by Peter Lockley.
I bought my Vanguard in 1992 after it failed to sell at an auction at Birdingbury Country Show in the next village to my home. I had not seen one since the butcher who had a shop near to my grandmother’s house had one in the late 1950s. Though they are now so rare that I believe only one other example like mine is active on the road, with a couple more under restoration, they are often to be seen in old photos, though hard dual-purpose lives have taken their toll.
The car in recent years, outside Coventry's Holy Trinity Church at MotoFest.
My car’s first owner was Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Horatio Martelli of Horsham who sadly died a couple of months before a letter I forwarded via HM Paymaster-General’s office reached his widow. She told me that she was his third wife so did not remember the car. He had been in the navy before the second world war and then moved to the army. He no doubt bought a Vanguard because the military had many so he could presumably get it serviced on his army base, probably at nearby Aldershot. On his retirement, he became a pig farmer and the car then went through a couple more owners until it ended up with a firm of undertakers in the Isle of Wight. Its rear is too short to carry adult bodies and it was believed to have been used as a flower car. It remained in storage there till the early 1990s, though the person who advised me of this, could not recall the undertakers’ identity.
The car subsequently moved through a couple of dealers ending up in North Oxfordshire and finally with a “classic car dealer” at Crick near Rugby, whose yard appeared to be full of scrap. After failing to sell it at Birdingbury, he sold it to me.
It had a large hole in the driver’s side floor, dodgy sills, no wheel spats and a lot of serious rot but was at least complete. The first restorer I instructed in Coventry gave up and I then managed to find a Scottish restorer in Wolston near Rugby, who had been an electrician in the Saudi Arabian air force. He had the body restored by a real character called Bill Hine, based in a chicken shed at Stretton on Dunsmore, who had built some 16 Dunsmore Specials, which were Blower Bentley lookalikes with either Vauxhall or Jaguar straight 6 engines and Sherpa front axles, but went very well and are often seen at kit car shows.
It took until 1997 and a small fortune for the car to be restored and back on the road but it still overheated until the radiator was re-cored and then in 1998, needed an engine rebuild by another restorer in my village with the unlikely name of Maurice Ford.
After that with an overdrive fitted to the gearbox, which needed 6 separate faults to be sorted out by Maurice before it worked, All was well for a few years till 2006, when it needed another engine rebuild as the pattern pistons and liners were not up to the mileage I was doing. They were replaced by original Australian ones sourced from a tractor specialist in Shrewsbury and all has been largely well mechanically since then, save for the front nearside wheel coming off en-route to a local show in 2012. Fortunately, it was early on a Sunday morning with no traffic about. It transpired that the hub had sheared all the way around and I have since found that later cars had strengthened hubs which fortunately the Club had in stock. These were fitted and the minor bodywork damage repaired by a specialist in Bedfordshire to whom my recovery service delivered the car.
Since that time the most serious problems with the car have been with the mechanical clutch and gear change mechanisms and a crack in the bell housing which required aluminium welding. These were sorted out in 2018 and 2019 by an elderly former Standard-Triumph mechanic friend who had similar problems with his Triumph Renown.
The car has been in demand for TV and film roles since I acquired it, though I am not in any groups hiring out cars for filming.
In 1999 it appeared in a BBC documentary about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, playing the car of her abusive boyfriend and victim, David Blakely, a playboy racing driver.
Also in 1999, the car appeared in the then relatively new BBC daytime soap, Doctors, playing the car of an elderly widow played by Dora Bryan being fleeced by a con man played by Ken Jones, well known as “Horrible Ives” in Porridge. The car featured together with Dora Bryan on the front cover of the March 2001 issue of the Standard Car Review.
There was then a pause in the car’s stardom until August 2014 when I took it down to London for 2 days of filming in Shepherd’s Bush of a trailer for a proposed film about the 1966 Braybrook Street police massacre in the area when 3 police officers were shot dead in cold blood. The gang leader, Harry Roberts has since achieved notoriety as the longest-serving prisoner in England and was only released from prison in the last decade. Sadly the film was never made but some more filming was carried out in a similar street in Eastleigh, Hampshire in 2017 and the footage eventually appeared on TV in the 'Murder Maps' series repeated from time to time on the Yesterday channel.
Temporary 'screen' number plates fitted, help recreate the historic Braybrook Street scene.
A revolver on the front seat - all part of filming the police murder storyline.
A final bout of stardom was in 2015, in a short docudrama film called 'The Gentleman Thief' produced by students at the London Film School which had its premiere at the BAFTA film theatre in London which I was privileged to attend. The film was about the theft of Sophia Loren’s jewels in a burglary in London. The Vanguard featured at Coventry airport as Sophia Loren’s car being chased by the paparazzi in 2 sports cars, one of which was my Swallow Doretti, as she travelled to a waiting DC6 airliner, from the steps of which the actress playing Sophia uttered a Gypsy curse on the thieves.
Lights, Camera, Action! The actress playing Sophia Loren exits the car.
The cars involved in the press chase sequence on location at Coventry Airport
So ends the tale of a car that has featured the military, pigs, funerals, murder and theft and is still going strong!
But, it's not quite the end of this particular story ...
Only recently, the car was amongst a collection of over 20 locally built cars taking part in the launch ceremony recognising Coventry's 'UK City of Culture' status, which now continues throughout 2021.
A beautiful sunny day for an outing, and after lockdown, we look forward to many more!
A line of Black copy to space out the page.