We get lost in the ex­pan­sive col­lec­tion of ec­cen­tric en­thu­si­ast Rodger Dud­ding, whose favourites in­clude a unique AC 378 GT Za­gato and his As­ton Martin Lagonda sa­loons – all 23 of them

Rodger Dud­ding’s col­lec­tion has been 40 years in the mak­ing, and it’s eclec­tic to say the least – a bit like the man him­self

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words ROSS ALKUREISHI Pho­tog­ra­phy: NEIL FRASER

Blink and you might miss it. Nestling just off the B556 in Pot­ters Bar sits the rather dis­creet premises hous­ing Stu­dio 434. Its art deco façade, for­merly a tram shed, gives lit­tle no­tice of the trea­sures housed within. From the car park, one or two fa­mil­iar shapes are no­tice­able un­der car cov­ers... then a Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach 25th An­niver­sary ex­its from within, in­stantly oblit­er­at­ing the at­mos­phere of sub­tlety. The man fol­low­ing be­hind it is, in con­trast, dis­creetly dressed, well spo­ken and with an open, sunny and ebul­lient man­ner; Rodger Dud­ding wel­comes us into the fold with a hearty hand­shake. The foyer houses a cor­nu­copia of mo­tor­ing mem­o­ra­bilia, frog para­pher­na­lia (his per­sonal mas­cot) and pho­tos from his busi­ness life. Cen­tre stage is a pic­ture of him circa 1970, fully side­burned, hold­ing a ticket from the Lon­sto queu­ing sys­tem he in­vented and which formed the ba­sis of his for­tune. Shrewd in­vest­ment in lock-up garages fol­lowed (he now owns 14,000-plus), al­low­ing him to in­dulge in his pas­sion for all things petrol-re­lated.

‘I bought these premises eight years ago, and shortly af­ter built the mez­za­nine floor; the idea was to rent space on the ground floor and keep my own col­lec­tion on the first, but then some id­iot called Dud­ding kept buy­ing cars.’ So many cars, in fact, that Stu­dio 434 MKII is close to com­ple­tion. ‘We’re cre­at­ing the Mecca and Me­d­ina of car stor­age fa­cil­i­ties and a con­fer­ence cen­tre.’

So is the orig­i­nal Stu­dio 434 a per­sonal col­lec­tion or busi­ness? Well, the an­swer is a bit of both, with it hav­ing evolved over a pe­riod of time. ‘It’s been a learn­ing process,’ ex­plains Dud­ding. ‘Ini­tially, we had a lot of in­ter­est from car clubs, and then we cre­ated a sil­ver ser­vice ‘dine among the cars’ ex­pe­ri­ence. But over the last few years we’ve be­gun to pro­vide more and more ve­hi­cles for high-end wed­dings and film shoots.’

The TV pro­grammes his cars have ap­peared in is like a who’s who of pe­riod drama: Peaky Blin­ders, Mr Sel­fridge, Down­ton Abbey, The Crown, Call the Mid­wife and the more mod­ern Luther, to name a few. And then there are movies and pop videos…

‘I’ll come in and some­one will say, “you’re not us­ing the Wraith to­day, are you?” and I’ll find it’s been booked out for a Bol­ly­wood movie,’ he says, feign­ing dis­plea­sure with his typ­i­cal jux­ta­po­si­tion of self-ef­face­ment and show­man­ship. ‘I’m very clever, very in­tel­li­gent and very mod­est,’ he states.

This suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man takes as much plea­sure in show­ing you the ‘very first Dalek’, his col­lec­tion of vin­tage dodgem cars, a Lo­tus M250 Con­cept clay model or a Fiat 500 Topolino (‘the most beau­ti­fully de­signed mo­tor car, so cud­dly’) as the var­i­ous gath­ered pieces of ex­ot­ica. So, with 320-odd cars span­ning 100 years of mo­tor­ing his­tory, where do we start? Lead on, Mr Dud­ding... 1968 Jensen FF This was the car that kicked off the col­lec­tion – his first foray into the world of high-per­for­mance, a 1968 Jensen FF. ‘It was so rev­o­lu­tion­ary for its age; there were other four-wheel-drive cars, but this was the first li­censed to in­cor­po­rate Dun­lop’s ABS tech­nol­ogy – de­vel­oped for air­craft – in a car and I was fas­ci­nated by them. I bought it when it was a cou­ple of weeks old, at a very eco­nom­i­cal price, from a chap who was ter­ri­fied of the brakes.

In 1969, af­ter crawl­ing through Ox­ford Street traf­fic, the wiring loom caught fire in Re­gent’s Park; I had it re­stored in its cur­rent Rolls-royce Gun­metal Grey. It now has an up­graded cool­ing sys­tem and non-orig­i­nal bon­net lou­vres to help dis­si­pate heat.’ 1957 Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle Deluxe ‘I’ve al­ways had a soft spot for Bee­tles,’ says Dud­ding as we move on to his ’57 Deluxe. ‘My late wife Glo­ria had a pow­der-blue one in the Seven­ties; I re­mem­ber her fol­low­ing me when a milk float pulled out, and I stood on the brakes. Know­ing we’d be di­vorced if she hit my beloved Jensen, she swerved right and I re­mem­ber see­ing her go­ing through a pond and out the other end. It’s a bril­liant de­sign, with ev­ery­thing above the floor­pan – any­thing else would have sunk. I bought this one specif­i­cally for the en­gi­neer­ing of the pe­riod roof rack; ap­par­ently VW only made about ten, but dis­con­tin­ued them be­cause of the enor­mous cost.’

Of all the jobs for which Stu­dio 434’s cars have been hired out, per­haps the most sur­pris­ing in­volved its 1966 Citroën DS21 Dé­capotable. ‘A few years ago, the tele­phone rang and it was the BBC; it re­quired a con­vert­ible for the in­au­gu­ral drives on Pall Mall and Pic­cadilly Cir­cus af­ter they’d been turned into two-way roads – Mayor of Lon­don Boris John­son would be the driver. I of­fered a Rolls-royce drop­head only to be re­buffed, then a Bent­ley, a Jag and a Jensen. “What else have you got?” they asked. So I men­tioned the Citroën. “Yes please,” came the an­swer. I had a plethora of Brit cars and the Mayor of Lon­don would be in a French car. It seems they’d al­ways had them in his fam­ily.’

‘We’ve be­gun to pro­vide more and more ve­hi­cles for high-end wed­dings and film shoots’

As­ton Martin Lagondas The jewel – or in this case jew­els – of the col­lec­tion are Dud­ding’s As­ton Martin Lagondas. ‘They’re the ultimate Mar­mite cars – you ei­ther love them or hate them. I bought one back in 1983, and Glo­ria took one look and said, “it’s hor­ri­ble, it’s got to go”. We vis­ited a friend in deep­est, dark­est Corn­wall and drove to a lo­cal pub for a pasty and a beer. When we came out I was so proud – there was a big crowd around it. But then it wouldn’t start. So em­bar­rass­ing. It was ei­ther get di­vorced or sell the car... and it was cheaper to do the lat­ter.’

How­ever, he couldn’t re­sist the Lagonda’s charms for long and went back – again and again. He now has 23, span­ning all se­ries and spe­cial edi­tions. ‘One of them is also re­spon­si­ble for my big­gest mis­take. I usu­ally buy cars that are orig­i­nal or have al­ready been re­stored, but I re­ceived an email from a North Sea oil en­gi­neer called Gerry and agreed to buy his ex­am­ple blind. When my me­chanic in­spected it he told me, “You’ve bought a pig in a poke here; it’s so rot­ten un­der­neath that if you went over a hump­back bridge it’d break in half.” I said, “You’d bet­ter fix it then.” Five years and £180k later, I got it back.’

He then met its pre­vi­ous owner. ‘Gerry came down for a BP sem­i­nar and popped in. I opened the door ex­pect­ing a large oil en­gi­neer, and there was the most beau­ti­ful fe­male crea­ture with a mop of red hair and a mini kilt on. “You re­ally thought I was a man, didn’t you?” she asked. If Glo­ria had walked in then, I’m not sure I’d have been able to ex­plain…’ There was good news, though, as it later tran­spired that the Lagonda in ques­tion had been owned by Dodi Al-fayed and had been a long-time res­i­dent at the Ge­orge V Ho­tel in Paris. The White Rab­bit Dud­ding can cite nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of when he’s bought a car be­cause he’d found it of in­ter­est, and only later has its his­tory be­come clear. ‘Those that have a lit­tle story make them much more in­ter­est­ing,’ he says. ‘I bought my 1930 Austin Seven Rac­ing Mono­posto at a Bon­hams auc­tion, and tele­phoned a chum of mine – ar­chi­tect and Austin author­ity David Morgan. I re­mem­ber say­ing, “I bought this lit­tle white thing, looks a bit home-made and in­side it’s got a tor­toise­shell with a white rab­bit painted on it.” His re­ply, “Bloody hell, it’s the white rab­bit!” sur­prised me; I’d never even heard him say ‘damn’ be­fore. It turns out to have been built by Mar­cus Cham­bers, who to­gether with Peter Clark raced a HRG at Le Mans un­der the team name L’ecurie Lapin Blanc. The White Rab­bit had been raced ex­ten­sively in the VSCC – at Monaco and all over the world – since the Thir­ties, be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing.’ 1958 Porsche 356A 1600 Coupe A sim­i­lar his­tory was un­earthed on what ap­peared to be a stan­dard 1958 Porsche 356A 1600 Coupé road car, al­beit the orig­i­nal Earls Court Mo­tor Show car. ‘A for­mer owner had traced it on Google and made con­tact; we ex­changed emails and I in­vited him and his wife to come over and take it for a spin. On their re­turn, she was cry­ing and I thought they’d had a do­mes­tic. It turns out she used to take the kids to school in it in the Six­ties and he had raced it all around the world. It had a great rac­ing his­tory that was com­pletely un­known to me prior to this – many greats, in­clud­ing Derek Bell, had also driven it. It was spe­cial feel­ing to re­unite the cou­ple with it.’

He ad­mits there’s nei­ther rhyme nor rea­son to his col­lec­tion, but any car has to have some­thing that catches his eye. ‘Friends say, “For God’s sake, Rodger, this rat­bag col­lec­tion – why don’t you con­cen­trate on this mar­que or that model?” How bor­ing. A Fer­rari or Rolls-royce is beau­ti­ful, but to have an iden­tikit line-up of them… if I go to a car auc­tion and see some­thing that ap­peals to me – no mat­ter how quirky – if I can buy it, then I buy it.’ 1964 Tro­jan 200 mi­cro­car That ex­plains the Heinkel-based 1964 Tro­jan 200 mi­cro­car. ‘It had a huge stuffed toy meerkat in­side it, and that con­vinced me buy it. Stephanie Bent­ley joined my com­pany ten years ago and she’s be­come my left-hand per­son, man­ag­ing the main­te­nance on 1000 sites of lock-up garages. Her aunt and un­cle breed Meerkats, so I bought it and told her, “I’ve bought you a car.” It’s a bit of fun, and why not?’ 1974 Za­gato Zele 1000 & 2012 AC 378 GT Za­gato It’s this out­look that also saw a 1974 Za­gato Zele 1000 join the fleet. ‘I couldn’t be­lieve it was a Za­gato,’ he says. ‘I thought it was petrol, and didn’t even re­alise it was elec­tric un­til told by my me­chanic. To see the Za­gato name on some­thing like this; be­cause of the fuel cri­sis the com­pany was get­ting no com­mis­sions for ex­ot­ica, so it turned to small elec­tric cars to stay in busi­ness.’

Dud­ding is a self-con­fessed Za­gato fan, and it’s in good com­pany with his As­ton Martin V8 Volante Za­gato and the pro­to­type 2012 AC 378 GT Za­gato. ‘The AC spent some time in the Good­wood Mu­seum be­fore go­ing to a His­torics auc­tion; when I saw it, I had to have it. Fully type-ap­proved and func­tion­ing, with a 434bhp 6.2-litre Gen­eral Mo­tors V8 it’s a very fast mo­tor car, and if you look at the con­tours it’s just gor­geous. I hate to think what the de­sign and pro­duc­tion cost for this one-off may have been.’

The Za­gatos sum up Dud­ding’s col­lec­tion – cu­riosi­ties sit­ting side-by-side, with ex­ot­ica, one-offs and odd car that sim­ply caught his eye. ‘It’s taken 40 years to put it to­gether,’ he says. ‘Why do it? Why not! I know I’m very priv­i­leged to in­dulge my­self, but I get just as much plea­sure from peo­ple com­ing here to see it all and talk about it. There’s a com­mon­al­ity be­tween any en­thu­si­ast who likes driv­ing cars, talk­ing about them and en­joys your en­joy­ment of them – it’s some­thing that cuts through any class lev­els, kith, colour, kin or re­li­gion.’ The Keeper – 1955 Mor­ris Mi­nor Of all his cars, it’s the beige 1955 Mor­ris Mi­nor that ex­erts the big­gest emo­tional pull. ‘It’s the car I’d save if the place went up in fire, be­cause it was my fa­ther’s. He had a Naval-is­sue chauf­feur­driven Hum­ber Hawk and would call when he was com­ing back for a long week­end and tell mother to get Rodger to ready the Mor­ris. I’d get it off the chocks, pump up the tyres and get it run­ning.

‘How­ever he’d sum­mon his driver back if it rained rather than take the Mor­ris out. When he died mother gave it to my sis­ter – but there was no way some arse was jam­ming a trolley into it in the lo­cal Sains­bury’s car park, so I bought her a car and took it. It’s never been re­stored or painted. The value of a car isn’t im­por­tant, it’s what it means to you.’

He buys any­thing that catches his eye, like this Dino 246 GTS

Or­di­nary look­ing 356A was brim­ming with colour­ful his­tory

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