The story of two privileged individuals with guttersnipe tendencies…
As you would expect in a large Porsche centre close to London, we had all sorts of interesting people who bought new and used Porsche cars from first of all, “Chariots”, and then HR Owen Porsche and finally, Porsche Centre Hatfield.
Over the 26 years that I ran these businesses, we welcomed pop stars, politicians, ‘captains’ of industry, TV celebrities, sports stars, successful local business people, gangsters, charlatans, dodgy lawyers and I’m afraid, “the landed gentry.”
There were two “chinless wonders” in particular who fell into this last category. They, however, could also have fitted nicely into the gangster or charlatan categories equally. Both were in line to inherit two of the finest houses in England and have been put through the very best education that the establishment could muster to ensure that they possessed the right sort of acumen to survive in this world.
These individuals, however, were also slippery, untrustworthy, and worryingly aloof to the detritus that they caused all around themselves and were totally unconcerned with normal standards of behaviour as we would understand them. “Born to rule” definitely applied to both of them, and one could easily have seen either or both of them blindly sending poor foot soldiers over the top in somewhere like Ypres or the Somme.
As some of you will remember, along with Hertfordshire, we also had a Porsche centre in Oxfordshire in the 80’s and early 90’s, based in Kidlington, a couple of miles outside Oxford. The business was called “Chariots Oxford”.
We had used ‘a large house’ reasonably nearby for many customer activities over the years, including sponsoring their polo activities and various other events. It was a great location, and the customers loved the unique ambience.
Via an arrangement with our chairman Tom Walkinshaw, a test drive appointment was made with… let’s call him “the Honourable Wilfred Coates”, to try out a new Porsche 944 Turbo with Mike Wilmshurst, our sales manager.
Needless to say, the test drive went well, and ‘Wilfred’, of course, wanted to order a new car.
Even then, however, he was well known through the tabloids for his bad habits, wild behaviour, and generally unreliable character. In fact, at the time, Mike described him to me as “a man of straw” and how right he was to be proved.
The purchase of a new car was agreed by a senior administrator up at the large house. ‘Wilfred’ had to have any major purchases authorised through this chap at this point in his life as he was also seen as somewhat unreliable – even by his own family!
When the car was ready for delivery, Tom asked me to be present in Oxford when the bold ‘Wilfred’ was collecting the car, just to make sure everything went smoothly. So up there I duly travelled. All the paperwork had been duly prepared and placed in the small office in the showroom. Along with needing his signature for the usual order form and delivery documentation, his Lordship was purchasing the new 944 Turbo on finance through a company called Windsor Leasing, so he had to sign the finance document at the various places marked with an “X “, fill in all his relevant bank details, we had to witness it, and once all this was completed, he could then take delivery of his new Porsche. After I had explained this all to him I asked if he would like a cup of tea, and he replied yes. So, I left him in the office for a few minutes to sign the documentation and went outside into the kitchen to put the kettle on.
When I came back in, he was sitting smiling at me and said he was really looking forward to getting the car, and very grateful to everyone at ‘Chariots’ for looking after him so efficiently. I couldn’t help but notice that the desk was a bit of a mess with everything everywhere including pens, files, our company chequebook and company stamps. He apologised for this, saying he had accidentally knocked all the paperwork onto the floor.
No big deal.
So, I duly took delivery of his new Porsche 944 Turbo and blasted the car energetically up the road towards Oxford, and I made my way back to St. Albans.
Just over a month later I got a call from Sian Orchard, our office manager in Chariots Oxford.
“Perry, have you bought anything recently from a company called “Windsor Leasing”?”
“No, why do you ask?” I said.
“Well, we had a standing order go through last month for £950 and I don’t know what it’s for!”
I said, “The only other time I have heard the name Windsor Leasing, Sian was when the ‘Honourable Wilfred Coates’ financed his new 944 Turbo through them last month.”
“Do me a favour”, I said, “check our copy of his finance document in the file and tell me what his monthly payment is”.
A couple of minutes later she came back and said, “£950!”
It transpired that whilst we were making him a cup of tea, ‘Wilfred’ noticed our company chequebook on the desk, and being the nice chap he was decided to substitute our company bank details – account number and sort code – for his on all the relevant sections of the finance document!
Not the sort of thing most of us mere mortals would ever dream of doing, but seemingly second nature to his Lordship. He probably thought it was a bit of fun, would help supplement his drug habit, and anyway, his sort of folk was above the law when it came to things like this. After all, he was dealing with a motor trader who probably went to a grammar or secondary school… whatever that was.
Needless to say, we all went ballistic.
My first instinct was to get the police involved but decided against that at first because of the time it would involve. I decided to try and see his Lordship face to face as quickly as possible to resolve the issue and get our money, so we called the big house to speak to the chap who managed all the administration. He was appalled at our news and confirmed that ‘Wilfred’ was indeed at home in his “cottage”. I quickly gathered a few large boys into a car and we set out to confront the man. His “cottage” turned out to be a lovely Georgian house set somewhere secluded in the estate. He met us at the door in a somewhat dishevelled state and meandered around as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
Unsurprisingly, he apologized profusely for the “apparent mistake”, and with little embarrassment, he went to a desk drawer, removed a bundle of notes and paid us the outstanding amount in cash. (There was enough cash in that drawer to choke a polo pony).
He then duly completed new paperwork with the correct bank details and we went on our way. I decided, probably foolishly, not to report the matter to the police.
Recently, some 25 years later, I met him at a function at ‘the large house’ and I reminded him of the Porsche 944 Turbo purchase. He didn’t mention the ‘paperwork fraud’, and disappointingly, nor did I.
Maybe he has turned the corner, and as Ferdinand Piech used to say… “We all deserve a second chance.”