Simon Wilkinson’s Lifetime Love for Cars
WHEN Simon Wilkinson was a young boy, his father took him with him to his workplace – the Lotus Auto Factory.
“He worked as a chief buyer for Lotus founder Colin Chapman and was part of the team that gave birth to the famous Lotus Cortina in the early 1960s,” says Simon, who lives in Thornton. “He bought everything from rolls of toilet paper to bodies and trim for cars.
“We were living in Hertfordshire and one Saturday he was taking us with my brother Nicholas to the Cheshunt factory. The offices had paneled partitions and creaky floors. We were very young – I would be about three years old – and we were more interested in playing on office phones than looking at cars. I used to go to one of the phones and call Nick in the office next door. We thought it was a lot of fun.
His father, Thomas, was also involved in creating fictional racing cars using a Lotus 7 chassis for the 1966 Grand Prix movie starring James Garner.
“It would have been way too expensive to crash real Formula 1 cars, so they outfitted a Lotus to make it look like them,” says Simon.
He adds: “I would have liked to have been a little older and be able to appreciate the purpose of the factory. If Dad had stayed longer, I might have even ended up working there.
At the time, Thomas – who received an MBE for his role as a navigator on the Berlin Airlift – was driving a company car, a Ford Anglia.
“CYM 893C,” Simon says, followed by a series of other car registration numbers. “I’m dyslexic and can’t remember phone numbers, but I can remember the numbers of almost any license plate my family has ever owned.
He remembers how, after the family moved to Bradford, his father had seat belts fitted in a Ford Anglia 1200 Deluxe. “I remember he took it to CD Bramall to have it done. “The seats were covered with vinyl and on long journeys to Devon or Cornwall in the summer our skin stuck to them. It was really painful to get up.
“After that he bought a Ford Cortina station wagon, YKW 433C, then another Cortina, NUG 7P – it was a beauty.”
His father’s experience in cars led to his long-standing passion for them. “I’ve always been interested – I used to go to auto shows and pick up car brochures. I once went to the Rolls Royce booth and put an American accent. I told them my dad was interested in buying one, so I could get a brochure. ”
After passing his test, the first car Simon owned was a VW Beetle. “They were cheap to buy, but there were drafts, noise, and the fuel consumption was appalling. This car cost me £ 50 and £ 60 to insure. It was white but ended up being multicolored after mounting different pieces and spraying them.
One of his cars ended up being two-tone. “There were two-tone cars back then and I sprayed the bottom half with Tuscan beige. Crazy – I don’t know what I was thinking, but it wasn’t too bad a job.
“I got it from CD Bramall, where I worked as a teenager removing the protective wax coatings that new cars were coated with at the time.” It was at Bramall that he got an apprenticeship in the automotive industry, working mainly on Ford vans.
He once made his way into the manufacturer’s famous Halewood factory to snoop around, after meeting one of their employees on vacation. The worker also sent Simon his staff discount, which he put to good use.
“It was 22% off – I used it to buy my first new car – an Escort XR3i, B870 KEM. I was 24 and had it for about three months. Then they released a Mark III RS Turbo and I got the reduction again.
“I was one of the first Bradford residents to own one. It was so unusual to see another one that as you walked past you both flashed your lights. I got another one after that – I liked Ford because I was Ford trained and I knew the systems.
Cars that followed included a Sierra Saphire and a Mercedes 190. “I saw one outside the Alhambra and was like ‘I must have one’.”
In 2006, the father of two grown children left the automotive business and has since co-managed Aire Valley Cleaning Services. His car, a Volvo XC60, nods to his craft – there is “MOP” on the license plate. “I also have a 2009 Audi with the company initials AVC on it.”
Simon’s eclectic taste for vehicles includes tractors. He co-owns a 1966 Massey Ferguson 135. “When we came to Bradford we were living in East Bierley surrounded by farms and I developed a passion for tractors. I have participated in charity events such as the Bronte Tractor Run.
He is, he says, one of the few people to have done a “finger-tight” lap in a Ferrari F40. “My friend bought it new for £ 250,000, it’s now worth over $ 1.5 million.” He’s still looking for cars. “I must be the best surfer in Autotrader,” he laughs. “I looked at Porsches recently, I would like a convertible.