ON TRACK WITH CRENNO – Motorsport Memorabilia. How many memorabilia collectors like Carrington Ashton are there?

I have often pondered what the overall annual dollar value of the sports memorabilia industry would be in Australia. No matter what the sport; football, cricket, golf, tennis or motorsport – there are enthusiast collectors of all sizes who place great value on the treasures they have acquired and whose collection represents a very important part of their lifestyle.

On top of the keen collectors, it’s fair to say that of all the blokes I know who have an interest in sport, they seem to have at least one piece with a sentimental attachment, normally purchased at a charity auction.
Then there are traders of memorabilia; people buying and selling either as a full-time occupation or as casual top-up income. There’s also the really serious side of the industry, where at every major shopping centre there’s now a sports memorabilia store.

It’s difficult to make an estimate of the value of the sports memorabilia industry, but in mainstream, it’s not so difficult to get a handle on the ‘economy’ of the general apparel/merchandise business.
In the AFL for example there are 18 teams and we would not be too far off the mark in suggesting an average turnover of $5m in apparel or total market of around $100m.

In motorsport, with V8s and around 12 teams, one would estimate a $25m pa market for apparel.

In 2002, at the height of HRT track success, the team generated over $12m in apparel and merchandise sales, plus an extraordinary level of income from licenced products. That rate of dollar sales would have since dropped dramatically, as every other team in the pit lane started to emulate that business model. On top of that, in 2003 HRT lost its success momentum following the financial collapse of the Walkinshaw Group.

But make no mistake, one of the crucial features of a strong team brand in sport is the income that brand can generate from apparel, merchandise and licenced products.

There is not the slightest doubt that the enormous income HRT received from its merchandise sales between 1996 – 2002 stemming from the team’s key public personalities (Brock, Lowndes and Skaife) was the most compelling reason HRT had such a great budget to go racing.

Motorsport produces a significant number of enthusiast collectors, both in two wheel and four wheel varieties, from the collection of full cars and bikes, to accessory items like helmets gloves and artworks.
For over 40 years I had accumulated a vast collection of GMH, Holden, HRT, HDT, Brock, HSV, HYL, SV Racing memorabilia (close to 2000 items) which ultimately after finishing at HSV, I packaged into approx. 50 categories such as hats, jackets, drivers suits, original paintings, model cars, milestone books, watches and cuff links (to name just a few).

Like a lot of collectors who don’t have their treasures on display in their garage or some other form of ‘man cave’, after time you start to tire of the collection and its upkeep and start questioning the sense of keeping everything in storage. This was my situation 18 months ago when I decided to quit everything other than the pieces that had been personal gifts and signed by business colleagues and drivers.

I first offered my collection to HSV who, much to my surprise, did not show any interest. We then produced a catalogue to allow Dealers first pick prior to any public offering. Half a dozen Dealers took up about 15% of the offerings, so following that my son Jonathan, who was managing the project, started to dribble a few items out on EBay.

Enter Carrington Ashton.

Carrington Ashton (CA) is an alias for a gentleman who resides on the outskirts of Sydney. CA is a very private person who conducts his own large and successful business in the building and construction industry and has a great interest in motorsport memorabilia.

On getting to know him over nearly six months, I learned CA’s mantra: ‘some people create history others preserve history’ – and his enjoyment comes from the latter.

CA contacted my son following some of our driver suit eBay listings. Long story short, he drove to Melbourne where we spent a lot of time together with CA ultimately driving away the proud owner of significant driving suits from Peter Brock, Craig Lowndes, Tom Walkinshaw and Jim Richards.

After that, CA my son and I developed a strong and extremely trusting association, all culminating in February this year with CA driving to Melbourne with a huge trailer and the three of us spending a day and night going through all the memorabilia and packaging them for their superb new home in NSW.

Part of the arrangement with CA is to also assign my business diaries and files and all the chapters of my book I never got around to publish. These diaries represent some fascinating and not-before-told inside happenings surrounding events such as the day-to-day dramas leading to the ‘87 Holden/Brock split, the ‘94 Holden/HRT/ Brock re-marriage the HRT/Wayne Gardner events of ‘93, the HRT/Craig Lowndes finish in 2000, the TWR Collapse in ‘03 and the Skaife/Walkinshaw change of control in ‘07 to name a few.

CA has commenced construction of his new motorsport ‘man palace’ (definitely not a cave) and earlier on shared with us his design and construction plans for this $550k private facility (no entry to public) to showcase his growing collection. The facility will be alongside his family residence.

Construction begins on the “Man Palace”

Construction begins on the “Man Palace”

But it’s the next two elements of our mutual arrangement that make this collector’s story so wonderful and very special to my family.

When the facility is completed at Christmas, there will be a John Crennan Holden, HSV, HRT, SV Racing, HYL wing with my entire collection professionally displayed. It will be inscribed in chronological order and CA has promised to provide a set of keys to the facility for my family and friends to use should we ever wish to visit. If that’s not enough, two months ago as CA was having every item cleaned and laundered, CA invited me to nominate as many items as I wished to have passed onto my seven grandchildren when CA passes on.

Peter Brock’s HRT driving suit - Bathurst 1995 and Tom Walkinshaw’s last driving suit from 1988

Peter Brock’s HRT driving suit – Bathurst 1995 and Tom Walkinshaw’s last driving suit from 1988

He has already made these changes to his Will and I am left with an experience which is one of the most inspiring and good-spirited gestures of my 50 plus years in this fantastic industry.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could have been so fortunate to come across Carrington Ashton to provide such an extraordinary solution for my large collection.

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