MGR@10 Month : A Dealer’s Tale – Jon and Tim Wilcox of A. E. Wilcox and Son

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: A. E. Wilcox and Son Limited and Geoff Cottle

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A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited’s original site today – the frontage will be modernised and feature full-length MG Motor UK signage as part of the company’s next development phase

Any AROnline readers who also happened to be readers of the Daily Telegraph back in the dark days of 2005 and 2006 might recall a series of advertisements being placed in what was then the broadsheet-sized Telegraph Motoring supplement by a former MG Rover dealership based in the South Gloucestershire village of Wickwar – the company doing the advertising was A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited.

How, then, did an independent, family-owned village garage come to be running half and quarter-page advertisements in a national newspaper? Well, by way of some background information, A.E. Wilcox and Son was then and is still managed by two, third-generation members of the Wilcox family – the Joint Dealer Principals are brothers Jon and Tim Wilcox. However, the business was originally established in 1924 and, having become an Austin dealer in 1936, held successive franchises with BMC, British Leyland, Rover Group and, latterly, MG Rover Group.

Unsurprisingly, having been part of the unfolding BMC>MG story since their childhood, Jon and Tim share other AROnline readers’ enthusiasm and passion for the cars they grew up with and which provided their livelihood. Indeed, one suspects that passion for the product may well have, at least in part, driven the strategy which their company adopted when MG Rover Group Limited went into Administration on 8 April, 2005…

AROnline therefore asked Tim Wilcox to recount his experiences of what happened in the aftermath of that event. Tim first heard about MG Rover’s collapse on the late Evening TV News and he immediately telephoned his brother, Jon, who was unaware of what both regarded as a very worrying development. MG Rover Group owed A.E. Wilcox and Son around £75,000 but the brothers were equally concerned about the impact which the former’s closure would have on their many long-standing and loyal customers – how would that affect warranties and residual values? Moreover, the company had 32 new cars and around 15 ex-Demonstrators and other pre-registered cars either in stock or in the distribution system. Would the public still want to buy them? What would the cars’ values be and how would Tim and Sales Manager, Clive Hart, value any MG or Rover part-exchanges?

The valuation issue was brought sharply into focus during the following few weeks as other MG Rover dealers went into Administration or dumped stock in order to avoid doing so – the bargain hunters jumped in and A.E. Wilcox and Son’s business went completely dead for almost three weeks… The company was unable to sell any of the 32 new cars mentioned above as they belonged to Capital Bank Plc but Jon and Tim’s regular customers came to the rescue – all 15 of the ex-Demonstrators and pre-registered cars were sold during the following two months.

However, that meant A.E. Wilcox and Son was running out of stock so Tim acquired a significant number of ex-MG Rover management and other used car stock from the Administrators, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), at auctions held by British Car Auctions at Blackbushe in Surrey and Measham in Derbyshire.

AE Wilcox Telegraph Motoring advert November, 2006 (3)

Meanwhile, at the end of May, 2005, the MG Rover Dealers’ Association, led by Chairman Richard Cort, concluded a deal with Capital Bank under which the latter would establish a £25m fund to help clear the total of 15,000 MGs and Rovers left en route to or held by the Dealer Network as a result of the Administration. A.E. Wilcox and Son was therefore able to offer customers a discount of £2300 and a two-year warranty on all 32 of the new, unregistered cars which had been allocated to the company prior to the Administration. The cars concerned were re-priced to reflect that from mid-June, 2005 and, by mid-July, Tim, Clive and the rest of the Sales Team had sold around 12 to 15 of the original 32 units – they soon found themselves in need of more cars…

The former Dealer Network still had access to MG Rover’s New Car Stock database so Tim Wilcox contacted Capital Bank’s Area Representative and asked him what the bank was intending to do with the ex-Drive Direct Motor Group Plc and ex-Phoenix Venture Motors Limited new car stock. The company thereafter bought batches of five or six a week and had, by the end of 2005, sold a further 65 cars.

However, wishing to dispose of the remaining stock of new MGs and Rovers which the company still owned more quickly, Capital Bank announced that, as from February, 2006, any former MG Rover dealers still wishing to buy those cars would have to buy 50 at a time. Jon and Tim took the brave decision to acquire one such batch but soon found that demand exceeded supply – in all, A.E. Wilcox and Son bought four batches and sold a total of 200 ex-Capital Bank cars during 2006. Tim had been given an introduction to a member of the Joint Administrators’ Team at PwC in late 2005 and that enabled the company to purchase around 20 to 30 more new and about 100 used MGs and Rovers which had been owned by MG Rover and were still located at Longbridge.

The two brothers realised that, in order to turnover the new and used MG and Rover stock which their company was buying as rapidly as possible, they would have to adopt an innovative marketing strategy – that is what prompted their decision to advertise in Telegraph Motoring. The first half-page advertisement, which appeared in April, 2006, resulted in 27 sales whilst the second one generated 16 sales. The final, quarter-page advertisement was run in November, 2006 (pictured above) and all three more than covered the advertising costs. Cars were sold to customers from all over the UK with some even coming from as far afield as London, Middlesborough and Newcastle upon Tyne.

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A.E. Wilcox and Son Limited’s purpose-built, Citroën-only new and used car sales site which was opened in January, 2015

The stock of new and used cars which A.E. Wilcox and Son had access to was, as a result, pretty much exhausted by the end of 2006 and so, following an approach from Citroën UK Limited, the company took on that franchise in January, 2007. However, Jon and Tim’s links with the continuing BMC>MG story were renewed when their company became an MG Motor UK Limited franchisee during the summer of 2008. Nowadays, the company sells far more Citroëns than MGs and, in fact, opened a new, purpose-built, sales-only site for new and used Citroëns at the opposite end of Wickwar to the original site on 2 January, 2015. The latter premises, which are now scheduled for refurbishment, have been retained for new and used MG sales as well as non-franchised used sales and are also the home of both the Citroën and MG Parts and Service Departments.

Jon and Tim do, though, have an enduring and genuine affection for the last MG Rover-built cars – indeed, Tim continues to buy low-mileage examples as there still seems to be a market for them. However, even he admits that, when A.E. Wilcox and Son had to assume liability for the remaining balance of the warranties on all the cars sold prior to 8 April, 2005, the company was extremely fortunate – there was only one incidence of head gasket failure on a K-Series engine!

A fourth-generation member of the Wilcox family now works in the business – Jon’s son Andrew can be found in the Parts Department – but, 10 years on from the demise of MG Rover and with more OEMs favouring the ever-expanding National and Regional Dealer Groups, one does wonder where businesses like A.E. Wilcox and Son will be in 10 years’ time. That said, there should surely always be a place in the UK Motor Trade for independent, customer-focussed entrepreneurs who, like the Wilcox brothers, are brave and smart enough to turn a potentially disastrous situation to their commercial advantage…

AROnline  readers can view a selection of photographs showing the evolution of A.E. Wilcox and Son’s premises from 1924 to the present day below.

 

Clive Goldthorp

Clive claims that his interest in the BMC>MG story dates back to his childhood in the 1960s when the family’s garage premises were leased to a tenant with an Austin agency. However, back in the 1920s and 1930s, his grandmother was one of the country’s first female Garage Proprietors so cars probably run in his genes! Admits to affairs with Alfa Romeos, but has more recently owned an 06/06 MG TF 135 and then a 15/64 MG3 Style… Clive, who was AROnline’s News Editor for nearly four years, stood down from that role in order to devote more time to various Motor Racing projects but still contributes articles on as regular basis as his other commitments permit.

19 Comments

  1. Typical. Plummeting sales, amongst other things, cause MG Rover to go bankrupt then demand exceeds supply of the remaining cars to the extent that a small provincial dealer has a healthy return on ivestment in non-too small adverts in a national newspaper!

    It would be interesting to find out where MG Rover cars lay in the new car “charts” post-demise & what market share the former company commanded.

    Ironic indeed.

  2. I remember contacting A E Wilcox and Son in July 2006 desperately trying to find an unregistered MG ZR turbo-diesel to my replace my recently accident damaged MG Maestro, only to be told there were none left. I spoke to Tim Wilcox and he was certainly very helpful and had already been on the hunt for one for me, thanks to a friend of mine who worked in an MG Rover Group dealership in Weston super Mare, making the initial contact with him.

    I visited their premises in Wickwar in 2008 with the same friend and was rewarded with some NOS parts for my impending MG Maestro rebuild (still to be completed!). Their enthusiasm for my restoration project and earlier new car enquiry was certainly infectious and I remember going away wishing all MG Rover Group dealers had been like this.

    In the end I managed to find a new unregistered MG ZR turbo-diesel slightly closer to home and this was purchased in September 2006. This dealer, too, had a few NOS cars and it was only after coming out of my submerged world of admiring the unregistered and low mileage Rovers and MGs in the spotless showroom and finding there were no other customers or sales brochures, that I realised there would be no other new cars to follow.

    A great story and long may Jon and Tim’s enthusiasm for Rovers and MGs reign.

  3. Capital bank took an absolute pasting on the disposal of MG Rover Stock it held.

    The reason being that the Wholesaling Scheme they ran for MG Rover that provided finance for MG Rover and the Dealers for the stock of finished cars worked by Capital Bank taking the cars at the ex factory list price(retail less standard dealer margin).

    As the MG Rover price list was a work of fiction (I purchased 2 cars in 2003 and 2004 (TF160 & ZT260 and both came with 25% plus discounts off list with nothing more than a prod from me), MG Rover would give Capital Bank a discount when the vehicle was sold to account for whatever dealer incentive they were running to push the metal.

    Of course with cash running out and sales falling MG Rover made sure they fully utilised their credit facility with Capital Bank as they were not only prepared to take their metal at list price but also offer credit of any kind.

    When MG Rover finally rolled over and died, they were left with the stock all at list price and as we can see in this article had to take a massive hit on the value of that stock to get the market to take it.

    • That’s interesting. I remember trying out a new credit scoring system at work around 2003 and using MGR as a test case. I wasn’t expecting it to be good, but I couldn’t have got any kind of credit acceptance for them. I wonder what the logic at the bank was for continuing to do this when the writing was on the wall.

      • They were in my experience “commercially” challenged, the ZT260SE I had on a commercial finance package with them, which was good it cost by business the same as a BMW330 and it was British. When it came to hand it back I knew that nobody in the trade wanted it (it was early 2007 with sky high fuel prices and the market still flooded with ex finance MGRover metal).

        Because it was 40% below its expected milege (primarily it hand spent 18 months of its 3 years off the road mostly due to the inability of the original dealer to maintain it. Once MGRover went bust I could go to an independent who were Ex Rover people it was soon sorted out.) They said residual and nothing less which was circa 8K.

        I was tempted to go to auction and buy it, as I had looked after it well, but knew that as a car it has issues for long term ownership, such as part supply given the small number made and, the things like use of mild steel in rear sub frames with no protection and so are rust traps, so was prepared to punt 5K for it as a toy (price of a decent 2nd hand superbike) I understand it went for just over 3K.

  4. Great article clive and what an impressive dealer Wilcox appears to be.

    My question is , how have they done with citroen ? In NZ here citroen is even more of an obscure brand than MGRover ever would of been , with an even worse reputation for unreliability , so has there loyal customers jumped into this brand with ease?

    Also clive how are they doing with the MG franchise and have they moved many cars ?
    My opinion is the Chinesse MG 6 and 3 must be hamstrung with out an auto option , I would be interested in A E Wilcox and Son opinion !

    • “Nowadays, the company sells far more Citroëns than MGs and, in fact, opened a new, purpose-built, sales-only site for new and used Citroëns at the opposite end of Wickwar to the original site on 2 January, 2015.”

      Sounds like they are doing very well with Citroën, the reputation of the brand is nothing like that in the UK, I see many older people driving Citroëns.

      I don’t think the MGs are hamstrung without the option of an automatic gearbox as automatics have always made up a very small amount of sales in this country, other than on large cars. The vast majority of people buy manuals.

  5. As usual, an interesting article, Clive.

    Just to let you know that I followed up on your advice to contact Mark Burnham at John Woods Motorcare about a re-map for MG6. Mark is finding it difficult to get into the ECU but he is still progressing Chinese connection and also following up a lead to a firm in Lincolnshire (I think) who claim to have successfully re-mapped the MG6 to give 195bhp. So, not too much progress so far but I agreed to get in touch with him again in 6-8 weeks time to see what is happening.

    Regards, Jim Robertson

  6. Very interesting account from a Dealer’s point of view. Good to see that Wilcox’s turned the situation to their advantage and the bold move of advertising in The Telegraph was a complete success… probably better than even they, hoped for.

    I remember the aerial shots on TV of hundreds of MG Rover cars parked up in an airfield in the Midlands. The newest MGR car I’ve seen since was on a 06 plate. Hopefully Wilcox’s success will continue with their MG franchise.

  7. I do recall Edgar and Son, Rover dealers since 1921, having to scramble to get a new franchise when MG Rover collapsed. Luckily they had a Hyundai franchise as well, but they needed a new franchise quickly to fill a large gap in their showroom and to save their ex Rover staff’s jobs. Fortunately they bagged Nissan a few months later and then acquired Suzuki, who wanted to build up a presence in West Cumbria.
    Actually the company has never looked back as they now have two showrooms and their Hyundais, Nissans and Suzukis are familiar sights on local roads.

  8. The latest registered cars were 08 – apparently, due to changes in registration requirements unregistered cars would not have been able to be registered after ’08’ presumably unless they underwent single vehicle inspections which I suppose they could have failed.

    Some of the 08s were pre-facelift cars that had been brought back from the Bahamas that had failed to sell.

  9. I bought a Rover 25 this last January with 48000 miles on the clock which is on a ’56 plate, this car was originally sold by A E Wilcox and have been wondering how this car was registered on such a late plate. This article answers it nicely.

  10. On the press advert, the two unregistered MG ZT 260 saloons in Ignition blue & black for £14,995 sounded great… a good buy if you were willing to take a small risk back then. Getting a 2 year warranty would be reassuring though.

  11. I’m not a Telegraph reader, but that advert looks familiar.
    The selling of MG Rover stock was a clever bit of business by A.E.Wilcox. Interesting to see the loyalty, demand that existed even with all the warranty, residual, parts concerns.

    ” with more OEMs favouring the ever-expanding National and Regional Dealer Groups, one does wonder where businesses like A.E. Wilcox and Son will be in 10 years’ time. ” Frankly, I would only ever want to deal with a smaller, independent dealer. It isn’t just a simple case of better service – the whole experience is more pleasing.

  12. I remember seeing a one year old top of the range Rover 25 selling for half of list price at an independent dealers in 2005. It seemed garages wanted to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

  13. Very enjoyable article.

    Whilst I wish this dealership the best of luck for the future, it concerns me that they are operating with two duff automotive brands.

    Citroen has one of the worst reputations for quality and reliability, (second only to Renault) in the automotive world and MG offers arguably the most lacklustre and poorly marketed “range” of cars that I can think of.

    Most dual franchise s have one good marque say Toyota, Nissan etc to prop up a weaker second brand. It will be interesting to see how long Wilcox can last with this arrangement.

    Nige

  14. While it is an interesting story, my experience with the company has been mixed. I found Tim Wilcox was a very difficult person to deal with. He didn’t have a clue about anything and it was Dave that managed to resolve my situation.

    I believe the company is in need of a major overhaul to catch up with modern times and the staff roster needs reinvigorating with some younger members. Let me just say that the work they do is fine, but it can be difficult dealing with them sometimes.

    Going forward, I think they should do something to make it more customer friendly in the service reception and redevelop the garage front, because it looks old and tired. The yard is always full and I can never park anywhere, it’s so frustrating!

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