Memory Lane : A visit to W.H. Brand, Lincolnshire

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Craig Cheetham

1988, and an MG Maestro and Montego HL share forecourt space with a traded-in Mk3 Escort
1988, and an MG Maestro and Montego HL share forecourt space with a traded-in Mk3 Escort

A tiny village in the middle of the Fens might not seem the obvious place to find a thriving car dealership, but for the last 90 years the Brand family have been busily selling, servicing and maintaining huge numbers of cars from the local area, with a business built-up through trust, word of mouth and an incredible reputation for customer service.

Willim Horace Brand's original showroom, across the road from the current site in Broadgate, Whaplode Drove
William Horace Brand’s original garage, across the road from the current site in Broadgate, Whaplode Drove

The dealership celebrates its 90th anniversary this year in style, having become the country’s best performing MG retailer – but then it has a long relationship with the MG and Rover brands. AROnline’s Editor, Craig Cheetham, paid them a visit to delve through the family’s photo archive…

WH Brand's site today - surprisingly, the MG3 is the fastest-selling car the company has ever seen...
WH Brand’s site today – surprisingly, the MG3 is the fastest-selling car the company has ever seen…

Established in 1925 by William Horace Brand, an orphan who came to live in Lincolnshire thanks to his adoptive family, the business began life as a bicycle repair workshop in the village of Whaplode Drove, hidden away in the flatlands between Peterborough, Spalding and Wisbech. William began selling petrol as well as repairing bicycles and, by 1936, had earned enough money to expand onto a three-acre site, which became the land on which the current W.H. Brand dealership is still based.

The site is currently managed by Martyn and Adam Brand, grandson and great-grandson of the dealership’s founder. Martyn’s father, Fred, was the one who took the decision to start selling cars in 1956, and from there a long and largely fruitful relationship with BMC/BL/Austin-Rover/Rover Group/MG Rover was formed.

An Austin 'Flying A' tile is still embedded in the showroom wall
An Austin ‘Flying A’ tile is still embedded in the showroom floor

Brand’s continued to sell MGs and Rovers right up until the company’s demise in 2005, which Sales Manager Adam Brand recalls as a chaotic and expensive time for the family run business.

“We were due to host a family weekend and had special guests and catering booked and a list of customers we’d already invited,” he recalls. “But that week, MG Rover went under and we had to quickly call the whole thing off – the last thing we wanted was a dealership full of customers with questions we simply didn’t have the answers for.”

W.H. Brand in its Chevrolet days - the author worked for Chevrolet UK at the time, and was a regular visitor...
W.H. Brand in its Chevrolet days – the author worked for Chevrolet UK at the time, and was a regular visitor…

Luckily, the vast majority of W.H. Brand’s customers remained loyal, and the company went on to spend the next 10 years as a Chevrolet dealer. There’s a certain irony, then, in the fact that Chevrolet’s withdrawal from the European market once again saw the Brands without a brand. The family wasted no time courting a new franchise and there’s an element of things going full circle as the building is once again adorned with MG logos and flags.

Some customers may not even realise that the brand has been away, such is the spectrum of customers that use the dealership – Adam is aware of several older Rovers and MGs in the local area that are not only still on the road with relatively low mileages, but are still brought back to the dealership for regular servicing and MoTs.

“We’re a family business,” said Adam. “And with that comes a need to look after your customers and treat them properly – something that William Horace Brand did and has been passed on through each generation.”

Many thanks to Adam Brand for his help with this article – to find out more about W.H. Brand or the current MG range, please visit their own site, here.

More photos follow:

William Horace Brand, outside his bicycle workshop
William Horace Brand, outside his bicycle workshop

 

In 1956, WH Brand moved into car sales on the site it still occupies today
In 1956, WH Brand moved into car sales on the site it still occupies today. We wonder if the J40 pedal car is still there…

 

It's 1965, and WH Brand's association with BMC, as an Austin agent, has begun. But which would you take home? The white Farina with red roof looks particularly alluring...
It’s 1965, and WH Brand’s association with BMC, as an Austin agent, has begun. But which would you take home? The white Farina with red roof looks particularly alluring…

 

Skip forward  mere 18 years, and cars look completely different. It's August 1st, 1983. A-Day. And a row of sequentially-registered Triumph Acclaims await their new owners.
Skip forward mere 18 years, and cars look completely different. It’s 1st August, 1983 – A-Day. A row of sequentially-registered Triumph Acclaims await their new owners

 

By 1991, the site had expanded further (although the family home is still on-site). At the back, a new storage and preparation centre is under construction. Meanwhile, a white R8 to the left of the picture cuts quite a dash, showing how modern this car looked when it first appeared
By 1991, the site had expanded further (although the family home is still on-site). At the back, a new storage and preparation centre is under construction. Meanwhile, a white R8 to the left of the picture cuts quite a dash, showing how modern this car looked when it first appeared

 

And now we're going to party like it's 1999... Locals in their Metro and Rover 400 HH-R are popping by to refuel (no doubt bought from the dealership in earlier years), while a pair of bright and fresh looking R3 200s look sharp on the forecourt.  The £5,675 Rover 820i Fastback has taken quite a depreciation hit in just over three years!
And now we’re going to party like it’s 1999… Locals in their Metro and Rover 400 HH-R are popping by to refuel (no doubt bought from the dealership in earlier years), while a pair of bright and fresh looking R3 200s look sharp on the forecourt. The £5,675 Rover 820i Fastback has taken quite a depreciation hit in just over three years!

Craig Cheetham

A serial impulsive car purchaser, Craig has had his name on over 200 V5s over the past 20 years. 10 per cent of those have been either 800s or Austin Allegros, with between 10 and 20 cars usually owned at any one time. Started out as a local newspaper journalist then worked for car mags including Auto Express, Classic Car Weekly and Land Rover Owner. Worked inside the car industry for a decade as an employee of General Motors, now works for a news distribution agency. Home based, which is dangerously convenient for further irrational heap purchases. Lover of all makes of car since childhood, with a particular leaning towards Austin-Rover... Father of three boys, so hoping to spread the car love. Other passions include rugby union, travelling and eating out.

23 Comments

  1. Awesome pictures and how nice to see a family business still thriving after all these years and after all the upheaval in the car marketplace

  2. Nice to see and reminds me of another family BL/Rover dealer near me that has been in business since the twenties, J Edgar and Son, who now sell Nissans from the same site. Also the British connection remains with this dealership as the Notes, Leafs, Jukes and Qashqais are made in Britain.
    It just shows that with the right amount of customer care and a refusal to sell out to the big franchises, family dealers can survive and do well. B and H Motors, Stan Palmer and Walkingshaws are other long running locally run dealerships whose customer care is light years ahead of Arnold Shark, whose presence now unfortunately is felt in Cumbria.

  3. After the MG Maestro, the 2nd best car has to be a toss up between the Rover 800, one of the Land Crabs and the Austin J40 pedal car 🙂 (did you notice that one?!)

  4. Great article. I come from Lincolnshire but have never heard of these guys before. Sounds like a good place to find low mileage careful owner MGR’s….

  5. With a display of MG3s & MG6s like that I’d like to see how many are on the road in the local area. I’d imagine it’s a pocket of high sales for MG UK.
    I currently work beside an MG UK dealer. The new MGs have only ever been a tiny part of the business. Even next door in the local motor factor people seem largely unaware of MG. Due to its tiny presence on the forecourt they don’t seem to consider it as a new car option. With a still relatively small number of dealers like WH Brand MG UK sales could be so much higher!

  6. A nice tale to read. Good to see this family business has survived against all adversity down the years and having to change dealership brands. I always preferred the smaller Family run garages and showrooms that, sadly are few and far between nowadays. Good luck to Brand’s for years to come!

  7. @ Hilton D, not all big franchises are bad, though, in the same way there are a few bad smaller dealers,. Benfield have built up a reputation for good customer care and competitively priced cars. However, the likes of Arnold Shark and Evans Failshaw are hopeless, only interested selling cars and not giving a damn about after care.

  8. It just goes to show that a determined family business can still survive despite the challenges of the multiples and the difficulties of holding on to a franchise when you are a single unit.The MG franchise is currently very restrictive in its offering and all the more credit to Brand,s in that they are still continuing to prosper against this backdrop.They clearly offer a model to others some of whom have given up the ghost completelyor retrenched to being merely a repair business.In East Lothian most small franchises have gone and only in the last few weeks William B Cowan in Tranent who have had franchises for the past 50 years closed (Saab initially and Fiat for next 27 years).They lost the Fiat franchise last year when Arnold Clark opened up yet another outlet in the east of Edinburgh.Ther are currently no MG franchises in East Scotland and I have yet to se an MG 3 on the roads in Scotland.

  9. Perhaps a trip to this Lincolnshire hot spot is needed to see an MG3 then. I have still never seen one in the flesh.

  10. Nice article. At its height BL had something like 2000 dealerships, I think. I wonder how many of them are still selling cars.

  11. Done a fair bit of trade with Brands in the past.

    There used to be a nice pocket of cracking dealers all within a gallon of juice of each other. Examples included:

    P.J Green of Flore
    C.V & C.J Robinson of Kimbolton
    Mantles of Biggleswade
    Soul Bros of Olney

  12. A`close friend of mine recently applied to MG for consideration in getting a dealership ,he has two busy small garages and is dealing in used cars on a small scale but he is eager to grow his business and has been watching MG and it tendancy to grow small dealerships ,something I think is in the long term a good policy.He told them his intentions and the fact that at present he doesnt have a showroom area but if he was granted a dealership he would push plans forward and obtain or build one.MGs response was very disappointing – they day that for our small rural area of SW Scotland they were hoping to get involved with a larger multi franchise dealer (most probaly an Arnold Shark type).To me this approach may get numbers up but at the expense of customer service ,and residual prices and also the mark will be competing with rival marks inside the dealership.MG seem to have no real direction to their sales plan .In small areas like in the story above -small family one brand focused dealers are the way to enhance sales and your brand.

  13. Nice to see another family run dealer.

    I had a very pleasant experience buying a Fiat Panda for my mother from a family run dealer.

    They have been Fiat since they lost their Austin franchise in the British Leyland dealership restructure in 74. That is what attracted them to me over the big group dealer that was actually closer to her home, because if you can stay in business selling Fiats for 40 years there must be something right in your customer service.

    I have to say I have found there service exceptional and a refreshing change from the “Computer Says No” attitude of the big chain dealers.

    Also note the locality is also a bit of a “Hot Spot” for Fiats as a result.

  14. Same story in the Preston/Blackpool area – Signature just outside Warton were very interested in becoming a dealer and were rebuffed after being told that the former Chevrolet dealer in Blackpool would be appointed.

    I think we are still waiting…

    And there’s still a yawning gap in west Lancashire in the Southport, Formby and Ormskirk area – if memory serves we had a dozen dealers back in the mid 80’s

  15. In West Cumbria in the seventies, the British Leyland dealers were Mungo Graham, Edgar and Son, John Timmins, TBH Motors, Jubilee Garage, Studholme and Dickson, Walkingshaws and one in Cockermouth whose name escapes me. Of the remaining ones, Edgar and Son sell Nissans, Hyundais and Suzukis, TBH Motors became B and H Motors and sell SEATs, and Walkingshaws sell Volkswagen and Kia.

    • Is Edgar & Son in Wigton? I heard they stayed in business in the 80s by winning £250,000 on Spot the Ball. My granny was vexed by that ‘Money goes to money’ she said.

    • Glenn, the dealer in Cockermouth was J V Ellwood & Son. I worked here as a petrol pump attendant when about 16,17 years old. As I recall, Dennis Ellwood had retired and the dealership ceased before the launch of R8. His partner, Bernard Byrne, had already passed away.
      Cockermouth, at one time, also had another Austin Morris dealer, J R Wilde. I don’t think this even existed when Metro was launched.

  16. Agree with Glenn A – not all big dealerships are bad (I use Jennings in the North East,) although they are not the biggest. I just have this romantic memory of the days when showrooms were smaller & forecourts less congested – and main roads too!

  17. @ Alastair, Edgars are based in Rowrah and Workington. Can’t think who sold Briitsh Leyland in Wigton, if anyone, but you weren’t far from Tinnion Bros, who sold Ladas and Reliants until the early nineties, and Tom Wrathall, he’s sec a grand fella( advert jingle), who was one of the first Hyundai dealers. In those days it was mostly family dealerships, and names like Derek Conway, Neil Davidson and Adrian Wilson would have been familiar in the Carlisle area. Nowadays, of course, the joys of Arnold Shark and Bristol Street Morons have taken over the likes of Derek Conway.

    • ” Tom Wrathall, he’s sec a grand fella ”

      Glenn – how I remember that! Maybe others on here will need a slight translation of the Cumbrian dialect !!

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