Visiting the world's biggest private motoring library

Visiting the world’s biggest private motoring library

The pace is not lessening. I’m handed a book titled Sports Cars of the World. The flysheet is inscribed: ‘To Dean, best wishes, Neil Armstrong’. “He was my neighbour in Ohio,” says Butler.

Although he’s not an autograph collector by choice, there are some good ones in the library. Butler’s favourite car of the dozens that he’s owned and raced is a Bugatti T51 once raced by Louis Chiron, so unsurprisingly the Bugatti section is well populated. There’s a programme from the event that celebrated the centenary of Ettore Bugatti’s birth that is signed by, among other Bugatti luminaries, Louis Blériot (son of the aviation pioneer) and Elisabeth Junek. Junek was a Bugatti driver who is one of the greatest women drivers of all time and who beat Tazio Nuvolari in a straight fight. “Look at this,” says Butler, “a cook book of Czech recipes written by Junek. It’s the only cookery book in the library but I had to have it.”

There don’t seem to be many biographies, I point out. “In a different room,” says Butler. And sure enough, there is every racing and car industry biography you can think of. My own collection is not bad but Butler has everything I’ve got and a 1000 times more. A wonderfully fat biography of François Cevert, for example, but unfortunately in French.

Butler has an online business meeting at 3pm that he can’t miss. He told me about this a week ago so it isn’t a ruse to get rid of me. That said, if he hadn’t had that meeting, he’d have had to invent it because I would be here forever. 

At every turn, there’s a new delight. An album of photographs from the early days of aviation, including shots of Blériot. Uncaptioned and never published. A treasure. Butler’s wife is Russian, an eye surgeon (there’s a longer word to describe her speciality but neither Google nor I can spell it) and one of the team that pioneered laser eye surgery. Her father was chief electrical engineer of the Russian space programme in the 1960s. Needless to say, Butler has a large collection of Russian motoring and aviation books.

What a day, what an enthusiast and what a magnificent collection.