Celebrities from the world of showbiz and sport – and very nearly Mohammed Al Fayed – have bought motors from a car firm tucked away on a Meadowhall trading estate.
What brings them to a showroom in the shadow of Tinsley viaduct? The fact that John Holland Sales trades in the most highly-prized secondhand cars in the world.
The gleaming, glamorous high-spec sports cars and limousines sourced by MD Mark Holland’s team are usually rare limited editions, vintage classics or such pristine examples of a make and model, they cannot be rivalled.
Some have had former owners as prestigious as their new ones.
For example, two Porsche 911s and a Mercedes G Wagon AMG came to them from the collection of car fanatic and rock legend Eric Clapton. A rare Mercedes-Benz SLR Mclaren once owned by Arsenal star Thierry Henry has also graced their 20,000-square foot showroom.
It was an extended wheelbase Bentley Arnage with just 2,000 miles on the clock that almost had the former owner of Harrods racing up the M1.
It was thought to be Madonna’s car, but turned out to be the former pride and joy of Iron Maiden bass paler Steve Harris – and Fayed didn’t get it because he’d asked for £5,000 off the asking price.
Celeb clients they may have, but the company’s best is a former South Yorkshire policeman who has bought 13 cars from them in the last year. He keeps a car for a few weeks, gets bored and exchanges it without batting an eyelid at the depreciation.
Other customers are now on their 30th purchase – and not all are after supercars. John Holland may have a £170,000 Ferarri 458 Italia on the showroom floor at present, but they also have a mint condition Fiat 500 and a clutch of Audis and Land Rovers.
Mark understands the passion that drives his car-mad clients. He has indulged his own over the years, amassing a personal collection which currently includes two classic air-cooled 911 Porsches, a Ferarri Berlinetta Boxer, several vintage Mercedes and a Ferarri 512 BBI.
“The Ferarri 512 was such a rare find. A local chap had bought it at 18 months old for his 40th birthday. He had turned 71 and hadn’t driven it for three years and decided it was time to sell. That was a very rare find – only the second we’ve managed to get hold of in 30 years. And now it’s mine.”
His favourite cars are Porsches, though – he’s owned over 100 and says more people than ever before are buying the classic models as investments. “We’re amazed at how 911s are not just retaining their value, but going up.”
The most exciting car they have ever found was a Porche – a 1990 911 964 coupe in red that had never been driven.
“When we found it, the car was 21 years old and still had the protective plastic on the cream leather seats,” enthuses general manager Tony Entwistle.
“It was owned by a local businessman who had gone to live in the Channel Islands for tax reasons and had left the car in his garage. In as-new condition, it was totally unique.”
They story of how they sold it is just as unusual. The company got the car featured in a Porsche magazine article, which was read by Japan’s one and only Porsche factory racing drivers as he waited for a flight at Heathrow.
Tetsu Ikuzawa, now 72, made another important race – all the way to Sheffield to buy the car on the spot and ship it to Japan.
It wasn’t an illustrious beginning. A line-up of old Fords and Vauxhalls on a small plot of land at West Bar, with a wooden hut serving as the sales office – that’s how John Holland started out in business back in the 1970s.
While his dad sold cars, Mark learned about them from the inside out by training as a mechanic at his uncle’s garage H&H motors.
Father and son teamed up and John bought out Sheffield Subaru dealership David Bentley in 1990 and made it the nation’s top Subaru outlet for quality customer service. At the same time, the pair developed their personal passion for sourcing rare prestige motors with their sideline company John Holland Sales.
In 2004 they purchased the site at Meadowhall Riverside Retail Park the company still occupies today.
The vast, gleaming white showroom is temporary home to around 150 quality, luxury and prestige vehicles a month.
The motors – high-spec and limited edition prestige models from the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Jaguar and Range Rover – are sourced by the company’s team of professional buyers who are constantly on the road hunting for exciting finds.
Their search is mainly conducted in the UK and Europe, but there is no distance too great if the right car comes up, says Mark, who took sole charge in 2011 after his father’s retirement.
Under his leadership, the business has developed an enviable reputation for supplying the highest quality sports, prestige and collectors’ vehicles worldwide and turnover has grown to £30m.
In December it won a UK award for excellence after being nominated by the most critical of judges – its industry peers.