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