Establishing a world-class car collection
Interview conducted by Oliver Dufek, Senior Investment Adviser, Barclays Private Bank
Roald Goethe is a German entrepreneur and car enthusiast. Over the past 14 years, he has built up his ROFGO collection of 46 iconic vehicles, which is widely regarded as one of the world’s finest privately owned curations of racing cars. As well as collecting cars, Roald is an accomplished driver, regularly racing cars from his collection in prestigious races, including in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
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When did you first become interested in cars?
I was very interested in cars from an early age – I always had a passion for them. And from the moment I could afford to buy one, I was always looking for cars that were a little faster than others. But it was only in my mid-40s that I had the means to start collecting cars seriously.
How does car collecting and racing reflect your personality?
As my ancestor Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, collectors are happy people, and he was right: it gives you satisfaction, it makes you happy, and over time, your passion grows. It’s like in the olden days when lots of people collected stamps – when you get an important one, you start to become more ambitious and want more. Collectors want to collect something that’s rare, with the hope that it will become even rarer.
Do you see collecting cars as a financial investment or a hobby?
It’s purely a hobby for me. When I was a young boy, I had two or three favourite model cars, and I’ve kept them to this day – they’re actually on my desk. The dream was always that one day I might own such a car myself.
How did you get into racing?
Collecting classic cars led to racing. I always followed the classic car races and thought, why not actually race myself? I'm what you call a hobby racer or a gentleman driver in the jargon of historic racing. I started in a Renault Clio and climbed the ladder over time. My dream was always to race at Le Mans, and the dream became a reality – I’ve raced the Le Mans 24 Hours three times in an Aston Martin that’s part of my collection.
What would you say to someone thinking about starting their own car collection?
I'm a big believer that you should always buy out of passion and love for what you're buying. Cars are a financial asset, of course, but that shouldn't be the main driver. You buy because of your passion in whatever you’re collecting, whether that’s art or cars or anything else. In the case of cars, you can use them as well. Even if a beautiful car doesn't gain in value, or even worse, loses all its value, you can still feel joy in just looking at it. That was always my motivation for buying and collecting.
If you’re concerned about value preservation, go for an iconic car or something that is rare. By iconic, I mean something that everyone will remember in terms of colour or brand or who's driven it. A car might be relatively mundane in terms of manufacturer or its colours, but if it’s been driven by Ayrton Senna, that makes it very special.
Is there a car missing from your collection?
My collection is sponsored by Gulf Oil, which has been involved in motor racing since the 1960s. When I’m looking to add to the collection, I look for something contemporary in the Gulf colours of blue and orange. Last year, the McLaren cars were in full Gulf colours at the Monaco Grand Prix – that’s the kind of car that would complement the collection very well. In fact, we already have some McLaren Formula 1 cars from the 1960s and 1970s when Gulf was McLaren’s sponsor.
What’s your favourite car in your collection?
That’s a bit like asking which of my children is my favourite! It really depends on the mood I'm in. The McLaren M24 Formula 1 car is one of my favourites, and also the Porsche 908/3, which is a bit like a go-kart on steroids. The collection’s flagship is probably the Porsche 917 that raced in Le Mans in 1971. It was also made famous by Steve McQueen in his film Le Mans. I like to tell the whole story of a car, so we managed to source the original overalls that Steve McQueen wore in the movie, one of his helmets, and his Heuer watch.
What are your views about Formula E?
We’re living in the times we live in, and I think it's the right thing for the world of motorsport to develop cars that run on something other than fossil fuels. Today it’s Formula E, tomorrow it might be hydrogen or some other source of energy. Something very personal to me is that I grew up with the sound of the racetrack, and the noise of the engines creates strong emotions. The only thing I miss with Formula E is the noise, but that’s just my perspective.
Do you think Formula E will take over from Formula 1?
I'm really in two minds on that. Formula 1 has to move in the direction of optimising power output while minimising the burden on the environment. It’s working on that1 – it has options such as so-called zero fuel, which is made from captured carbon, so it's basically recycled fossil fuel. I think Formula E’s message about sustainability is very important, and it’s great that the main manufacturers are on board. It’s also doing a great job bringing the races into cities so the crowds don't need to travel far. They're doing all the right things, but I think there’s still some work to do, including to ensure it gives you the same sensations. Merging Formula E with Formula 1 could actually solve that problem. But we don’t know what the future holds – maybe in the future cars won’t be using either electricity or gasoline – it could be hydrogen.
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