February 1977 and the start of a new chapter with the beginning of RPM. Looking back it was a brave move but Jill was as keen (if not more so) as I was. A workshop was obviously needed and a friend of ours was using a workshop for body repairs on a part-time basis, situated on the A34 Cannock Road, on the outskirts of Stafford. In fact only a couple of miles away from home. He offered to share the use of it with him, just the job.
Jill was 5 months pregnant at the time so it was quite an upheaval for us.
The Cortina Estate at the top of this page was bought as a dual purpose vehicle as funds were tight, and we needed something to tow with and be useable socially. It was a Savage Cortina with 3.0 V6 engine, overdrive etc, so it towed very well.
We kept it for over 25 years! More details on ‘My Cortina page’, when it’s done.
I remember my first car in for repair, an MG Midget which needed King-Pins and bushes, a far cry from tuning RS2000s and tested
my ability to work on any make or age of car.
It wasn’t long before the phone was ringing with future bookings, some came as a result of me not being at Lloyds any more
and customers wanting me to carry on looking after their RS’s etc.
Geoff Dickenson, auto electrician at Lloyds, had also gone self employed, and it wasn’t long before I needed his expertise and he was willing to help out with mechanical repairs as well, so if I was bogged down with work he would come in to help.
Also Alan Jones, an ex-Lloyds mechanic and good friend, was on hand to help.
Colin Clapshoe was just one of my old customers who came to join me, he had a Mexico from Lloyds but was driving a Capri now and wanted some extra lights as he was marshalling on night rallies. He later had an RS2000 MK II from Lloyds but brought it to me for service.
After leaving Lloyds, Mike Dickens, the then Service manager, bought PVT 666R an RS2000 MK II which I had built while there but he had since moved to Gurnsey and took the RS with him with a view to do some rallying in it but I don’t think he ever did. By a stroke of luck I was recommended to a local business man, Ron Hudson of Childrens Books Ltd., who wanted to get into Rallying and did I know of a suitable car?
PVT came to mind and it wasn’t long before we collected it from Southampton docks for Ron. He was a larger than life character, in many ways, and had a large budget to go rallying with. This was the start of a long association with Ron during which time he let me drive the cars, and once said “as long as you drive faster than me I know there is room for improvement for me”. We built several Escorts for Ron, to include a Works spec Rallycross GP4 Escort, 250 BHP, ZF gearbox the lot. He even bought Russell Brook’s MK II Escort from Ford after the RAC Rally and did Special Stage events in that also, and I had the chance to drive it a few times, fabulous car. Thanks Ron.
Below, Ron Hudson and his cars
Ron and Les Edwards competed in the Lombard RAC Rally in 1981 with the ex works Escort which started and finished from Chester, 65 stages and 1700 miles, and managed a creditable 22nd place despite a puncture and damaged brake pipe. They were sponsored by the Post Office, Royal Mail Parcels. We had 2 service vehicles out and all the team including Steve Wallace, Geoff Dickenson and even some of Ron’s employees.
Driving PVT 666R Ron won the British Trial And Rally Drivers Association (BTRDA) Autocross Championship in 198?
Below are some pictures of me driving Ron’s cars.
During all this, our time at Cannock Road came to an end and we tried to find new premises locally, but without luck. In desperation we considered a move to Wales as the Welsh were giving small grants to move there. At the last minute Ron came up with an idea that we could use his old premises for a while. So we moved into an old coach garage owned by Ron Hudson in Greyfriars Place. It was ok, not posh at all, very cold in Winter and hot in Summer. Business was going well and rather than keep looking for a new site decided to buy Greyfriars Place from Ron. This went ahead ok and as a result ended up with a property that extended from the A34 right back to Greyfriars Place, the buildings consisted of a double shop front with workrooms, a large 3 bed flat, 2 storey out buildings, more detached workshops and open ground. Tenants were easy to find for the various bits to help fund it all.
John Sanders, who I shared Cannock Rd with, joined me at Greyfriars and it was very useful to have a body shop at hand. Richard Wright also moved onto the site running another body shop business. He later relocated near to Stafford Railway Station and as far as I know is still there.
Ron Hudson was even more involved in Rallying and Rallycross and it wasn’t unusual for him to do 2 events in one weekend. In order to get 2 cars to different venues meant that Ron would often use his road car to pull a trailer, no ordinary road car though! It certainly turned heads.
Then came something different, Audi Quattro’s were making an impact on the scene and it became obvious that any 4 wheel drive car was going to be difficult to beat. So we built Ron the first RHD Audi Quattro works style car in the UK. It was a beast, and required a very different approach to driving than a rear wheel drive Escort. I never got to drive it competitively, thank goodness, and I’m not sure it was an enjoyable car to drive. Ron got on ok with it and entered the RAC with Les Edwards in it. Sadly the turbo let us down and with no spare we were out.
Jill and I now had two children, Jennifer and Elizabeth and time away at rallies was time not spent at home with the family. Business was still very good but quality time was being eaten up with work and paperwork. Jill worked extremely hard for the business, even collecting parts from all over the place, Birmingham, Manchester, Cheshire and one or both girls would be bundled into the van for the ride.
I once did an autocross near Manchester and had an accident which broke my wrist, the local hospital couldn’t operate on it as I’d eaten recently. Being unable to drive, and Jill drove the tow-car with trailer and autocross car on it back home with David (Ron’s helper) holding a screaming baby.
This was a crossroads with the business, to invest in better premises, employ more staff to ease the burden, or sell-up. We had funded the whole thing ourselves, the Bank wouldn’t help in the early days and we were adamant that we wouldn’t ask them now. Having made the decision to move on there was no looking back. In order to keep the garage running and customers happy the easiest option was to hand over completely to Geoff Dickenson. Geoff Then rented the garage premises from me and effectively owned RPM from now on. This was in 1984.
We had sold our house and were living in the flat at RPM whilst looking for another house. Jill’s parents had retired to Devon in 1979 and we spent many hours up and down the M5 visiting them. It was on a return journey from Devon when we decided to look for a house closer to her parents in Devon and pulled off the M5 at Bridgewater and started looking.
Between May Bank Holiday and June 84 we had found our house, bought it and moved to Dartmoor, Devon
and left RPM to Geoff, and all the other buildings still tenanted.
We finally sold the whole lot, as it was impossible to keep up with tenants and maintenance from over 200 miles away.
A very big thank you to all my customers who were obviously the lifeblood of the business, to my trade suppliers locally and nationally, to my dedicated mechanics; Steve, Geoff, and Alan who put up with some less than perfect working conditions and for their support on many many rallies in some terrible weather. Also Fred Mould and Bert who although retired helped enormously cleaning cars and fetching spares.
The biggest thank you imaginable to Jill, without her support I might not even have started RPM.