Court of Appeal’s recent landmark ruling in Brewer v Mann case has huge implications for how ‘Classic Cars For Sale’ are described in private ads, dealer showrooms or auction salerooms.
The case of Brewer versus Mann may very well have slipped under your radar. Although apart from generating fees for the legal profession on both sides of the dispute, the recent landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal against a previous judgement does have huge ramifications for all who sell and buy classic cars.
The background to the case is that vintage Bentley specialist Stanley Mann was sued by a Mrs Mercedes Travis Brewer, following the purchase by the American lawyer of a 1930 Bentley Speed Six. A dispute subsequently arose because Mrs Brewer said that the dealer had told her that the car had an original Speed Six engine. She maintained that it did not, and that there were other areas of the car which were not original. It was therefore not permissible, in her view, to call the car a ‘Speed Six’.
More than a year after using finance to purchase the car from Mr Mann, Mrs Brewer rejected the car, fell into arrears with payments and, following a valuation by an auction company (subsequently deemed to have been an under-valuation), sought redress from the dealer. She sued for the return of her deposit and all the finance charges amounting to £95,000, giving no credit for the 15 months of ownership.
Mr Mann’s case was that he had only ever described the engine as up to Speed Six specification and that, although the engine was not an original Speed Six engine, the car was, nonetheless, a Speed Six since the chassis, only part of which was original, was a Speed Six chassis on which was stamped the original number. Other parts with the chassis number stamped on it were also incorporated into the car. Mrs Brewer agreed that she had been told that the car was fitted with a replica body and other parts from other cars.
The case was originally heard by a High Court Judge, who found against Mr Mann. The case was taken to the Court of Appeal however, and on no fewer than 26 Grounds of Appeal, amongst which were allegations that the Judge had shown apparent bias against Mr Mann.
In a landmark ruling of nearly 200 pages, three Judges in the Court of Appeal reversed the original Judge’s findings, ruling that he had, indeed, been biased, and overturned the Judgement.
Outside court, Stanley Mann expressed his pleasure at the successful outcome of his appeal “The Court of Appeal’s decision has vindicated me. This is a good day for the Historic Car business and, indeed, had the original judgement of High Court Judge Thornton not been overturned on Appeal and been allowed to stand, the implications for the entire antiques market would have been immense.”
So what do the considered judgements of my learned friends actually mean to lay persons be they trying to sell or considering buying an old motor?
Well, from now on folks, a description of the car as ‘a 1930 Bentley Speed Six’ - without more - does not imply that it is an original Speed Six or that it has any type of history, let alone a continuous history.
And then, if a buyer requires originality and a continuous history, he (or she) has to negotiate for it and pay for it.
The identity of a car has to be determined by reference to the custom in the classic car trade. For, and crucially, it may be derived from a part of the chassis with the original chassis number attached to it.
The description of a car as a particular type or model may be an expression of opinion rather than a statement of fact, and this is more likely, the older the car and the less original it is. The importance of this is that, if the opinion is reasonable, it is most unlikely that any claim can be made against the vendor, be they dealer, auctioneer or private individual who gave the description.
The engine of a car is not necessarily relevant to its description. A ‘Speed Six Bentley’ may remain a Speed Six Bentley, even if it does not have a Speed Six engine.
The price paid for a car is highly relevant, of course, to how much originality and history a buyer can expect. The following which has been extracted from the Court of Appeal’s judgement can, therefore, be regarded as definitive “Proof of provenance or of history has to be negotiated for. It does not come for free and is not inherent in an article’s description.
“If a Buyer wants to negotiate for knowledge about ‘its performance during its active racing lifetime’ (if any), then he must stipulate for it.”
The onus therefore would appear to be on the potential buyer or bidder, rather than the vendor or their agent, to check out whether a Mini Cooper S for sale first left the factory as an ‘S’ or whether the car is actually an-ex 850 Mini or Cooper 998 converted at some time into an ‘S’. And if the spec of the Mini, Escort or whatever has been upgraded, then again, it is down to the buyer - and not the seller - to determine the extent of S or RS components fitted.
I am most grateful to Michael Grenfell of Litigation experts Wilmots for his assistance in my negotiating what is certainly a minefield. Perhaps the best advice has to be the oldest, just as it was in ancient Rome, in fact, for those considering a change of chariot. ‘Caveat Emptor’, which, being translated into Anglo Saxon, means ‘Watch it!’ RH-E