Top Gear's Chris Harris & Collecting Cars in NZ: Auckland 'the best event we've ever had'

David Linklater
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Collecting Cars' Edward Lovett (left) and Chris Harris (right).

Collecting Cars' Edward Lovett (left) and Chris Harris (right).

Yes, that was Top Gear host Chris Harris (there should probably be a “former” in there somewhere) you saw sitting in the Auckland Viaduct having breakfast last week. With him, not as recognisable to Kiwis but arguably more important in this context, Edward Lovett, founder and chief executive of the online “iconic, collectible and sporting cars” auction site Collecting Cars.

Collecting Cars.
Collecting Cars website: note APAC setting and a Kiwi Porsche top left.

Lovett and Harris brought Collecting Cars to New Zealand last month. Physically, with one of its rapidly-becoming-legendary Coffee Run events at Auckland Showgrounds, where 900-plus cars and enthusiasts gathered. Not a bad showing from Kiwiland when CC’s biggest-ever Run, a UK event in September last year, attracted 3000.

But Collecting Cars has also arrived in a business sense, with the launch of a local online auction portal.

Lovett, a well-known prestige car dealer in the UK (from a well-known prestige-car dealing family, actually), founded Collecting Cars in 2019 after seeing the success of the US classic-car auction site Bring A Trailer.

Collecting Cars.
D-team (Evans, O'Carroll, Linklater) left; Dream Team (Harris, Lovett) right.

“It was clear there was a market to be served in the UK. I’ve known Chris for 25 years and I told him I was doing this, I don’t think we can grow it organically and we need to make it grow fast. Shall we do a podcast? He thought about it for five seconds… and almost, the rest is history.”

It’s strange that the farthest point on the plant for us as British citizens feels so ‘unforeign’.

Thinking about really-quite-famous journalist and TV presenter Harris, promoting an auction site might not have seemed like a logical move at the time. Or was it?

Collecting Cars.
Harris and Lovett also have the popular Collecting Addicts weekly podcast.

“Because of what I do for a living, I’m not that interested in car media. I don’t read car magazines any more, which makes me sad; but when you’re this close to the industry, they're like trade rags. I’m not interesting in reading other people’s opinions about cars; I have my own.

NZ was the best event we’ve had in terms of quality of people. People with car stories, who’ve bought them for the right reasons.

“But I love classifieds. Car classifieds had become my car editorial without even knowing it.

Collecting Cars.
Even some Kiwi flavour in an original Collecting Cars launch picture from 2019.

“I love the auction process, there’s a tension to it that’s irresistible. I love car adverts; the way they’re written is important. We have a lovely, slightly stiff upper lip house style that I like. It’s tongue-in-cheek. Some people get it…

We were spoilt by going to Queenstown first, so we’re now adjusted our retirement plans...

“So I had to go to the BBC and say I want to do this, and they said no. So I said maybe I’d rather do this than the BBC stuff. And they said, well okay. But you just can’t do certain things or review cars in a certain way.

“But you know what? For a big corporation they were quite accommodating; they didn’t stop me promoting [Collecting Cars].

“It’s not an area of business they’re going to get into themselves. Did I leave what I was doing? No. The audience I’m speaking to here has known me a long time before Top Gear or Collecting Cars.”

Five years in, London-based Collecting Cars has offices in Australia (its first “outpost”, says Lovett), Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and a strategic partnership in the UAE.

Collecting Cars has turned over US$1 billion in sales from 14,000 lots since 2019. (The most popular single model is the Porsche 911, by the way).

More than 90 per cent of sales since launch have been completed without a physical viewing, which was part of the USP for the business in the first place. So an international footprint makes sense.

Why NZ for Collecting Cars?

It’s all a big deal and NZ is such a small country. So why here… now?

“We’ve looked at the opportunity, the size,” says Lovett. “Obviously you don’t have big car-taxes in NZ like they do in Australia. A taxes-paid car there is only going to sell domestically; same with Malaysia or Singapore.

“We believe the market in NZ could be a lot more fluid. I went onto TradeMe and found that if I wanted to make an enquiry on a car for sale, I need to be local for that. But it’s a big world out there; we sell a lot of JDM cars [for example] and we have cars going all over the world, so we feel there’s an opportunity.

Anyone for coffee?

It helps that Kiwis are such a car-passionate culture, say the duo. The Collecting Cars Coffee Runs are simply “about community building… without forcing people to buy or sell on our platform” says Lovett. “We called our podcast Collecting Addicts. You can be an addict without buying or selling anything.”

He and Harris agree the Auckland Coffee Run was the best they’ve ever held.

That sounds like something you tell the locals before you jet off to the next location, but it seems like an honestly held opinion in this case.

“It was the best event we’ve had in terms of quality of people,” says Harris. “People with car stories, who’ve bought them for the right reasons. The variety of metal and carbon fibre: from an 812 Competizione to an Avenger estate with a Lexus V8 in it.”

The Collecting Cars auction focus is on high-end machinery. But when it comes to Coffee Runs, any car is welcome, say the team.

“It’s not the car, it’s the human being,” says Harris. “There’s absolutely no vehicle that wouldn’t be welcome, because they all come with a story.”

Can we get through a Harris interview without mentioning Top Gear (he probably wishes we would)? No. So can he sum up his time with the show so far in one word?

“Bumpy.”

'We've adjusted our retirement plans'

This was the first visit to NZ for both; Auckland was their base, before flying to Sydney for another Coffee Run on February 6. Time for a quick visit to Queenstown, though.

“We were spoilt by going to Queenstown first, so we’re now adjusted our retirement plans,” says Harris. “Just stunning… but Auckland has been very kind to us as well.

“It’s strange that the farthest point on the plant for us as British citizens feels so ‘unforeign’.”

Harris and Lovett took a cab from central Auckland to the Auckland Coffee Run on January 29, and following our interview (thanks to the Park Hyatt for making space and shifting furniture for us, by the way) they took the ferry across the harbour to Devonport on the North Shore and walked up Mount Victoria for what’s arguably the best view of the city. Or at least one with more fresh air than the Sky Tower.

So Chris Harris and Edward Lovett of Collecting Cars came to NZ and didn’t drive anything, anywhere, and loved it. You read it here first.

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