by Simon Haldy
Everybody will very well remember Peter Ustinov, the unforgettable interpreter of Nero in “Quo Vadis”, the actor who performed so perfectly Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s legendary detective. But Peter Ustinov was much more than an actor; he was a great humorist, a novelist, and a true car enthusiast. A man who had been dreaming of cars all his life, and who spent so much time, as well as money, to satisfy his passion.
In his last interview Sir Peter (he had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990), said: “[…] there was no one yet qualified to exorcise an internal combustion engine from a small boy. I know to this day precisely what make of car I was, an Amilcar… At one period in my life, I switched on in the morning, and only stopped being a car at night when I reversed into bed, and cut the ignition.[…] even at that age I had a presentiment that a certain portliness would be with me all my life. Amilcars appealed for being waspish, athletic and slightly fragile.“
This quote speaks for itself, Sir Peter was a real petrolhead and owned many fantastic cars throughout his life; Aston Martins, Maseratis, Alfa Romeos and many prewar cars, which I didn’t know. Of course I was aware that my favorite actor was a car enthusiast , I saw many photos showing him driving Maseratis (mostly Quattroporte models) as well as Astons (he owned two drophead coupes, a DB2/4 and a DB4), but to me he appeared as having interest in cars, rather than being a real car fanatic.
So I was really amazed when I read an article written by Bernard Cahier (the famous French car racing photographer) in which he was paying tribute to his late friend, and told that Ustinov was a very fine connoisseur of prewar cars. In this article I learned that Sir Peter had also owned legendary prewar cars, including two Hispanos, a wonderful J12 (his favorite) and an H6C ‘faux cabriolet’, bodied by Vanvooren.
Bernard Cahier wrote that the British actor was completely crazy about cars, as well as car racing; he attended many races and was a good friend of many racing drivers such as Fangio, Moss and Collins.
But the most extraordinary was yet to come… Bernard Cahier recounted the story of Peter Ustinov’s first Hispano. Cahier had been asked by Ustinov’s wife to find a great Hispano as a birthday present for the actor’s 40th birthday. Cahier, who had the best possible connections in the car world, found a great and very huge J12 Limousine with coachwork by Binder for his friend. The surprise present was a great success and Ustinov was almost crying when he saw the car in front of his home, he couldn’t believe his eyes, he had been dreaming of owning a Hispano for so long. Sadly his joy did not last very long, because the car was stolen in the 80’s…
Nice cliffhanger we have here, to be continued soon!