Man & machine
He owns a clutch of Alvises – including a 1935 Speed 20 that’s been in the family practically all his life – but it’s the Peugeot 505 STI that piqued our interest. Why would the founder and chief executive of Bicester Heritage cherish a Parisian taxi, worthy though it is?
‘My dad was the Peugeot main dealer for South Wales. He had a 505 STI – PNY 118Y – that he owned at least twice. Last time I saw it, still going strong, it had 160,000 miles on the clock. When he moved from British Leyland to Peugeot his warranty claims went down from one a day to one a month, just showing how far ahead Peugeot were in quality and reliability.’
The 505 was Peugeot’s last rear-drive car. Over 1.3m were made from 1979 to 1999, in 14 plants including Argentina, China and Taiwan as well as home base at Sochaux. The STIs 2-litre Douvrin ‘four’ makes 110bhp, good for 0-60mph in 11sec and 108mph, though this one’s verve is slightly blunted by the ZF auto.
‘Dad passed away six years ago. As we were setting up Bicester Heritage I saw on eBay a one- owner 505 STI in his favourite colour, Cascade Blue, with just 7500 miles. I popped out of the meeting, called the owner, asked “What’ll it take?” and we did the deal. It had been owned by a farmer who had put it away after a year as at that time it wasn’t politic to drive a French car, owing to some sort of agricultural spat.
‘I still think it’s a great design, and it drives beautifully, is very comfortable and handles well. The 1984 tax disc dates to when it was put away, and the box of tissues on the parcel shelf is the original – still with a price tag of 42p! It’s on TRXs – we used to joke that they would double its value, although this may have changed as it appears to be the last STI left on the road.’
The story of the Speed 20 is more complicated. ‘Dad saw one in ‘58 and failed to do a deal – by a fiver – against a Morris 1000 van, which, after all, was a week’s wages. Twenty years later he saw another drophead, bought it and his company rebuilt it. We’ve kept it ever since.
‘There’s a great story behind AVC 80. It was sold new to 21-year-old Rolf Pasold and his brothers, textile weavers from Bohemia, then hidden during World War Two, only to be stolen at gunpoint by the escaping SS in 1945. Rolf found it abandoned under a mound of snow at the end of the war, got it back and drove across war-torn Europe to England; using the stars to navigate in the absence of road signs. He later made his fortune from Ladybird clothing. It was a delight to take the Alvis back to its original owner a while ago.’
I first rode in it aged eight. Later I drove it to school, and recently it was our wedding car. It inspired me to rebuild things, including Bicester.
‘I use the Peugeot locally – its a trip down memory lane – and the Alvis for touring. I’ve done many rallies in it, followed the Mille Miglia and travelled all over Europe. It’s a “dad’s car” story, really. He drove 505s daily, then the Speed 20 – his dream car – for fun and the pure joy of motoring. I’m doing the same.’