THE REGISTER OF AUTOMOBILES WITH COACHBUILT BODIES BY ‘ABBOTTS OF FARNHAM’

‘THE ABBOTT REGISTER’ – NEWSLETTER No 18

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the delights of the seven years of my otherwise gruelling research into ‘Abbotts of Farnham’ has been meeting so many folk who have, almost to a man, or lady, been unfailingly helpful and supportive, as I have often mentioned in my News-letters. Of course, not all of my Abbott contacts, new friends, live in England and although I have met a small number during either mine and Sally’s trips to France, Belgium (and Canada), or during their own visits to England, one gentleman I had not met, though we communicate as if we have known each other for ever, is Bruno Verstraete from Hochfelden, Switzerland. Bruno has a 1954 Abbott Healey Drophead Coupe, photographs of which he has regularly sent to me during its 11-year, 2,000+ hours restoration. So you can perhaps imagine my delight when, a month or so ago, Bruno gave me the wonderful news that his Abbott Healey had been selected for entry into the Concours Class at the Warren Classics and Supercar Show, held at The Warren Estate Golf and Country Club near Maldon, Essex on Sunday, 24 September.  What a joy. Naturally, I promised to be at the Show to see Bruno’s car but, even more importantly – to meet him! At long last… At so it came to pass. A very early start from our new home on Hayling Island, a 127 mile drive to Maldon (Who was it who was so delighted to be living in the south-east of the country again, where all major Classic Car events take place, close-by? He said!) and by 10 a.m. were in the car park. The show cars, in different groups, by marque or type, were spread around half the golf course and I thought it a delightful setting, with some of the finest cars in the world parked on or around immaculate putting greens, fairways  – and a little bit of rough!

I love the Classic Car Shows at the NEC, they are very special to me. It is where, at ‘our’ first Show in November 2012, I felt that ‘The Abbott Register’ and my research really ‘took off.’ At the same time I believe that Classic Car meetings staged on or in large fields can lack a little atmosphere, ‘intimacy’, if you will. Though an open-air venue, the Rural Life Centre at Tilford does have a nice balance, with Clubs, cars and a wide variety of stalls tucked into the varying and interesting features of the Centre.

Inevitably Bruno’s car, parked in the aforementioned, ‘rough,’ was a pure delight. Absolutely magnificent in its Pearl Metallic Green, an official Healey colour, Sandbeige leather interior and matching colour hood, it was surely the nearest to a 100-point restoration that it is possible to get.

But, Bruno’s Abbott Healey was not the only surprise I enjoyed that Sunday. Just two cars away from Bruno’s was a beautiful red Healey. Because I had been looking across the fairway to Bruno’s Healey, and not expecting there to be another Abbott Healey, my eyes strayed neither left nor right. Even as I got closer to the red Healey, I could still not convince myself that it was an Abbott.  A total of some 579 Healeys were built, not all drop head coupes. Abbott bodied 90 drop head coupes, but just 25 of them were known to the Club in 2012. But, no, or rather “Yes” this red beauty is an Abbott (F3035) and belongs to Allan Fuller, from Surrey. You may have realised that Allan and I had not previously met, nor even communicated. How he slipped through my trawler net, despite my using the smallest permissible mesh, is a mystery to us all! But he escapes no more… his beautiful car is in ‘The Abbott Register’, for posterity.

Just another example of how you have just GOT to get out and meet the people, as I have been doing to the best of my ability over the seven-plus years and putting some 50,000 miles ‘on the clock’ of my car in the process, so I recently spotted.

And to really round off a wonderful day, in every respect, I met Bruno’s father, Marc, who I judge to be as much a perfectionist as his son. Marc lives in Belgium. When I was first in touch with the family, quite some years ago now, Marc also owned an Abbott Healey (C1927). Happily, I am in contact with Marc’s Abbott Healey’s new owner, Gino Dupont, also in Belgium. In fact it was Gino himself who first, and very kindly, notified me of his new and much prized possession!

Before I depart the Warren Classic and Supercar Show, I must tell of how, on the occasion of his Abbott Healey being selected to enter this most prestigious Concours, Bruno produced a splendid, 63 page, A5, hard-backed book that details the history of the car; of the Healey company; of ‘Abbotts of Farnham’ which I just about managed to concoct for him (!) and the history of the car’s restoration. It is packed with splendid photographs that cover all facets of the life of the car. A truly professional production by a truly professional man. And, Bruno very kindly presented me with a signed copy of his book, which I shall cherish. I will take it to the SAHB Autumn Seminar for any Abbott Healey owners there to see. It has certainly made me think at a higher level when considering ‘showing’ a classic car in the future. Well done, Bruno. Well done, indeed. And thank you and your father for your friendship and courtesy on the occasion of our first meeting, so far from your homes.

The previous Sunday, 17 September the Surrey Classic Car Club held their annual Show at the Rural Life Centre at Tilford, near Farnham. Naturally, the ‘Abbott Register’ was in attendance – and Tilford is but 35 miles up the A3 for me now! Deep joy! The Show was excellent and I was delighted that Ken Vickery managed to have both his Abbott Ford MKIII Zephyr 6 estate and his Friary Vauxhall Cresta estate on the Abbott stand. And Bob Kent supported me, as he has always done, bless him, by bringing his Friary Ford 105E estate/hatchback. Bob told me that he had put a lot of work into the car since last we met and it certainly does look excellent and, as it always does, attracted many interested folk. I do enjoy watching as they approach Bob’s car, thinking that it is an Anglia saloon, with at least one of their party loudly proclaiming, “I had one of these Anglia…” and then as he walks behind the car, he stops dead in his tracks when he sees that is NOT the Anglia saloon similar to the one he once owned, but the Friary conversion that he had most likely never heard of and has certainly never seen before! Great fun. Never ceases to make me smile! And Peter Minett’s huge pictorial display of the history of Abbott continues to attract many, many interested persons. I sit and watch as they take what seems an eternity to slowly turn over each huge page of the display, 36 of them, all A1 size, whilst others patiently wait their turn. Comments such as, “Well, I never knew that Abbott did…” “I had no idea that Abbott also did…” “Is that really a 4-seat Jaguar XK120?”  “Is that really a Ferrari?” “That is surely not really a Bugatti T50?”  “Hey, Fred, look at this…” And so it goes on – virtually non-stop for the whole seven hours of the Show!

Though continuing to write (type) the book, research has not ceased and I am typing most Chapters double-spaced, for new information continues to arrive and begs inclusion. I believe that I am responsible for much of this last-minute activity, for nothing concentrates the mind and raises doubts so much as making or writing a ‘statement,’ a thought or an opinion that, one suddenly realises, has not been fully substantiated. So I pause, go back to the expert(s) to either ask for further information – or for confirmation that what I have written is correct. It does happen, occasionally!

Examples of new and additional information relating to Abbott cars that has recently surfaced include two of Abbott’s Bentleys. Photographs have been discovered and very kindly sent to me by Anton van Luijkan from Lieden in The Netherlands and Wayne Kennerley, from Pembrokeshire, an expert on RRs and Bentleys in South Africa, of which a couple there are by Abbott. My sincere thanks to them both. One, a Bentley ‘R’ Type (one of 16 bodied by Abbotts) was completed on 2 September 1953 (chassis number B269SP) is photographed in, literally, 100s of parts, all spread across the concrete floor of a large garage. The car’s first owner was John Menzies, of Edinburgh. Now, is that the grocery/general store/newsagent gentleman? I suspect that it might be. When you see the photographs of the car’s bits, commonsense ought to prevail as a total restoration would cost the absolute earth – for a car possibly worth perhaps a little less than £200,000 in England. Will anybody ‘bite the bullet’? We shall see, but in the meantime the, so sad, photographs will be in the book.

The other Abbott Bentley (chassis:  B10MD) was photographed in the USA. It looks complete, though will nevertheless require a complete restoration, already estimated at $400,000 in the USA. This, the last of Abbott’s 20 MKVI Bentleys was delivered to James Lilley, Lilley & Skinner Ltd on 16 November, 1951. Two things, first – that would surely have been Lilley & Skinner of shoemaking fame? Oh, how I used to dream of being able to afford a pair of Lilley & Skinners instead of a pair of Bata’s best! Second, the car is said to have been on the Abbott Stand at the 1951 Earls Court Motor Show. But the Show is in October and not only was this fine car not delivered to the agent until 16 November, it did not go ‘on test’ till 1 November. So perhaps it was the 1952 Show car. OR, more likely I am beginning to suspect, the car not quite complete, e.g. not yet tested, yet taken to the October, 1951 Earls Court Motor Show anyway, before being returned to Wrecclesham for testing and delivery to agents, Jack Olding, of London W1, for onward delivery to the customer. A photograph I have of the car at an Earls Court Motor Show has the registration number EDA 52, which would normally indicate that it is Abbott’s latest Bentley model for release in 1952. I am hoping that somebody will confirm the car’s history, movements and whereabouts around this period to me in due course. Me? I’m baffled!  Some Bentley experts are pleased to see these photographs for I read that these cars were thought to be ‘long gone’, never to be heard of again. Could this be the ‘Abbott Register’ effect?

Not many months ago a superb, 1937 Abbott-bodied Aston Martin 15/98 SC (short chassis) DHC  (chassis number: L7/844/SC) was for sale with Tim Joslyn’s ‘Patina Auctions.’  Nigel Smith and I went to Oxfordshire to see the car and meet Tim who, shortly afterwards, very kindly sent me a set of the professional photographs of the car that he had commissioned. It was a beautiful car that had been in the same family since purchased new in December 1937 – with a hefty 17.5% discount, because the owner-to-be, Mr J G Henderson, knew Mr R. Gordon Sutherland, Aston Martin’s CEO at that time. And nearly 80 years later it was in the possession of his two daughters when it was put up for sale through Tim’s new classic car auction company.

Well, yet another of Abbott’s beautiful Aston Martin 15/98 creations has been put up for sale, this time in the USA. Bearing chassis number A9/825/SC, it is being sold by Autosport Designs Inc, of New York. This car has been in the USA since 1993, when it was first in the possession of the then Chairman of the Aston Martin Owners’ Club (USA). In 1998 the car was entered in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it was placed 2nd in Class. Many readers will know that the Pebble Beach Concours, in Carmel County, California, near the Pacific coast, is the most prestigious in the world. What a huge honour for an Abbott car to be there. And to win an award! Wouldn’t EDA have been proud? As I write these notes I have yet to discover the selling price of the car, but have emailed the vendors and asked the question and hope to have an answer before I press the ‘SEND’ button. Just 24 of these 15/98 Short Chassis Aston Martins were bodied by Abbott and only three are thought to still be in England. 24? Well, it could be 25 for, as so often is the case, confusion reigns over these little items of detail. One publication gives one figure – another offers another. I do have the chassis numbers, and some registration numbers of 24 Abbott 15/98s, but not the 25th . And why ‘15/98’? Well, the first pair of figures represent the ‘horse-power’ rating of a car, as calculated by the RAC all those years ago; the second pair of figures represent the car’s actual horse power. Many older cars were designated in that manner.

I am very grateful to my friend, dear John Maddox who has handed me a plan of Abbott’s Wrecclesham works that he drew, relying on the keen memory that I know he possesses still. As a gentle aide memoire I had sent him a copy of the plan drawn some years ago by Jim Robb, formerly a technician in the Servicing and Repairs Workshop, now a resident of the parish of Oregon, USA. Jim, too, had drawn his plan of the works site from memory and they are remarkably similar. John also had a photograph that he particularly wanted me to see. It is of an ‘Abbott Staff Outing’ with a good number of employees, standing or kneeling on the grass in front of a beautiful Bedford OB coach (“Arrhhh! That beautiful OB. But, my beating heart, be still, be still!”) By a happy coincidence , on that day the coach was hired from Comfy Coaches. Back in the very early 1930s, Abbotts bodied buses for Comfy Coaches. I am never sure how to refer to the ‘public service vehicles’ from that era, for though they were all single-deck, they were referred to as buses – but, to me, a “bus” is a double-decker… all else is a ‘coach.’ Which is correct, I wonder? I have sent the photograph, which is really quite small, down to my photo-shop friends in Bristol and asked if they will kindly print some 6 X 4 inch enlargements and then enlarge the front right hand quarter of the photo-graph, for it includes a clear image of Mrs Judy Woods. Judy was an‘outworker’ who made the head-linings for the newly converted Ford MK2 estate cars, in her home. A van delivered the material on Monday mornings and collected the head-linings she had made the previous week. I have rarely wanted any photograph that I have handed over to my friends in Bristol to turn out more successfully!

With my very kindest regards and best wishes to you all.

Len C Huff RD 11 October 2017

Apt 9, Foreland Court, Rails Lane, HAYLING ISLAND PO11 9LW

Tel: 07772 787 693                                      Email:  coachbuiltbyabbott@hotmail.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s