F1 Investor Weighs Bid For Auctioneer Bonhams
The biggest shareholder in Formula One (F1) motor racing is turning its attention to classic cars with a bid to take control of Bonhams, one of the world's largest auction houses.
Sky News understands that CVC Capital Partners was among a group of private equity firms which tabled preliminary offers for the company ahead of a deadline last week.
Bonhams, which has become a well-known name in the global auctioneering sector, specialises in selling fine art, classic cars and antiques.
The company was founded in 1793, and now claims market leadership in a number of areas, including the sale of Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin and Maserati cars for world record prices.
It is unclear exactly how much Bonhams is valued at although City sources indicated that it would be several hundred million pounds.
Bonhams is a relatively small business for CVC to contemplate an offer for, but if it is successful, it would extend the buyout firm's connection to the world's premier motorsport.
Key sales in 2013 included a 1954 Mercedes F1 car driven by the legendary Argentine racer Juan Manuel Fangio, which fetched £19.6m, and the Madonna Laboris, which became the most expensive Russian painting sold at auction when it attracted a £7.9m bid.
Last year, Bonhams saw profits more than double to £25m as wealthy buyers looked for alternative investment opportunities in a continuing environment of low interest rates.
It is jointly-owned by two businessmen: Robert Brooks, a former motor racing driver who has chaired the British Racing Drivers' Club, and Evert Louwman, a Dutchman.
Mr Brooks has said in the past that he wants to take advantage of Bonhams' strong balance sheet by building the company into a credible rival to Christie's and Sotheby's, the most famous name in the auction world.
It is unclear whether either of the existing shareholders would countenance an outright sale of their stakes.
Greenhill, an investment bank, was drafted in in March to recruit a new investor, with Bain Capital and Bridgepoint among the other private equity groups examining bids.
Headquartered on New Bond Street in London, the current Bonhams was formed from a merger with Brooks in 2000, and has established a presence in Dubai, Hong Kong and the US.
"2013 was a year where we saw the Bonhams brand establish itself further on the global stage," Mr Brooks said earlier this year.
"We have put significant investment behind growing a brand that can compete effectively in the key auction markets of the world."
A CVC spokesman declined to comment.