Buying up bargain waifs and strays during his many years in the motor trade, David Howes has ended up with an eclectic collection of classics
A motor trader’s life of hoovering up unwanted trade-ins has led to a fabulously random collection
‘I’ve been in the motor business since I was 16 years old,’ says David Howes as he heaves open the doors of the large barn behind his secluded, self-renovated Buckinghamshire farmhouse. ‘And in the case of nearly every one of my cars, I’m their second owner. I’d come across them in the course of buying nice secondhand vehicles to trade. Often they’d be a little bit too old or unusual for people to want to run, but far too good to scrap, so I’d take them in simply because I hate to see waste.’ You may recognise Howes from a previous issue of
Classic Cars – he was the creator and driver of ‘The Beast’, the fearsome AMC Javelin touring-car he campaigned in the British Saloon Car Championship while he ran the UK’S only AMC dealership back in the Seventies. The Javelin is currently contesting historic race series in the hands of new owner Marc Devis. ‘It’s one of only two of my own cars that I’ve ever sold in 40 years, the other being a Jaguar E-type when I needed some money to do some work on the house, but that’s it,’ says Howes.
‘Originally I wanted to be an agricultural engineer, because I had spent some time on a farm when I was young and loved tractors. I left school aged 15 and was apprenticed to Ferguson in Tring, Hertfordshire. But after a year the company suddenly upped sticks and moved 20 miles away. I was too young for a motorbike to commute, and there were no buses for the journey. However, Stirling Moss – a big influence on me back then – lived in Tring in 1956-57 and Triumph TR2S had the same engines as Ferguson tractors, so I figured my skills would be transferable...
‘Alan Moore, a friend of the family, had a garage and raced with Archie Scott-brown. He’d heard I’d lost my job and took me in. I worked on sports cars for four years – BMW 328s, Jaguar XK120S, Frazer Nash Le Mans Replicas – I even had to fetch an Invicta once. And once I’d established myself as a mechanic I set up Howes Motors with my brother in 1967, which went on to become a dealership.’
Austin Seven Chummy Tourer
‘I’ve had this car since 1961,’ says Howes of the oldest car in his collection. ‘I bought it for my wife two years before we were married – it came as a pair with a stationary engine for £200. I acquired it from another friend with a garage business. I’d called round, he was getting rid of things he didn’t need because he’d run out of room and I asked, ‘What’s that thing in the corner?’
‘It was yellow and black when I first got it – all Chummies were two-tone – but the logbook said it was red and black. My wife never actually drove it, so for 50 years it just sat in a barn. I didn’t get around to touching it until four years ago, when I repainted it in its original colours.
‘It’s totally original mechanically and structurally, to such a degree that it still has a stencilled number on the rear of the chassis from 92 years ago. The mileometer shows 5077 miles, which isn’t trustworthy, but then again it was built in 1925 and registered in Devon, and in those days people only did small mileages. I don’t know much about its ownership before my friend acquired it. The chairman of the owners’ club couldn’t believe its condition though, which suggests it was well looked-after and only used sparingly.’
The XK150 is another totally original car, says Howes. He’s known the coupé since it was new. ‘I went with my future father-in-law to buy this car,’ he recalls. ‘It was advertised in The Autocar in March 1961 and had been a customer demonstrator at a dealership on the Winchester bypass. He wanted it because it’s an automatic and he had a gammy leg. It was built in September 1960, one of the last XK150S made before the E-type came out, and was heavily discounted. I guess it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
‘Sadly, he died in 1965 when the car was just five years old. My brother-in-law didn’t want to keep it so I bought it. I only did one proper trip in it – ten days in Ireland in 1966. But I was just too busy setting up the business to do anything more with it, so I put it away and haven’t used it again. It’s still got its 1967-expiry tax disc in the windscreen.
‘Water has since got into the cylinder bores and seized the engine, but it’s the next in line for restoration. I might get Jaguar Classic to do it – I’ve been to see what they do in Coventry, and Jaguar Classic was very taken with the car’s story. Back in those days you could take your car to Browns Lane for servicing – Lofty England was the service manager in 1962-63 – and I remember driving it up there, before the M1 had been built, so it would be going home.
‘I’ve also got the only unused original set of spare XK150 doors and wings in the world,’ adds Howes, gesturing up to the barn’s loft. ‘I bought them from Henleys Jaguar back in the Sixties when they told me, “You won’t be able to get these for much longer.” They were £104 – I’ve still got the invoice. Jaguar Classic is going to laser-scan them so they can be reproduced.’
Mercedes-benz 220 SE
‘This is a one-owner car with just 59,000 miles on the clock, totally original upholstery, all its service stamps in the driver’s door jamb, and it’ll do 100mph,’ says Howes as he recalls the reasons that led him to a fairground yard in the early Seventies.
‘Stanley Thurston owned a fairground in Bedford and I was there picking up some secondhand cars I’d bought for the dealership when I noticed this sitting in the corner of his yard. I enquired about it and a lady said, “Oh, that bloody old thing,
‘I’ve also got the only unused original set of spare Jaguar XK150 doors and wings in the world’
you wouldn’t want that!” I had a bit of a haggle and £300 later it was mine. It needed a respray because it had faded and it’s now in need of a mechanical refresh, but it would only take a day to do it. It ought to be done, actually, because it’s such a lovely car.
‘I didn’t get to drive it much because various pals of mine had a habit of borrowing it. One mate had it for four months once – I thought he’d never bring it back.’
Howes is particularly pleased with the rarity of this early ‘high-lamp’ Morris Minor. ‘It’s a 1952, early badge style, split-screen and sidevalve engine,’ he points out enthusiastically. ‘It was bought in Dunstable by a gentleman who had it serviced at our garage. We had petrol pumps out at the front in those days and he’d stop once a month to put four gallons in, so I knew that it was hardly used but was well-maintained.
‘I said “When you want to part with it, I’ll have it,” but when he put it up for sale everyone in the village of Eaton Bray wanted it because it was well known that he never drove it in the rain, kept it in a heated garage and always seemed to be polishing it.
‘It has an aftermarket heater driven off the fan belt too. As you can imagine, it’s never needed any restoration work, just routine servicing and new tyres.’
President Eisenhower’s Willys Jeep
‘This was President Dwight D Eisenhower’s Jeep, and the only car I’ve ever spent big money on’ says Howes of his most prized vehicle. ‘It’s a Willys – I’ve got a Ford too, which I bought to do a practice restoration on because I didn’t want to jeopardise the patina and history of this one.
‘I bought it in 1978 at an auction down in the West Country. When Howes Motors had a Jeep franchise we used to advertise in the Sunday Times, and I saw a one-line advert in the paper’s classifieds stating Eisenhower’s Jeep would be sold by the National Trust in ten days’ time. I figured it would be a good promotional tool for the business.
‘It ran well but there was a lot of rust. Someone had attempted a restoration and it was full of filler. The leather is original, and I certainly didn’t want to lose that because that’s where Eisenhower sat. All the body panels were saved in the end, apart from a small section of the front floor – I sent it away to a coachbuilder in Bicester for that. I had to keep it as original as possible otherwise if you use all-new panels you’re just left with a copy.
‘It was presented to Eisenhower as a thank-you in 1946 by the National Trust for Scotland along with the upper floor of Culzean Castle – where he stayed during World War Two. I have correspondence between Eisenhower and the National Trust about this car, because it was prepared to offer him any car to use at Culzean, including limousines, but he deliberately chose the Jeep because it was small, practical and easy to maintain. He comes across in his letters as a very humble, polite man who was genuinely overawed by the kindness being shown.’
Ford Capri 3.0S
‘This is a 1976 car that I bought in 1982 when it was six years old,’ says Howes of his striking Jps-liveried Capri S. ‘It wasn’t a trade-in, but bought at auction. I used to buy ten cars at a time from an auction house in Northampton and this one came up. One owner from new, Ziebarted from new and it came with full service history – where would I find another, especially a 3.0S? It cost me £2500. All the other motor traders thought I must be mad. It was a very similar story with my Vauxhall Royale, which cost me £5000.
‘The only thing I didn’t like about this Capri was the aftermarket glass sunroof, although that’s a period detail now – at the time people cut holes in the roof of all sorts of cars. The same goes for its Revolution alloy wheels. But it’s a lovely car. It could do with better brakes, but it’s a lot of fun, especially when you hang the tail out.’
‘What could I say? It was there and I just couldn’t walk away...’ says Howes of the most imposing car in his collection. ‘It’s a very unusual car, built in 1929 by Chrysler in the US then shipped to Australia where it was bodied by Holden, before Holden became a General Motors brand. It comes from a very dry part of Australia, so there’s no rust.
‘It came to the UK 20 years ago and was used by a friend of a friend of mine as a wedding car. He was selling his business, but I had to have this car.
‘Nowadays it’s probably worth about £20k, but it’s such good value for an American tourer of the art-deco era. It’ll run all day without trouble, and mechanically it’s so simple. It’s not my usual style if I’m honest, but I love its engineering. It will pull away from 10mph in top gear, its battery is no bigger than an Austin 7’s even though it has to start a big six-cylinder engine, and you can test its water temperature gauge by dipping it in a kettle.
‘As you might have guessed, it wasn’t always white. When it came to this country it was two-tone green. It’s got a fabulously strong chassis, and will happily sit at 50mph.’
‘I have an awful lot of restoration projects – I’ve just finished my Triumph TR3 which I’ve been driving a lot lately – so I wouldn’t look to add to the collection,’ says Howes. ‘I’ll just continue to get these cars back on the road – I’ve got the time to do it now I’ve retired. The XK150 will be next, and I’ve also got a pair of Jaguar Mk2s from which one very good 3.8-litre can be built. Then there’s the Scimitar GTE – that’s a fairly easy project – and another Austin Seven that’s scruffy but sound. They’ll get done eventually – it’s why I saved them in the first place.’
Howes rescued this fine Mercedes 220 SE from a fun fair’s yard...
1980 Vauxhall Royale and ’73 Cortina are among Howes’ more modern classics