CARS AND THEIR OWNERS No. 132:
Tony E Osborne
In 1973 I was forty three years old and a workaholic running an expanding family
coach-builders with pre-1939 links to Rolls-Royce cars. In October 1969 I had acquired GGA58, a 1934 20/25 Park Ward saloon which I was restoring, but from my opening paragraph you can guess progress was pretty slow. (Past Club Chairman, John Clough bought the car from me and still owns it.) Having joined the RREC in 1970, I now wanted a usable ‘proper’ Club car, but was not sure if we wanted another pre- or post-war model. Post-war would be more suitable for business use, so the search began……
I suppose my coachbuilding background had some influence when, in September 1973, we heard about a 1965 Phantom V, chassis number 5VD5 with James Young PV22 touring limousine coachwork. The car was in very nice condition, finished in velvet green with pale green leather interior - price £9,000 (price when new - £9,500). My wife and I both fell in love with the car. I got so excited I stopped on the way home and bought Barbara a new matching green coat! Barbara reciprocated by buying me the registration number TOO 10 to go onto the Phantom V. TOO 10 (sometimes TO 010) has, to date, graced six post-war Club cars.
The late Lawrence Dalton and I both shared the opinion that the James Young Phantom V design PV22 epitomised post-war luxury car coachwork. As Lawrence put it: “magnificence inside to match the elegance outside”. Unfortunately, I think the designers of the current Phantom missed out on the “elegance outside” factor. During this period the Club did not have a class for such ‘new’ cars as Phantom V's or Silver Shadows, but allowed me to take the Phantom V to the Annual Rally under ‘cars of special interest’. At one Annual Rally I was parked beside a car fitted with a Merlin aero engine. Lt Col Barrass was not amused when the owner frequently started the engine!
For daily use the Phantom V is a little too big! So in 1976 I went to view a Silver Cloud III at P & A Wood’s. While I was there Paul showed me a 1963 Silver Cloud
III with James Young SCT100 saloon coachwork, chassis number CBL29.
The car had been driven down the M5 with the oil warning light on until the engine seized. It also needed quite a lot of exterior body restoration. I parted with another £9,000. The SCT100 design was, in many respects, a ‘mini’ Phantom V. To get the restoration moving I decided to spend Fridays and Saturdays working on the bodywork. At this time a Polish motor mechanic rented a large workshop from me and he offered to help with the mechanical work. A deal was struck – eight hours a week in lieu of rent. He got so involved that some weeks he worked twenty hours! When you strip the paint down to bare aluminium on this era of bodywork you appreciate the skill of the panel beaters and gas welders we used to have. My company, which since the late 1930's, had concentrated on commercial vehicle bodybuilding, now mainly used MIG and TIG welding techniques. The old saying ‘it’s better to be born lucky than rich’ came to my rescue when a Swiss man walked into my office and asked if I could help him find ‘short term accommodation’. He had heard that I had a chalet in the grounds of my house that was not occupied (I had built this for my teenage children – there are some things parents do not want to hear or see). I was not really listening to him until he said he ran a car accident repair centre in Berne.
“Can you gas weld 18 swg aluminium?”
“Of course”, he replied.
A quick demonstration soon proved that this man was highly skilled. You guessed right – another rent for work deal was struck. The restoration team now had a highly skilled international workforce and progress was way ahead of schedule.
The car went back to James Young to be trimmed - by the same man who had trimmed the car when new. Repainted velvet green with pale green hides, CBL29 was a lovely car in top concours condition, but due to increasing business commitments was only used to go to Section lunch meets.
In 1981 I was planning for my retirement and looking for a property ‘out in the sticks’. The mandate was - it must have 3,000 to 3,500 sq ft of garage space and enough land to make a golf practice range. Being a lucky chap I soon found my ideal property and we still live here.
In 1985, Paul Wood asked if I would consider selling CBL29 and the car was sold to a Japanese gentleman and sent to Tokyo.
TOO 10 then needed a new chassis number, so I purchased a Silver Shadow with only 2,500 miles recorded by one previous owner. Finished in Seychelles blue with beige hides, the car was still on its original cross-ply tyres. Due to a two year off road lay-up the usual irritating problems soon arose, but were sorted out and new radial tyres improved the ride and handling. Strangely, I never liked my Silver Shadow. This was unfair, as I used the car for mainly business use. For several years I had been trying, without success, to buy a garage premises that fronted my main factory site and, if acquired, would allow me to sell 1.5 acres of land for housing development. The garage owner was always looking at my Silver Shadow and asked me if I would take him out for a ‘spin’. On the way back we stopped and I treated him to a slap up lunch. Over coffee he asked:
“Do you still want to buy my garage?” I went out thinking I was selling a car and came home with the best deal of my business life! No, he did not buy the Silver Shadow, it eventually went to a Swedish doctor – the first Rolls-Royce that I sold for a decent profit - but I still do not like Silver Shadows!
In 1989 retirement was looming, so I decided to treat myself to a new Silver Spirit. Paul Wood was to fly Barbara and I up to Crewe, but on the day of the visit the weather was overcast and wet, so Paul decided not to fly. The Rolls-Royce he proposed taking us in was out, so we finally travelled up to Crewe in Paul’s wife’s Vauxhall. The no-fly plan meant we missed lunch at the factory and all we got was lukewarm coffee. Unimpressed, we nevertheless placed our order for a new Spirit in midnight blue non-metallic paint with Silverstone hides. Delivery time was twelve weeks. Progress reports told us the car was 75% complete when, to my surprise, I had a letter from Crewe telling me that delivery would be delayed for a further six to eight weeks. This, Crewe stated, was ‘good news’ as I would now be having a 1990 model – which turned out to be only a different radio and disc player system – oh yes, and a 6% price increase. With no firm delivery date we decided, reluctantly, to cancel our order.
To cheer me up, Paul Wood suggested that I might like to try a Bentley Turbo R and within a week I was the owner of a 1986 model - chassis number FCH13829, Brewster green with beige hides. What a fabulous car to go into retirement with. With the help of long term friends, John Clough, his son James and Ron Monks we burnt up thousands of miles around the UK. This car could really motor! It was - and still is - the only car I have driven on the Queen’s highway at over 120mph.
Having retired in early 1991, I was looking for a retirement project. This led to a 1953 LWB Silver Wraith, chassis number DLW30 with a ‘one off’ H J Mulliner saloon body. I liked the shape of the body, but the car had been badly long-term stored and looked pretty rough. Barbara’s advice (ignored but still ringing in my ears) was: ‘forget it, let’s have a decent lunch and go home.’ Three weeks later I had the car in my workshop and was appalled at the extent of the work required and even more appalled at the way some of the original work had been done. Pre-WWII coach-builders were very good at ash frames, alloy panel work and interiors. During WWII car coach-building virtually ceased and production went over to military contracts, which often included metal fabrication. Hence, post -WWII coachbuilders were keen to use metal sections in their body shells. However, they still clung onto some of the old ways, which meant that early post- war cars were often a composite mixture of steel, alloy and timber.
The bodyshell of DLW30 is made from folded 10 swg (3.5mm) mild steel. This is immensely strong. The door frames are a mixture of folded 18 swg steel, alloy castings and timber, which in the trade union dominated 1950's most probably meant three different trades were required to assemble each door. No wonder nothing fitted! The restoration, which I estimated at taking two years, actually took seven years and involved virtually re-assembling the whole body. I was determined to get the car right, no matter how long it took or how much it cost.
My efforts were rewarded at the Millennium Rally in 2000 when DLW30 won its Class; the Elegance Trophy; the Peter Blond Trophy (with my 20/25 GSF74) and was Best in Show.
By 1994 I had been retired for three years, survived a couple of heart attacks, a quadruple heart bypass and was awaiting a major spine operation. The Turbo R had to go. It was back to Paul Wood and another trip (by Turbo R this time) to Crewe. In August 1994 we took delivery of a new Bentley Brooklands, chassis number SCH55156, finished in diamond graphite with Silverstone hides. A very nice car, but after the Turbo R so ‘tame’! I have threatened to sell this car on two occasions only to back off at the last moment. I must like my ‘old man’s’ Bentley, as I recently treated it to a new registration number - TO123.
TOO 10 is now on another Phantom V. After several ‘false dawns’ I saw the car I wanted - chassis number 5VA7, a James Young design PV22 finished in silver over graphite with grey leather to the driver’s compartment and grey cloth in the passenger area. The only downside was this Phantom V cost me ten times more than the first car! The upside? Barbara loves this car because she can sleep equally well in both front and rear compartments.
I have one more post-war car, a 1959 Silver Cloud LWB Park Ward limousine, chassis number CLC35. This car has its original registration number, WYK 441, as does my Silver Wraith, which is YPH 111.
Of the eight post war cars I have owned, TOO 10 has graced six wonderful cars over thirty two memorable years, finishing, as it started, on a James Young Phantom V.
Thank you Barbara – and thank you TOO 10.