When aged 22, he joined the French company Saint-Gobain, one of the leading glass manufacturers in Europe. By 1994 he had been appointed to Director General, located at the company's head office in Brussels. He was a passionate traveller with a wide range of interests; among these were flying, hang-gliding, tennis, photography, model cars and internal combustion engines.
Miguel's interest in model cars and engines developed at an early age when he started to build up his remarkable collection. While stationed in London in 1990, his wife Marie-Delia was reunited with her former school friend Isabelle Beresford Peyman whose husband Peter was also a keen model collector. He and Miguel collaborated in the construction of a 1/4 scale radio controlled A/C Cobra car. This model was entered in the 62nd International Model Engineering Exhibition in Olympia where it was awarded the Model Car Trophy gold medal. Subsequently, owing to a lack of space, Miguel donated the model to a motor museum in Brittany.
Miguel soon found there was a difficulty in displaying and operating his contemporary radio controlled quarter-scale cars. These were inconvenient because of their size and need for special sites on which to operate. Instead he concentrated n the compact 'tethered cars' of earlier years in his collection. These were more easily accommodated, however again due to shortage of space, friends many had to be installed in the cloakroom of his appartment where they hung in rows from the walls like dormant bats. Thest 'vintage tethered cars' follow the lines of early Indianapolis racing cars. They were especially popular in the United States during the period 1930-1960, and to a lesser extent in the UK after the war. Miguel's appetite for information on the history of 'tethered cars' led him to magazines from the earlier period from which he built up a photocopied international reference to aid his constant search for discarded examples.
When appointed Director General at the head office in Brussels in 1994, Miguel became responsible for the worl wide operations of Saint-Gobain. Constant travel to all corners of the globe gave him the opportunity to make contact with many other enthusiastic collectors. It also introduced him to the broader fields of model engines for aircraft and boats, and the expanding interests in model engineering.
Miguels tall stature became a familiar figure at all the organized 'collectos' and 'Swapmeets' throughout the USA and Great Britain. His natural charm and honourable approach made innumerable friends wherever he appeared. He would be found waiting even before the opening of the door and arrival of local collectors, at meetings in the UK and on the Continent and was often a surprise visitor to internal combustion engine specialists in all parts of the world.
Acqusition of models in the remotest locations was no obstacle to him. His friend Peter remembers when visiting him in Paris he proudly produced a very fine model of a marine outboard motor. He explained it had been made by members of a model engineering club in a high security Russian factory engaged in the manufacture of spacecraft propulsion motors. He was not permitted to enter the installation and negotiations to acquire the model had therefore to be conducted while standing on the pavement outside the factory gates.
Tim Dannels who produces the Engine Collectors Journal in Colorado recalls a first meeting in Denver, and then many others at Toledo Ohio, and Arizona. 'A very pleasant, most happy fellow who had the goal to build up that largest collection on earth.' David Owen, engine designer in Woolengong, Australia can tell of his first meeting when Miguel rented a car, with street guide in hand, talked engines throughout the night, exchanged rare examples, then drive back to Sydney in the early hours. David regrets the break-up of the collection and hopes that a book might be produced as a lasting record of a passing era, and says 'I am honoured to have known Miguel.' Much the same would be said by another collector in Alaska where deals were made during a trip by dog-sled, and by Dave Armitage in Pretoria who remembers a request made by telephone from South America for the first of many visits by Miguel to South Africa.
He was an impressive personality carrying a much travelled holdall from which cloth wrapped engines were lovingly produced. Angeloni Salvatori in Italy says 'Miguel opened his stachel as if he were a magician, producing dream engines as only he could find.' A call from Greece would ask for a meeting at a Milan airport for a brief encounter before changing planes for Paris. The deal was finalized in the next encounter in Wurzburg, Germany. Impressed by Miguel's extraordinary courtliness, Angeloni's friendship had spread over 12 years through Miguel's exceptional modesty and fair play in dealing with an extended family of Italian collectors. It established an enviable reputation. As the collection of prototypes and rare examples of self-made and early production units grew, Miguel collaborated with Adrien Maeght in the production of 'Les Moteurs Models Reduits Francais' as a tribute to the 42 manufacturers of engines and cars of his native France 1940-1977.
Increasing effects of Miguel's illness through the last years of his very active life was a cause for great concern among the collecting fraternity, though this in no way diminished the universal admiration for his uncomplaining and stoical courage in sustaining a quest for rare acquisitions. His loss in 2003 at the early age of 62 has been deeply felt, not only by his devoted wife Marie-Delia, his son Emmanuel, and daughter Alexandra, but also by his business colleagues, and the vast circle of friends with whom he shared his enthusiasm for building a unique treasure trove of engineering gems.
Adapted from the biography prepared by RG Moulton and PB Peyman for the Christies' catalogue, 2004
Christies used their celebrated "Hangar" room for the Miguel de Rancougne collection auction. Forty glass cases arranged with Lots in order offered clear viewing of the 1200 or so individual Cars, Engines, Aircraft and of a single Launch to be sold on Tuesday 20th January, 2004. First impression is that of an Engine Museum when faced with such a range of I.C.variations collected in one room where the girder work supporting a glass roof, and surrounding office windows are reminders of what was in pioneer days, an actual aircraft factory.
Three hours of viewing on the first "open" day were busy with London and Southern Counties based collectors plus Australian, Swiss and French. All expressed satisfaction at the way engines were displayed, and several said they were amazed at the variety and numbers in what was in effect a 3 day Museum of miniaturised Internal combustion that will never be matched again. Engines were removed from cases by request for handling, for example a Gil Mfg ign. with that long shaft extension which was otherwise difficult to assess. An owner of replica and rebuilt vintage aircraft expressed interest in acquiring the Godefroy and appearance of rare French diesels from Allouchery and BosMorin expanded interests in what are otherwise little known outside France. Mme Devezeaux de Rancougne and family attended the first viewing and were able to meet many of Miguel's contacts in engine collecting.
On the second day of viewing the babble of different languages in and around the 40 glass cases indicated that the Italian group had arrived, as well as more French, Belgian and American prospective buyers. Open for 10½ hours, and so giving London based enthusiasts to attend after work, the atmosphere of exited expectation began to build as more and more discoveries were made.
Although even the most experienced and knowledgeable engine nuts were well aware that this was a unique showplace the prospect of identification was daunting with almost a thousand engines to be seen. So many in fact, spread over 140 glass shelves in the cases that a tour could not be rushed, and it would demand a good memory if ever one needed to go back to a particular subject for a second study. Taking note of Lots that had special appeal was an obvious way in which to resolve the puzzle. Most seemed to keep their discoveries close to the chest, the auction was going to be competitive and a degree of secrecy was part of the game. Auctions are places where discretion and anonymity are paramount.
Christies positioned staff who could supervise direct examination out of the cases as requested, an advantage taken up by many discriminating dealers who needed to distinguish the repros from originals.
On the morning of the sale, a last two hours of viewing hastened the pace and certainly brought in a more crowded atmosphere as potential bidders registered and reserved their places in the auction hall.
Promptly at noon, the Auctioneer opened bidding on Lot 1, for a group of 3 all Aluminium race cars by Champion. The catalogue advice was from £500 to £800 but the bidding paddles were fluttering and telephoned calls soon made a nonsense of those figures. The hammer went down on £2,200, the auction was off on afterburners.
More cars, more high bids. £2,400 reached for an ED Racer powered scale Frazer-Nash Le Mans from a suggested 4-600! The cars had drawn in the City Gents and regular investors in collectobilia. Fast bidding dealt with Lots at the rate of one a minute, some in the £400 range, Quality stuff like American Air Flow racer with Hornet sparkie at £2,200.
When a scale Curtiss OX-5 reached £2,800 there was caution that the aero engines might also soar out of reach, but concerns were relieved as Lot 22 with an as new Enya 2.43cu.in. Vee Twin plus a beautiful scale Anzani went for £950. When the multiple Lots came on with 5 or 6 assorted types, realism established itself as one Lot of mixed singles settled at £320 and another with five twins of some consequence reached £1,400. The huge Seidel St 996 nine cyl radial made a new high at £2000, it was powerful enough for a microlite and a genuine working Morton M5 on running stand went for half as much at £1000.
Not until the batch of scale car engines, many by Schilling came on were the single engine prices pushed between a low £500 and a couple of highs at £2,200 but an exception to these beautifully crafted offers was a commercial replica Harley Knucklehead that left its normal price behind and was bought for £2,200.
Then into a batch of fourteen Lots of grouped engines. Out of several Yellow Jackets, the Dooling one in Lot 61 must have been recognised as an original as it got to £2,800. By contrast Lot 66 with an as new Gerald Smith Magpie, a Moki 10, a Czech Vltavan, and a Norwegian motor went for £600. Two control line speed models in separate lots, one with a TWA 15, the other with a Dynajet were from American speed flyer Al Stegens, one witn an ST .65, the other an O/D from the solid .29 at £380 and £400.
More car Lots, a beautiful Bugatti Type 35 made by Joseph Krasznai with two cyl engine went after much bidding for £8,000, then Lot 90 appeared at 90 minutes to eclipse all at £13,000. This was for the ¼ scale Gypsy Major that had been Miguel's most proud acquisition in his last year. The price fever must have caught on because 3 Lots later, a batch Of five powerful 60's (including a Hornet/Magneto Yellow Jacket) got as high as £3,500!
At that stage, with 257 Lots still to follow, and the auctioneer seemingly inexhaustible, one might have expected some of the audience to be showing signs of resignation. Nothing of the sort. Extreme professionalism is a hallmark of the long established Christies and one could detect that this unusual sale was one that both they, and the audience were lapping up at fast pace.
Anything with Y-J on the crankcase triggered a boost. There was one in Lot 109 among 5 mixed engines and the price climbed to £2,800. On the other hand a perfectly useable though now 5 years old JPX T 240 turbine could only reach £800. Miguel's own racing air-car with a Morton M5 in its back fetched £1,900, against an Indy car, the Korn Cumberland Special at £2,400. Telephoned commission sales were frequently successful. The commemorative "Gold Crown" Dooling 61 featuring 24 karet gold plating went back to the original builder for £700. This engine is #16 of 20 engines made in 1998 which have changed hands previously for as much as US$4000. The P&W Wasp display model went OTT at £5,500. With it was an Allouchery. If it was one of the two rare Turbolid 247s in the auction, it might have been worth the investment.
After a Seidel seven cyl, as new went for £1,300 and a mix of a Fox 59, McCoy 60, Invader 45, OS 60FS and Talisman 60 went for £1,600 the Vernal Engineering 14 cyl radial based on two Morton M7s back to back broke records with a deserved £12,000. The bidders came out of the clouds after that rush. A French Micron 5cc twin, Czech Vltavan twin and an early Ferguson (USA) all on spark ignition were a reasonable £850. Then a trio of McCoy 60s plus a Super Tigre G27 diesel and a streamlined Bugl went at £600. Not until the venerable pioneer Godefroy came on at Lot 185 did the bids go high again, this time for £4,200, a little less than one might expect for Europe's first flying engine of 1910.
Its not over yet!. We're just 200 gone, 150 to go and at Lot 202 the prices soar again with £4,000 for a Helium B6, a Rossi 15, then a Ball 60 and BAAB Fox 60 that made all the difference. A magneto equipped Hornet speed engine plus a French LBM sparkie and a mix of four other engines raised £1,400 but then came a run of bargains. A Laser 62 with a Cyclon 40, redhead Micron an early sparkie and an OPS 60 went for £250. Four more lots went at £350 or less, then an inevitable Yellow Jacket, with a water jacket no less, plus a French Stab, a GHQ, and two others went for £2,200.
Sustaining the high level, Lot 238, a Robart seven cyl radial, like many of Miguel's engine new as though just out of the box went for £2,600. By comparison, an OS Pegasus FP-240 in same new condition was much less than purchase price at £900. Similarly, a Seidel five cyl radial 540 as new was only just over suggested price range at £1,200. While bids for group lots were getting lower at this stage, there was still a demand for classics as in Lot 243 where a Gerald Smith Redwing, Super Tigre G24, Osam 10, Viking 248 and a French Comet went for £750. Similarly, Lot 253, a Kopper King Condor 60 and Baby Cyclone on original wooden mount were £650. At 3½ hours of constant bidding and up to Lot 262 which was a Chenery designed ¼ scale Le Rhone working rotary one expected a drawn out battle of the bidding but matters settled quickly by topping at £2000, probably by phone bid ex USA.
Moving on through a well made R/C Nieuport 28 as Lot 283, sold low at £700, the only scale aircraft in the auction. Offers continued to fall as though money was running out in the hall. A display of Moki and Orlik cutaway engines went cheaply at £200, other sets of well done cutaways were £280, each a perfect desk toy for the business man or engineer. Even the US made Abitair double overhead camshaft four stroke plus a Micron 10cc fixed head diesel only made £280. Same for a range of multiple groups which sold from £280 to £450 at this time.
All changed with Lot 293 when a single Bruce Underwood Yellow Jacket Dooling 61 with a Hornet magneto shot out of the rut with £3,800. Someone must have identified it as a genuine original. The cars that followed were also down on the prices offered earlier, exceptions being a pair of John Oliver kit built cars, now half a Century old, at £2,400. An older racer from 1946 with working Atlas 3.5 ign, 1066 rear axle drive and original Hastings tyres made £1,600. Among a flush of twenty Lots,all containing groups and selling low there were some desirables A Frank Tlush Super Ace, Vega 61, Hende replicas, Bugls, Syncro Aces, Dennymite, Edco, Eta for example but two that stuck out were the as new OS Supercharged 120 that had a short production run at £650 and the Ferguson flat four two-stroke 40cc Condor at £750 (when one was bought at Gildings Auction for £1,700 last December !). A Ben Shereshaw Bantam flat four went for £500, and a Ross six for £750, then suddenly we were close to the end. Still cheap, a Czech Busek 25cc ign just made £200, a twin rotor Wankel by Belltech of Japan plus a Micron and OS 19 reached £650, and the last engine in Lot 349, a pioneering German Braune und Zenker wick fed single from about 1913 for £850.
Thus Miguel's famous collection was dispersed for a total of £408,770.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
Ron Moulton, January 2004
Click on a picture to enlarge, or a caption for the description and hammer price.