The beautiful parts of the UK that are nestled within the throws of quaint villages and rolling fields create some truly magical spots for car fans. Hertfordshire, for example, is ripe with facilities that service, restore and sell some of the most desirable motorcars ever built.
If you want the best of the best, look no further than Bell Classics. We took a visit to its showroom and workshop – a little slice of supercar heaven.
In its 30 years in business, Bell Classics has gone from being an Austin-Healey dealer to a fully-fledged classic and exotic sales and restoration specialist, with a specific focus on Ferraris and Aston Martins.
If you’re fortunate enough to be in the care of a barn-find Aston Martin DB4, Ferrari 330, or anything else of a similar vintage that’s Maranello-flavoured or Superleggera-badged, Bell Classics ranks as one of the best places to go. Whether it’s for a full re-commission or a touch of paint and engine work, they’ve pretty much got you covered.
Through the gates
You can normally infer the quality of a dealer’s in-door stock by what it’s got ‘languishing’ outside. As we trundled through the gates and up Bell’s driveway, we knew we about to tuck into an ultra-exclusive chocolate box of machinery.
The first car we could make out? Only a Ferrari 575 SuperAmerica – yes, the ultra-exclusive open-top version that saw out the 575 before the 599 took the reins as Ferrari’s premier super GT. Then, Enzo Ferrari’s own personal express – the 330 GT 2+2. The Series 1 was a company car favourite for Il Commendatore.
Walking into the showroom, we were immediately greeted by Bell’s own Ferrari 360 Challenge car. Previously raced in a private GT series, it’s now up for sale. Across the way, a beautiful pairing: Ferrari 330 GTC and Aston Martin DB5 Vantage – a 60s signature GT dish that just so happens to be Bell’s speciality.
Aston Martin DB5 ‘Vantage specification’
As DB5s go, this is one of the nicest we’ve seen and is a testament to the comprehensive restoration it’s enjoyed. Its Sierra Blue paintwork is flawless, covering the ripple-less perfectly panel-beaten alloy bodywork with the depth of an Icelandic lake. Inside, it’s aged like a fine wine – a pristine 60s boutique cruiser.
Movie star Ferrari 330 GTC
The 330 GTC is the classy, pretty dark horse of Ferrari’s 60s lineup. While 250 SWB and GTO models lapped up the competition limelight, the GTC was the ultimate gentleman’s express of choice. Now, they’re very desirable.
This Grigio Argento car has recently undergone a full bare-metal restoration. Previously a Hollywood star, it appeared in American Gangster and School for Scoundrels.Today, it’s commanding over half a million pounds, even as a left-hand drive car…
The inner sanctum
You could spend hours poring over the Challenge car, the 330 and the Aston DB5, but behind the racer is a thin descent down some stairs, above which is mounted a giant Bugatti badge. Yes, we want to go down there…
Matt, director at Bell Classics, leads the way. To our right in this compact garage-doored room is a nice seating area. To our left, an Aston Martin DB4 Volante, A Ferrari Dino and a Ferrari 512 BB all stunningly presented. All of these cars are sublime but the Berlinetta Boxer, to our eyes, rendered them somewhat invisible…
Ferrari 512 BB
Any 512 Berlinetta Boxer is a special thing. Featuring a flat 12-cylinder engine inspired by Scuderia-badged racing cars of the era, the BB is a wide-hipped and wedge-sided totem of Ferrari supercar history. This one has got to be one of the most special.
It features an upgraded engine, in ‘LM’ spec. This saw the power rise from over 360hp to over 440hp. This came via the installation of individual inlet trumpets and snorkels to match, among other things. Wider rear wheels and LM bodywork deliver a delicious stance. You want it? You won’t get much change out of £300,000.
Behind the scenes
No more car-by-car breakdowns, as the shops are chock with customer cars. Bell can take your classic in, pull the engine out, strip it down to the block and recommission it, good as new. We walk through into the engine room.
A Ferrari Challenge engine is sat on the side, an Aston Martin straight-six on a stand, and another Ferrari engine on a palette. On a cabinet, valves, valve springs pistons (numbered) and the kind of distinctive cam covers that could only belong to a Ferrari.
That’s where the ‘Testa Rossa’ name comes from, by the way, directly translating to ‘red head’. Even the paper towel dispenser on the wall has a prancing horse on it.
Intricate engine innards lay across a workbench – the inlet trumpets, manifolds, studs and cam gears from a race-spec Lancia Fulvia.
Walk through into a room to the side and more components from the very same Fulvia can be seen. The subframe, bell housing and suspension assembly, sat directly below the car to which all these bits belong. It’s going through a significant recommission.
In a larger room, a selection of ramps and workspaces. Side by side, two 1960s V12 Ferraris – 330s again, we believe. Further down, a 400 coupe is going through some engine testing. To our eyes, these wedge-generation GTs are looking better and better.
The deeper inner workings
Bell Classics is something of a labyrinth. You have a look around one garage, only to find another across the way and down a hill, chock full of tantalising machinery. A five-ramp room has a selection of V8 Berlinettas as well as a lone 550 up in the air.
An F430 Challenge car sits alongside a Group 4 specification 328, offering a unique comparison of Ferrari V8 racers from generations apart. Brakes and aero have come a long way. The paint and body shop is similarly littered with priceless exotica – from 360 to 330 GT 2+2.
575M SuperAmerica – a closer look
Before we parted ways with Bell Classics, we had to get the SuperAmerica out for a closer look. It’s a special car in a truly stunning spec – Argento Nurburgring is a stunning subtle silver and matches the dark cabin perfectly. This 2006 car features the desirable HGTC performance package, with stiffened suspension, a sports exhaust and ceramic brakes.
Bell Classics gives off the aura of a family-run boutique of classic and exotic car sales, twinned with serious provenance for restoration and maintenance. Its atmosphere is personal, but its capability and skill levels are industrial.
Its proximity is local, quite literally for us here in Hertfordshire, but its work and inventory is of an international standard. It’s a stunning cubby of classics and exotica to have hidden away in the wilds of Hertfordshire.