Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire - Rowan Atkinson CBE, the real-life alter ego of television’s bumbling Mini driver Mr Bean, is best known among car enthusiasts as the author of Britain’s biggest automotive insurance claim, when he crashed his McLaren F1 in 2011.

But Atkinson deserves credit as a true petrolhead for his extensive collection of rare and unusual modern classics, including these two, which he has put up for auction in the Silverstone Auctions classic sale at Stoneleigh Park’s Race Retro historic motorsport weekend - probably to make room for something even more unusual.

The first is a 1989 Lancia Thema - a largely forgotten medium-sized, front wheel-drive premium sedan built from 1984 to 1994, with boxy styling typical of the time by Pininfarina, based on the Tipo Quattro platform which it shared with the Alfa Romeo 164, the Fiat Croma and the Saab 9000.

This one, however, is one of 2370 Series 1 examples that were fitted with an updated version of the three-litre Ferrari engine originally developed for the 308, and the first electronically raised rear spoiler on a production road car. Despite the white-knuckle effect of a Ferrari V8 driving the front wheels, the Thema 8.32 (eight cylinders, 32 valves) has become something of a cult car.

Because it was never made in right-hand drive (although just one was converted in Pretoria in 1985 for the MD of then South African Lancia distributor TAK Motors) only nine were sold in Britain, of which 28 are still registered in the UK (yes, you read that right; a further 19 have since been privately imported).

Atkinson bought this 8.32, finished in Ferrari Monza Red with beige velour upholstery (very 1980s!), in 2010, and has since then put considerable time, money and effort into maintaining and improving the car.

To help you understand the appeal of this amazing street sleeper, here's a retrospective road test (in Italian with very ungrammatical English subtitles) published in 2016 by Davide Cironi - who was four years old when the 8.32 went out of production in 1992:

Stuttgart Sledgehammer

Atkinson’s Mercedes-Benz 500E is a rare high-performance version of the W124 built in collaboration with Porsche from 1991 to 1994. Each one was hand-built at Porsche's Rossle-Bau plant in Zuffenhausen; the bodies were made in Stuttgart, trucked out to Zuffenhausen to be fitted with a 240kW naturally-aspirated five-litre V8 and drivetrain, and then trucked back again for trim and finishing - a process that took 18 days for each car.

No wonder only 10 479 were made over a four-year period.

Atkinson bought one brand new in the 1990s and he has such fond memories of the Stuttgart Sledgehammer that in 2015 he set about looking for the car best example he could find.

This is the one he bought, also in left-hand drive, finished in silver with 85 000km on the clock. It has a leather-covered steering wheel, walnut interior trim elements and grey fabric upholstery, which Atkinson apparently preferred to the standard leather finish, and comes with a full service history file, the original book pack - and both keys!

However, he has decided not to keep it, so it joins the Thema on the block on 25 February.

Mercedes-Benz promo video for the 500E:

IOL Motoring