Having a long-standing relationship with Fastlane, initially through their Porsche Approved Repair status when I was running Porsche Centre Hatfield, I pop in from time to time to take advantage of their hospitality, but also to see what’s going on in their workshops.
The consistent quality of their work over the years has ensured not only their current status as repairers for some of the finest car manufacturers in the world, but also as a natural choice of repairs and refurbishments for many collectors, dealers and owners of fine classic automobiles.
I was over there the other day, and in the workshop, were the usual batch of Porsche Boxsters, Cayennes and 911’s. Along with these “normal” Porsche’s, however, there were also two (yes, two) 4-liter Porsche GT3 RS’s, a Porsche 991 Turbo S, a Porsche 964 RS, and a 993 Ruf Carrera.
“So, what?”, did I hear you say? I guess you might expect plenty of nice Porsches, bearing in mind Fastlane’s historical and long-time involvement with the Porsche brand.
In conversation with Alex Andrea, the extremely customer-focussed boss of the Fastlane Group, I asked what other “exotica” they had worked on recently.
(Disregarding anything out of “50 Shades of Grey”).
And he just rolled them off – “Several Audi R8’s (because of Fastlane’s aluminium repair approval, it is one of only a few body shops in the UK who are qualified in aluminium repairs), several Bentley Continentals, a Lamborghini Contach, a 1965 Ferrari GTO, a Ferrari Testarossa, a 2013 McLaren, a DeLorean, a 70’s Maserati, and the list went on and on.
“You repaired a DeLorean, did you?” I asked Alex. Well, that takes me back…
In the early 1970’s, I was working as sales manager in Northern Ireland for a southern, Irish-based company called Gowan Garages Ltd.
Not an ideal combination at the time, as The Troubles were in full swing, and either side of the conflict didn’t really need an excuse to blow up or hassle any of the local businesses.
The then Westminster government, however, decided to support an American entrepreneur called John Zachary DeLorean. After a hugely successful career in the US motor industry – mainly with General Motors, decided to go it alone and produce his own unique sports car – “The DeLorean”, as a direct competitor against the likes of Jaguar, Porsche, etc.
Northern Ireland was facing massive unemployment problems, especially in and around Belfast. The Labour Government, led by Jim Callaghan, therefore, ploughed millions of pounds of public money into supporting his setting up the new production process for this car in Dunmurry, a town just outside the city.
When the announcement was made, there was great excitement in the Northern Ireland. It was somewhat of a change from the constantly depressing news which The Troubles brought seemingly every day.
Reading about DeLorean’s ideas and his proposed sports car with its gull-winged doors and European 6-cylinder engine, I suddenly realized that this engine was the same one as Peugeot used in their luxurious, new 604 saloon car. (Gowan Garages was a Peugeot distributor for Ireland).
So, I decided to write to the great man, John DeLorean, to see if he would like me to supply some of these Peugeot 604’s to his executives as they could also double up as test beds for their new sports cars.
I think I wrote to:
John Z DeLorean
New York, USA
(Remember, this was a time before the internet and all that.)
The months went by, and I more or less forgot about my note.
And then about a year later I got a phone call… “Mr. Robb? It’s Delores here on behalf of Michael A. Glasgow – Senior Vice President of vehicular supply and support at DeLorean Motor Corporation. Can I make an appointment for you to come and see him?”
Well, I couldn’t believe it, that my “long shot” letter had generated this response. Or has it?
I actually thought it was some sort of wind up, so I rang directory enquiries and asked them for DeLorean’s telephone number, rang it, and asked if they had anyone who worked there called Michael A. Glasgow, along with a Delores?
And would you believe it – the answer was ‘yes’ to both questions!
I couldn’t believe it.
Anyway, the due day came, and I ventured up to see Michael A. Glasgow – Senior VP of vehicular supply and support. (Some title… and why is it that the Americans always seem to have silly middle “initials” in their names?)
And what a charming man he was – smooth, articulate and immediately got onto the subject of my letter to Mr. DeLorean.
He then looked over the car which I had brought along and went with me on a fairly short test drive.
“Wonderful, it’s exactly what we want for some of our senior executives,” he said.
“We want six of these automobiles and we want them next month!”
Wow, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Six of these bloody things – that was about five years global production for these cars. They weren’t exactly Peugeot’s top selling model at the time. Our allocation for the full year was one car, but I knew that Peugeot’s UK head office would be very keen to help us fulfil this high-profile order, so as soon as I got back to the office I called Peugeot’s UK head office. No one, however, was immediately available.
A short time later, however, jumping swiftly on board a magic carpet ride of publicity, I received a call from a senior manager at Peugeot UK who previously had always been “too busy” to talk to me and had regularly detoured my calls to one of his minions. He greeted me like a long-lost friend…. “What a great deal. We could do with more managers like you. This will put the 604 on the map,” and of course – “When can I meet Mr. DeLorean?”
Well, give them their dues – Peugeot did pull the rabbit out of the hat and got us the 604’s in double-quick time and I happily relayed this good news to Michael A. Glasgow.
During this conversation, I also mentioned the invoicing and payment process, at which point he cut me short by informing me that on Mr. DeLorean’s instructions, the cars were to be bought on finance – with a minimum deposit being paid up front, and the rest of the balance over a 2-year period.
“Could I get all the documentation drawn up so that Mr. DeLorean could sign everything off upon delivery?”
“No problem,” I said.
Then I rang Barney Corcoran, the manager of our finance company Carplant UDT, and needless to say, the bold Barney was delighted to receive such a high-profile order, thanking me profusely for the business. He was already planning a celebratory lunch with me in the Crown Bar.
Several weeks passed by and the cars duly arrived, so I contacted Michael A Glasgow to arrange delivery, among other things. They had already given me deposit sums for all the cars, so all I had to do was get them to sign the finance documents for all 6 cars, go over the controls, and we were done… or so I thought.
On the day of delivery however Barney Corcoran rang me all woolly and nervous – “Sorry for bothering you Perry, but Head Office in London have come back to me about the DeLorean deal. They now want someone to go guarantor on all the cars. No guarantor – no deal! Sorry…”
Apparently, Barney had been sitting on this information for about a week but had been too frightened to tell me!
I went absolutely raving mad.
“For Christ’s sake Barney, I’m delivering these bloody cars today. It’s all arranged, and yet you’re giving me this bloody news now! Barney old son – you are coming with me to face the music and front up to our Colonial friends!”
He waffled to try and get out of it, but there was no way I was going to put the deal in jeopardy, so he just had to come along with me and eventually, he agreed.
We arrived together in the same car and it was an impressive sight those 6 Peugeot 604’s parked outside the front of DMC’s head office. I remember thinking at the time that it reminded me of those BBC news clips showing the French Prime Minister arriving outside the Élysée Palace, with his entourage of expensive French cars.
Barney, however, nearly didn’t get out of the car as he was so nervous. We had planned over and over again what we were going to say to them during the journey, but his bottle has completely gone, and he really just wanted to go home!
“Tell me again what I’m supposed to say Perry?” He said as we walked into the reception area.
I introduced us both to receptionist, and she immediately put a call through to Michael A. Glasgow’s office.
In a few moments, Michael greeted us both, again – like long lost cousins and ushered us into the very grand board room.
The initial pleasantries were offered, but the planned release of the ‘guarantor news’ was not forthcoming from a red-faced and mute Barney.
Before we knew it, Michael’s phone rang. It was Delores, John Z. DeLorean’s PA, to say that the great man was on his way down to see us.
Seconds later, he arrived – like a movie star making a grand entrance…
John was a very tall, imposing man, and he had that look of utter confidence.
He was dressed in an immaculate handmade dark blue suit, white shirt, and handmade cowboy boots. His longish greying hair was swept back from his handsome, rugged face. I asked myself – Is this John Wayne?
“Good afternoon gentlemen,” he said, “an excellent piece of entrepreneurship, young man.” He then said to me when the introductions were made – “Now, where do I sign?”
I looked at Barney, who was still frozen solid and unable to speak… so, grasping the nettle I said –
“The finance sector at London HQ has requested that we get guarantors for the deal to enable them to sign it off. Sorry about the late news, but we have only received this information today.”
(which was sort of true)
Barney then summoned the courage to stutter his apologies out to John, but he was cut off by the big man… “So you want a guarantor do you… I’ll get you a guarantor”, he blasted.
“Delores, get me the effing Prime Minister, and get him now!”
At this point Barney’s mind blew completely. He stood up, and then he sat down – several times.
He tried to speak, holding his hands to his head, seemingly looking for inspiration, but nothing would come out.
After a few minutes of deadly silence, Delores announced – “It’s the Prime Minister for you, Mr. DeLorean.”
John Z. briefly explained the problem to the PM, then handed the phone over to me!
Then, as I said ….”Hello Prime Minister.”
Then, the bold Barney blurted out, “Forget about a guarantor Mr. DeLorean, I’ll do the deal without one!”
I looked at him in amazement as he nodded his head and waved his arms and shoulders suggesting all was okay.
I didn’t hesitate however, and said to Mr. Callaghan, “Apologies Prime Minister, but there seems to have been a bit of a misunderstanding, and everything has now been resolved and there is no need to trouble you any further, so I’ll hand you back to Mr. DeLorean.”
And so, the deal was done. The paperwork duly signed, and all six cars delivered a few minutes later.
Several years later, the whole DeLorean enterprise collapsed, and the dear old UK tax payers were left to foot the bill of hundreds of millions of pounds.
Bizarrely, the six Peugeot 604’s which DeLorean bought from me, without a guarantor, were paid for in full – not a payment was missed over the 2-year finance period.
The luck of the Irish or brilliant judgement?
The former, I think!