album, he and wife Yoko Ono also produced a 70-minute Imagine film in which the Austin Princess appears.
With coachwork by Arthur Mulliner Ltd., the Austin hearse, Chassis #DH2-12785, Type A135 (Lot #1380), is powered by a 125-horsepower, 3,995-cc OHV inline six-cylinder engine, linked to a four-speed manual transmission, and includes independent front suspension with coil springs, solid rear beam axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and four-wheel drum brakes.
Documented with an original and signed registration, the unrestored British classic includes the rear airline seats added by the great singer/songwriter, and all of the interior has the patina of wear from the Lennon family and later owners.
“We are very proud to offer this remarkable vehicle owned by one of the most enduring and beloved recording artists of all time,” says Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of Scottsdale-based Barrett-Jackson, The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions®, which also produces annual events in Palm Beach, Florida, at Mohegan Sun, Connecticut, and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Other feature cars at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale 2017 are a number of Chevys including Zora Arkus-Duntov’s 1960 Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle (CERV) 1; legendary racer Mickey Thompson’s ’63 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Big Tank Coupe (#1363), one of 63 Sting Ray Coupes with the RPO Z06 racing option; a ’66 427/425 (#1391) raced in Europe by Toly Arutunoff in 1966; and a ’69 L88 (#1369), one of 116.
Another car with GM roots is the 700-horsepower supercharged 62 Buick Custom, “Bu’Wicked,” by late builder Ryan Butler and star of the video game, Gran Turismo.
A number of rare Mopars are also on the docket, led by one of just 14 1970 Plymouth HEMI ’Cuda convertibles built, (Lot #1392), a triple black with great racing pedigree, including national records for ET and mph in NHRA and IHRA and the SS Eliminator title at the 1973 U.S. Nationals in Indy.
Another, a ’70 Plymouth Superbird (#1320), is a well-documented survivor vehicle with just 14,800 original miles since new. Only built for one year, the Superbird, monikered this because of its high functional wing, features the rare factory Y39 Special Order code designation. Still another, a ’70 Dodge Challenger T/A ( #1031) has the original 340ci Six Pack V-8 engine with factory 4-speed manual transmission and liveried in Go Mango orange with black graphics.
“From the excitement of seeing first-time buyers bid on a vehicle to the thunderous applause that comes from a million-dollar bid for charity,” says Steve Davis, president of Barrett-Jackson. “Scottsdale is the premier auction where you can truly indulge in the automotive lifestyle.”
In addition, 145 stellar vehicles from the Charlie Thomas Collection will be offered at No Reserve, including a 1939 Ford Deluxe Cabriolet (#1015), the final year of the carmaker’s rumble-seat cabriolets; a 1949 Cadillac Series 62 convertible (#1277); and a 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk (Lot #1027), powered by a 289-cid Sweepstakes V-8 with a McCullough supercharger, rated at 275 horses.
Cars from the ’60s and ’70s include a 1962 Chevrolet Impala “409/409” convertible (#1279), with dual rear antennas and NOS spinner hubcaps; a 1966 Pontiac GTO with a 389-cid/ 360-horse V-8, topped by three 2-barrel carburetors, 4-speed transmission, 3.55 posi-traction rear end, and presented with a recent frame-off, nut-and-bolt restoration; and a 1970 Oldsmobile 442 convertible, painted in Matador Red, equipped with a 455-cid V-8 and 3-speed automatic transmission.
Charity vehicles are led by a rare 2012 Hennessey Venom GT Spyder, offered by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Steven Tyler to benefit Janie’s Fund, which he created with Youth Villages to help abused and neglected girls.
“Charity remains a pillar of our organization, and after our success in 2016, we surpassed $91 million raised for charity to date,” Jackson says. “Our charity cars this year continue a long cherished tradition here are Barrett-Jackson.”
Ticket to Ride
The Beatles preferred the less showy Austin limousines to the large saloons from Bentley or Rolls-Royce because the doors opened to a wider angle, allowing them those signature leaps into the car to escape from frenzied fans after appearances, according to Mal Evans, the band’s road manager and a record producer.
In 1947, Austin introduced two long-wheelbase luxury models to compete with competitively priced English alternatives: the standard premium model, the A125 Sheerline, and the luxury A135 Princess on an even longer wheelbase and suitable for coachbuilding.
The well-known Vanden Plas company built most of the coaches for the Princess models, but a few were sent to other British coachbuilders such as, with this Lennon car, Arthur Mulliner Ltd. of Northhampton, a cousin of H.J. Mulliner, the well-known Bentley coachbuilder. By 1956, 3,515 A135s (Marks II and III) had been constructed, and in 1957 the Princess version omitted the Austin badging.
The hearse was acquired from the factory by the mortuary, Ann Bonham & Son, and in August 1971 Lennon purchased it, as documented in the registration with his printed name, showing as John Ono Lennon, and his signature. After using it in Imagine, Lennon customized the Princess with the airline seats, including ashtray arms.
In 1972, William “Bill” McGaw of La Jolla, California, bought the Austin Princess. The film producer, whose documentary Journey Into Self won the 1968 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, used the car to tour Ireland with his family in 1972 while filming another documentary, The Steel Shutter, about the ongoing conflict between Irish Catholics and Republicans. Returning to California, he registered the car as EMAJIN, retaining possession until 1987.
McGaw told the New York Times: “Wherever we went, it attracted crowds. I think everyone responds instinctively to Lennon’s marvelous understanding of the absurd.” Certainly, using the hearse as a “getaway” car from crowds reaffirmed the young generation’s adaptive re-use for these vehicles, such as with 1960s surfers, who found the vehicles comfortably accommodated their boards.
A collector acquired A135 Princess in 2005 and donated it in 2008 to the Austin Rock & Roll Car Museum, where it was meticulously serviced. No sign of any major restoration is apparent, and only the Lennon-installed jetliner seats appear to be the only customization since his ownership years.
The A135 hearse is accompanied by corroborative documentation in the title signed by Lennon, and the car can be seen in extended sequences of the 1971 Imagine film.
“Few celebrity-owned vehicles hold more cachet than this remarkable Austin, which was personally owned, driven and modified by the incomparable John Lennon,” Jackson says. “Benefiting from years of dedicated care by sympathetic caretakers, this highly original Princess will make a crowning addition to any collection, be it automotive or music related.”
For more information on the 2017 Scottsdale auction or to become a bidder, visit Barrett-Jackson.com or call 480.421.6694. Absentee bidding options are also available and powered by Proxibid.