The sale of a Pontiac Chieftan previously owned by both Keith Richards and a husband of a survivor of the 1912 Titanic disaster
In 1971, the “mad, bad and dangerous to know” musician Keith Richards decided to go into tax exile at a house named the Villa Nellcôte at Villefranche-sur-Mer in France to avoid having his assets seized by the British government. It was here, in the basement, that The Rolling Stones recorded much of their album “Exile on Main St” whilst enjoying what has been described as: “the coolest, most drugged-up house party ever.”
The Villa Nellcôte is a 19th-century Côte d’Azur mansion brimming with history. Originally named the Chateau Amicitia, the villa was built in 1854 for a businessman named Eugene Thomas. Bought by Count Ernst de Brulatour, the first secretary of the American embassy in France, in 1904, it was then sold to Samuel Goldenberg, a director of the Goldenberg Brothers & Co. lace importing business and a survivor of the 1912 Titanic disaster.
Goldenberg, whose business was capitalised at a staggering $1,500,000 in 1912, and his wife Nella’s passion were the dogs that they bred. In 1902, they had discovered an especially unusual bulldog that they imported to France. This dog, Ch. Nellcôte Gamin, is credited with being the scion of French bulldogs. In the dog’s honour, the Goldenbergs renamed the Chateau Amicitia the Villa Nellcôte.
In 1921, the estate was purchased by Alexandre Bordes, the founder of a shipping company specialising in the transit of nitrate solder between Chile and France. From their travels, he and his brother also bought back numerous exotic trees and planted them in the parkland around the villa. An avenue of trees leading to the house is named the Avenue Louise-Bordes in honour of Bordes’ wife.
During the Second World War, the Villa Nellcôte was seized by the Gestapo. Swastikas were painted on the heating vents in the cellars and it was later here during the Rolling Stones occupation that Mick Taylor is said to have co-written “Ventilator Blues.”
Richards paid $2,500 a month to rent the house but did not exercise an option to buy. He lived there with Anita Pallenberg and their son Marlon from April to November 1971 and continued to rent it for a year after he left. Visitors are said to have included Atlantic Records executive Marshall Chess, the sax player Bobby Keys, the Rolling Stone journalist Robert Greenfield and Stash Klossowski, son of the painter Balthus. Absinthe and drugs flowed freely and the elegant villa is said to have looked more like a squat by the time the Stones departed.
Of his time in this impressive house, which is now owned by a Russian and said to be worth in excess of £100,000,000, Keith Richards commented: “Upstairs, it was fantastic – like Versailles… But down there… it was Dante’s Inferno.”
During his time at the Villa Nellcôte, Richards purchased a 1950 Pontiac Chieftan ‘Silver Streak’ convertible to ferry him and his entourage around. Well documented in photographs from the time, this 4.4-litre vehicle had originally been purchased new for $2,190 by an American academic and Advisor to the Ministry of Finance of China named William Forsythe Sherfesee. Sherfesee lived nearby at the Villa Bontoc, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and was a neighbour and friend of the writer Somerset Maughan. His wife, Emily Ryerson, was another survivor of the Titanic disaster and the tale of his 9,000-mile dash to marry her in 1927 makes for most fascinating reading.
Complete with documentation showing the ownerships of both Sherfesee and Richards, who himself retained the car until 1985, Bonhams are to offer this historic Pontiac at an auction on 30th April at The RAF Museum, Hendon, London, NW9. A guide price of just £18,000 to £22,000 is quoted for this piece of rock legend.
As Keith Richards once said: “You’ve got the sun, you’ve got the moon, and you’ve got the Rolling Stones.” Now, whoever buys this Pontiac will get a hell of a load more.
For more information on the 1950 Pontiac Chieftan ‘Silver Streak,’ contact John Polson of Bonhams on +44 (0) 20 7468 5803 or email him at [email protected]. View more details and photographs by clicking here.
Read an account of William Forsythe Sherfesee’s 9,000 mile alter dash to marry Emily Ryerson by clicking here.
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