Motors Corner is tucked down an alleyway off the Boulevard Stalingrad in Nice, on the Cote D’Azur.

It’s a perfect location. Just across the street is the harbour and the Barque Bleue restaurant, still going strong twenty plus years after it featured in the car chase classic, Ronin. Turn left and the boulevard leads you to the coast road. past posh restaurants, stylish villas, and exclusive coastal hamlets, before arriving at the billionaire’s dormitory of Monaco.

The garage is unassuming from the outside. Inside it’s a labrynth, offering service, sales and Mancave in equal parts. In the service bay I found a rare Facel Vega Typhoon, one of thirty six ever made, a 2.7 Carrerra, an XK150 and a sixties Mustang. That’s pretty much my dream classic garage all in one spot. The sales floor offered,- to steal a line from Mr Duisberg- a veritable smorgasbord of motors, from an early 930 Turbo to a Maybach G650. There’s also a dark, dusty corner of genuine barnfind crusties. It’s where Tom Brauer, the President of Motors Corner, finds me lurking around a pear like Hotchkiss Gregoire.

‘Riviera car dealer’ might conjure up the image of an upmarket Swiss Tony of Fast Show fame, or Mike Brewer, with added garlic. Tom Brauer breaks the stereotypes. At just 32 years old he’s been in the car business for a little over five years, having spent his youth in the French Marine Regiment.

‘Marines, not Navy’ Tom advises. The French Troupe de Marine is an army regiment used for rapid deployment overseas. Tom was a parachute trained sharpshooter, serving in Africa. When he wasn’t overseas he liked to tear around in a 350 V8 Chevelle.

‘I enjoyed the military I loved the training, the wilder the better. However, often when you’re deployed there’s a lot of downtime. You tend to start dreaming. I’ve always loved cars. I dreamt about having my own car business.

I told my commanding officer I wanted to leave. He kept trying to put me off… but Tom, we’ve spent a lot of money on your training… I made a nuisance of myself, still the army kept saying no. I started to give up on the idea, then my boss called me in and said my application to resign was accepted. He gave me seven days notice. By the end of that week I was out of the army.

I wasn’t ready. I had no idea what to do, the army had been my life. All I had was a kitbag and my Chevelle.I drove down to the South of France for something to do. I didn’t know anyone there. I slept in my car for two weeks. I ended up at the Marina in St Tropez, staring at the yachts.

I found a mechanic who worked on his own. I helped him out and he taught me what it was like to run a working garage. I remembered the yachts sailing into the Marina so I put in a business plan with the bank for a car rental business aimed at yacht owners. I rented them Mini Mokes for when they were in town. It sounds mad, but we were really busy from the start. One yacht owner sees his neighbour with a Mini Moke and then he’s saying where did you get that? It was perfect free publicity and soon business was flat out. I had six Mokes out in circulation. I was living the good life in St Tropez, but I still wanted that garage.

A mate of mine showed me this place early on. I liked it but there was no way I could afford it. Renting commercial property on the Riviera is brutally expensive, before the taxes! It was a big leap from renting out Mokes and letting the guy at the garage worry about servicing them. It got me thinking. How could I expand? I went down to Monaco,. Lots of cars, lots of potential clients. If I could break into that market, the returns could be huge. Again, I had no contacts, no history in the area, how could I do it?’

Tom came up with a plan. Skipping scratching around, he went straight to the top. blagging his way into a meeting with the President of the Automobile Club of Monaco- a feat akin to gaining an audience with the Pope.

‘My gambit was – I can’t believe, here in Monaco of all places, you don’t have a car auction. I want to do that for you. He asked me a lot of questions, a lot of specifics on my business plan. It wasn’t ready, I ended up bullshitting – and he knew it. He politely declined. I was like, well Tom, you blew it. you didn’t prepare properly. So we had a nice chat, and then when he heard I was ex military his attitude changed. It turned out he was ex military too. He made some suggestions and said ‘Ok let’s try it as a one off and see what happens. Thanks to that man, I got a shot and I ran with it.’

Tom belted back to St Tropez to sell everything he owned, all the Mokes and his beloved Chevelle. He then charged around trying to find suitable stock to present. Four weeks later, outside the Yacht Club of Monaco, he held his first auction. “I was a terrible auctioneer, but the auction went really well.”

It became a regular event for the next two years, setting him up to be in a position to take on Motors Corner. During those two years contacts started filling his little black book. Monaco residents started ringing him to find them specific cars to purchase His reputation grew as a can do person. These were clients where money was not an issue but there was a drawback. To cater to their needs Tom needed to be available 24/7. On average he spends one week a month in the UAE and travels to auctions and dealerships all over the world acting as agent and negotiator for his client base.

‘I couldn’t run the garage and maintain these crucial links on my own. I needed people I could totally rely on.’ Tom knew where to look, a lot of his staff are ex- military. A strong team gives him peace of mind when he’s away buying, or making a TV series. You might just see him in the future as his show “For Sale” is pending syndication. In it he travels around Texas buying top flight muscle cars for discerning customers.

“it was work, but it was a lot of fun. I love buying cars in the States. Here, the price is the price- it’s a tough market, over there, you can haggle and barter. It’s more like a game, one that both sides are happy to play.”

Wheeling and dealing everything from supercars to classics is his daily bread, but what he really loves is hunting down barn find cars. It’s a tricky part of the world to go hunting.

‘They are tucked away. People here like their privacy and it’s not wise to go poking around. When I get a tip off I don’t delay. I drop what I’m doing and go straight there ready to buy. There’s no time to lose because word gets out fast here.

My first barnfind remains my best to date. A guy contacted me and said he had two old 1920’s Renaults he wanted to sell. I was pretty laid back about it- those cars don’t fetch much. The old Renaults were in fairly poor condition. The gentleman selling them was in his eighties. He was a retired businessman. I think it was a carpet business. In the corner of the barn behind the Renaults was a big pile of old carpet stock all rolled up. I paid for the Renaults and was about to leave, but those carpets bothered me.

I said, is there another car under there? The gentleman studied the carpets for a moment. His eyes widened. Yes he parked a car there in the sixties! We shifted a load of carpet, and. there it was, a series one Facel Vega, one of the earliest produced, with the smaller engine that was troublesome- that’s why he had parked it up. The car was perfectly preserved. It had just 6000km on the clock, the keys were still in the ignition! I didn’t have the money to buy it and fix it up, so I took it in on commission and it sold quickly to a Facel enthusiast who paid really good money for it. That was when I was truly hooked on this game.’

He shows me his latest find. A European market 1966 Chevy Corvair convertible. The Corvair has just two owners from new and shows less than 50000km. The original red interior trim and matching power hood are in excellent condition. The car slumbered in a Riviera villa for seventeen years until Tom bagged it. After a major service of the aircooled, rear mounted 140hp flat six ,fresh tyres, and the original white paintwork buffed to a gleam, it’s ready to roll. It makes for a stylish retro accoutrement for a spot of lounge lizard exuberance on the Cote D’Azur.

Sadly, it won’t be me living it large in the Corvair on the Riviera. My budget barely covers the bus ticket and a croque monsieur. Hearing Tom’s version of Hold out yer hand* will have to wait a while.

*me serrer la main


About The Author

Steve Swanson

Steve turns any opportunity to write about cars into a roadtrip. It's seen him ride shotgun in a Bentley Blower with Clive Cussler, and cross paths with automotive YouTubers in Canada and the US. His work has been published in Magneto, Classic Cars, Classic American and some magazines that no MotorPunk reader has ever heard of. When he's not writing or driving you can find him kicking tyres at seedy auctions and hawking junk optimistically described as Automobilia

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