Blog : Time called for time-warp Ford dealer

Mike Humble


Anyone who has traversed the A509 trunk road between Wellingborough and Milton Keynes will surely agree that it’s a boring and busy road swamped with fun spoiling speed restrictions and traffic calming measures. When I lived in the County of spires and squires known as Northamptonshire, I used this road on thousands of occasions as my rat run when the M1 was choked up with Friday commuter traffic.

The only thing that made the journey tolerable was driving through the achingly pretty village of Olney which nestles in an isolated and unspoilt part of the Beds, Bucks and Northamptonshire triangle. Retail car dealers are almost a thing of the past with volume car manufacturers – Dealer Groups command the unit price of cars with retail dealers often having to source their new stock via the nearest main franchise.

Olney once featured two new car dealers. Soul Garages once ran a very highly regarded Rover dealership in the village opposite the market square which, against all the odds, survived the dealer cull of 1994, and survived right up to the demise of MG Rover in 2005. Director David Soul relocated the showroom to Milton Keynes taking on other franchises but kept their very busy workshop in the village – that still operates to this day with the old showroom being leased to Desmond J Smail, a renowned Aston Martin specialist.

At the other end of the High Street you would pass one of the prettiest looking garage premises imaginable – think of a small dealer circa 1975 and you would be bang on the money. Hilary Brock Limited was a tiny independent Ford dealer with premises bedecked with pretty flowers and plants featuring assistant-operated, period-style petrol pumps. It really was just travelling back in time, even a V8 Pilot slumbered in the showroom alongside the current latest Ford car.

The lovely art deco signs and flower boxes all gone - A sad sign of the times.
The lovely Art Deco signs and flower boxes all gone – a sad sign of the times.

How this family dealer prospered with colossal Ford Gin palaces in Bedford, Northampton, Milton Keynes and Wellingborough – all within a 10 mile radius – revolved around the fact they were just that, an independent dealer who excelled in customer care. Sadly, with ever-escalating costs squeezing the small dealer out of the game, they have closed their Olney showroom and workshop which first traded in the stunning Buckinghamshire hamlet way back in 1922.

Yet another victim of the changing face of the motor dealer, the Brocks punched well above their weight selling a considerable number of cars not only to local residents, but to to customers in neighbouring counties simply because of their well-known attitude towards client retention and customer care. Their pretty premises, which seemed stuck in a time warp, will be missed while the period Ford signs have already gone. The Brocks have, however, kept their private hire and taxi business.

AROnline wishes Norton and Patrick Brock all the best for future business.

Mike Humble


  1. Know it well and Souls, used to rep in the area. Didn’t Souls also run a small coach company too?

  2. Yes dib… Souls do operate a highly regarded Coach operation managed by Wayne Sweeting – a throughly good chap too!

    Interestingly, up the road in Kimbolton just into the county of Cambridgeshire, you will find CV & CJ Robinson. Another former Rover dealer and garage that also runs a respected Coach operation.

  3. Very sad, I remember so many little Skoda dealers that operated on a similar model, Roadworthy (Bristol) and there was a tiny dealer right in the middle of the IoW. Sadly the move upmarket and the requirement for bigger showrooms meant that these dealers disappeared, together with their particular brand of customer service.

  4. As usual, the car companies don’t really care about heritage and by the sounds of things they truly don’t give a f**k about top notch good customer (laser) focused care.

    Makes me wonder why Ford couldn’t have allowed the exception to allow it to trade using such an ace sales gimmick.

    This is really sad to see happen but as they say, things change… even if not for the better.

  5. Been past it a few times; how very sad to see it go.

    Worryingly, a few of the few MG dealers are like this – albeit not as pretty. If a small dealer with the Blue Oval can’t make a living, what hope for one with an Octagon…?

  6. Very few of these old style dealerships still survive today. However, there is also Slades of Sidmouth in Devon (a BL/ARG/Rover Cars dealership up until 1994, Ford from 1995 and a Ford used car specialist from 2000) which still has the blue oval proudly displayed. There is also Staddons of Budleigh Salterton which I use for getting my MG ZR serviced. The latter dealer is particularly special for me as it still has the 1990s style Rover Viking longship badge attached to the side of the building and has a structural look about it.

    Neither dealership has modern uPVC window frames, neon lights or plastic cladding, just traditional rendering and painted window frames overlooking their respective roads. Happy days.

    • There’s a garage in North Ferriby near Hull now trading as Grand Dale Garage who still have Skoda branding up from when they were a Skoda dealer many years ago.

  7. A damn shame.

    I bought a Focus from a tiny Ford dealership in Tewkesbury (they had a sister garage in sleepy Pershore also), as I wasn’t prepared for the poor service from my local main dealer. Always took it up to Tewks for servicing for the same reason. Not as pretty as the dealership above, but then small family dealers were a fast dwindling minority even then.

  8. Isn’t this just the sort of company MG should be speaking to in the short term – huge local good will and ideal for low volume operations.

  9. People want to buy cars from enormous supermarkets these days, which is desperately sad, as I’d much rather have bought my 500 from a tiny little place like this where, as you say, the service is top notch because they simply cannot afford to muck people about.

    I’m sure the mechanics/technicians will hate working in a big multifranchise site, too.

  10. Car dealerships are like the pub industry-sell more the rents go up and somehow you will end up out of pocket.
    The car game isnt any different,the importers,concessionaires or car makers will probably set you targets or make you buy more and so on,so markets are fluid and sensitive to alsorts of factors,EU imposed single brand dealerships wont help in the future either.

  11. @14,Speaking for myself, having worked at a huge car supermarket group, I afforded myself unrivalled experience, instead of just a one make technician, you learn all the quirks of the various marques and you end up a better technician for it.

  12. Going through Llandindrod Wells at the weekend, there’s an old Rootes garage with its original Sunbeam, etc, signage looking increasingly tatty and crying out to be saved but at the bottom of the hill is the preserved Tom Norton building – purveyors of cycles, motors and aircraft and now used as the National cycle museum.

    I hope somebody slaps a preservation order on the Hilary Brock building. There’s a similar one in Bawtry which is now a tearoom. Edwardian/1930’s “motor houses” are disappearing rapidly – with underground tanks, etc, it’s regrettably often most viable to totally demolish and redevelop.

  13. Another Ford Dealer that is of a similar type is Martin of Eton (-as in the School).
    Still prospering.

  14. I suspect John R. Ford in Shefford (the other direction south of Bedford) will be a similar casualty. Their buildings are functional Art Deco and it would criminal if it ends up demolished as a result.

  15. Another old fashioned dealership is F J Chalke LTD of Mere Wilts. Formerly a Austin dealer, then MG Rover, now Kia franchise. It is still run by the Chalke family since the 1920s.

  16. @14 – I remember visiting Eton around 10 years ago and even then being surprised that a small retail Ford Dealer could exist in such a place. As I read this article that Eton Dealer sprang to mind, it actually looks very similar to the dealer discussed here. Pleased to hear its still around.

  17. Don’t be too sad for the family, the younger generation were not interested in taking over from Norton and they’ve sold the premises with planning permission to convert the showroom into luxury apartments and demolish the workshop at the rear & build new houses.

    The plan was always to build a new showroom at the roundabout just outside Olney but with a lack of interst from the younger generation, it came to nothing.

    A real shame, I used the petrol facilities every week, the servicing facilities often and even the odd used car in the past. Olney is a worse place without them!

  18. Incidentally, the family that ran the MG Rover dealer at the other end of town do indeed run a coach company, now called Souls of Olney, but up until the late 1970’s called R. Soul & Company. I kid you not!

  19. Thanks for confirming that milly… I was in contact with one of the family members a few months ago who cited that they did not see any justification in spending huge sums of money on the potential showroom.

    It transpired that the time taken to re-coup the investment that would not GUARANTEE main dealer status proved to be the killer blow that caused the lack of further interest.

    A terrible terrible blow and am in full agreement of your opinion that Olney is a worse place without Hilary Brock Ford!

  20. Hear Hear to all the above comments… Hilary Brock’s looked a nice little business. Wish we could go back to those days of small family run dealerships.

    There was a small Ford dealers in the County Durham market town of Barnard Castle with a showroom similar looking to Brocks. Dont know if it still exists as it’s over a decade ago since I visited. Perhaps Mike remembers the name?

    As Ezee says, things are different now – not necessarily better

    • The dealer you are thinking of is Louis Smith Motors. The premises in Galgate,Barnard Castle are now a Funeral Directors.

      I think Louis Smith motors still exists in Staindrop or at least did last year!

      As Mike said in a later post Alston Road Garage still exists as a Ford Dealer in Middleton in Teesdale!

      Incidentally I used to work for Pat and Norton Brock in the late 90’s. A lovely place to work to. Very old school. We still used siingle post hydraulic rams, rated at 1 ton and 2 tons. These were outlawed back in the 70’s due to the lack of safety catches on them! We also used a pit and a 4 post lift for MOT’s.

      Sadly I did hear the Norton Brock passed away in February last year at the age of 81 having suffered from cancer.

  21. Small car dealers are going the way of small newsagents, closing down as people flock to out of town glass-and-steel retail palaces.

    A real shame. I know a few local small ex-Rover (94 cull) dealers who became used car sales, to differing experiences (one I bought a car off it’s been great, the other came across a bit Arthur Daley…).

    I do know of a local small town Citroen dealer that seems to survive – go to Killyleagh and every other car is a Citroen!

  22. @ Hilton D

    Are you thinking of the one in Middleton?

    Alston Road Garage I think…. it was still there a couple of years back that I`m certain of!

  23. A town and dealership I know very well… sad to see it close after 90+ years of trading.

    Soul’s briefly tried being a Subaru dealership after MG Rover. Now it’s Desmond J Smail (as mentioned above).

    Olney already has a Costa and Tesco express so its unlikely to go to either of them, a classic car showroom anyone?

  24. Large, multifranchise dealers are a strange bunch.

    The other day, under the guise of recce looking for a car for SWMBO (but my interest was caught by cars I’d want…), I went to such a place, a sprawling mini car sales park of various franchises under the one dealer name.

    Started off at the Approved Used end – Was giving a 500 (for her) and a C5 (interested me) a good nosey but no-one went near me.

    Across the park and a Renault/Dacia dealer to see a Twingo where a couple of stunning Laguna coupes caught my eye. I gave them a nosey and was about to head on and a wild salesman appeared. We had a good conversation about it, and he was ready for offering me a test drive, trade in terms with the Honda etc. when I thought I’d better actually carry on with my number 1 objective for the other half. Discussed Twingos for a while and got his business card.

    Up the Peugeot end (past some lucky fella and presumably his young son who were getting shown a Ferrari at that franchise), quick nosey at a 107 and a 508. Salesman here wasn’t interested.

    Same story at the Citroen showroom (C1s but they didn’t have anything bigger than a DS4 on used display) and Toyota (Aygo and Avensis).
    Salesmen weren’t interested in a rogue early 30s male in casual gear turning up in an old Honda.

  25. @29,Well its thier hard luck,its not easy being a coke head i mean car salesman! The trouble is the salesmen always get thier pre opening pep talk off the GSM,full presentation,walk and talk blah blah.Some customers cant be arsed with the flannel and get annoyed,some dont.Its not a bad thing if they appear to stand back you can always ask and im sure they would jump through hoops for you,if you dont like the attitude of thier reply its “up yours then i will go elsewhere”

  26. Just like they “don’t make cars they way they used to” (thank goodness…..) the nostalgia for small auto dealers like this is understandable, however how can they possibly generate the volume to purchase the sophisticated electronic servicing equipment? They may have been whizzes at tinkering with the tappets but that doesn’t cut it any more.
    I am also curious how dealers like this kept an inventory. You can’t sell cars unless you at least have a few on hand for spur of the moment sales.
    ALSO: what did “Frankie – May 6, 2013” mean by this dealer becoming a “sandwich bar”….. are sandwiches something special to this town….or was it just a curious unrelated comment?

  27. @31 The real bread is made on the used cars,servicing and parts.A typical Ford IDS platform is Circa £4k-with toughbook laptop VCM lead and subscription to Ford Etis plus £1.50 per min while connected to Ford in Dearborn,USA.
    Then there is £5k to find for the VMM kit for scoping/pinpoints.Its brilliant gear no Ford dealer can do without them so they have no choice.

  28. 17 Know that old Rootes dealer site well from passing it on my motorbike when going for a blast in Mid Wales. Imagine car dealers so committed to the product they sell they cast the name in the stone work of the dealership.

  29. My Citroen DS3 did come from a ‘glasshouse’ (Marshalls of Cambridge) but Duxford Motor Group (family run business) did all the maintenance of my previous Citroen. Unfortunately, Duxford could not get anywhere near the price when I bought the DS3. The service manager openly admitted to me that if Marshalls sorted out their aftersales level of service to the same level as theirs, Duxford would be a goner.

  30. We can only blame ourselves for the demise of the small family run local garage,i have known many on first name terms with customers for many,many years that have folded because of the big groups-like your friendly local corner shop over-run by the big super markets.I cant be doing with them.These retail parks are the epitome of drudge,jockeying for a parking spot poncing about all day.
    What would you really want? a better deal on a car but poor service?

  31. Hi Francis – you raise a valid point about service, that’s why Duxford will be doing the regular servicing. For me, it was simply a case of being able to get the vehicle, spec and colour combo I wanted within my budget and this was going to be my first new car for 7 years. I did offer Duxford the opportunity to match the price but they couldn’t as I was reluctant to deal with Marshalls based on a prior experience, which was made clear to the salesperson hence he had to work extremely hard to get my signature on the paperwork. Unfortunately, it does all come down to money and people will vote with their wallets. A sign of the times.

  32. Some family dealers have survived by adopting the shiny showroom approach of the franchises but by retaining the family ownership. Edgars of Workington have a newish shiny showroom that sells Suzukis, Hyundais and Fiats, but also have their smaller original site that sells Nissans. While the new showroom is a palace Arnold Shark would be proud of, the company is still family owned and the staff know you and customers keep coming back. I suppose this is the best compromise now as places like Brocks would never be able to afford all the hardware and sales gimmicks the modern Ford demand.

  33. @27 Mike… no, this one was right on the main street in the town. I know there used to be a Bishop Auckland Ford dealer called Elliot Bros, but dont think this was the same owner of the Barnard Castle dealers (?)

  34. Similar sized one called the Oast Garage [Ford] behind the quaint high street of Odiham in Hampshire.
    Small showroom, repairer with room just about big enough to swing a cat!

  35. @30 Absolutely agree. When I go into a showroom for anything big – cars, washing machines, houses – I make it very clear that if the salesman hassles me or starts the ‘ you need to make a decision today because…..’ routine – I will simply walk out – end of.
    The best salesman I ever met was a Renault man and he greeted you politely, lit his pipe and said “if you need any help I’ll be over there having a Condor moment”. I could cope with that!
    For the very young – the condor moment refers to pipe tobacco advert.

  36. We have some “interesting dealer situations” here in South Cumbria, two family owned Ford dealers in Millom and Ulverston where Ford have obviously been loyal to the businesses. On the other hand Toyota demand a larger dealer space than Batemans can offer in Grange over Sands and so a green field site in The Lake District National Park is approved for a whacking site as planners can’t see precious jobs go with Toyota threatening to leave.
    Meanwhile Arnold Clark snapped up an ailing Vauxhall dealership in Kendal and Morcambe and have certainly challenged the established dealers who are usually, as far as I can see, franchaise controlled family businesses with names like Cumbria Suzuki!
    A dealer worth its salt is Keswick Motor Company in the famous north lakes town, fierce loyalty to the family business and to the franchaise as Fiat have had a strong presence around here for fifty years or more through all the ups and downs (with at first a garage in Ambleside and then Rayrigg in Windermere). Keswick Motor has a friendly site in the town with car hire and service facilities for all the many visitors.
    Much will depend on the garage owning families what will happen next..

  37. Vivian @ 42, would that be Alan Myerscough in Millom? Egremont still has East Rd Garage, which is controlled by a family in St Bees, and there is Stan Palmer, who sells Fords and Hondas.However, best for service and customer care in the county is Edgars.

  38. Hello Glenn @43, it is W Milligan and Son at Millom and Alan Myerscough at Ulverston. These strong community type small towns like where you are in West Cumbria can support family garages with a bit of effort from the manufacturers and the garage families themselves. There is a book to be written on this subject, maybe this blog has already written it!

  39. I like your piece about the time warp garage. Wasn;t just the outside that looked old either. The inside was just the same! I know because I used to work there for a couple of years.

    The lifts we used for servicing were single post hydraulic rams. A 1 ton unit and a 2 ton unit. These worked off the shop air supply which provided pressure for the oil ram! Occaisonly these would get stuck in the air and you had to give the vehicle on the lift a gentle rock to release it for its journey down!

    I believe these lifts were outlawed back in the 70’s because they had no safety mechanism fitted on them. We were still using them in the late 90’s and probably until they closed too! Good and reliable with very little to go wrong unlike a modern lift!

    We also used the pit for a lot of work. Extremley valuable when repairing the transit vans and other large vehicles. Just had to watch out for the spiders. Many a spider met its death with a squirt of brake cleaner!

    I remember when I started working at Hilary Brocks there wasn’t a wiring diagram or a workshop manual in site! At least they were present but nothing had ever been filed! I was met with a table in the parts room upstairs that was piled high with all the literature that had been delivered still wraped up in its celophane sleeve! It took a month of Sundays to get the filing sorted out and what a bonus it was when completed!

    It was an excellent place to work and the staff were great. Pat Brock was one of the best service managers i have ever worked for.

    Such a shame to see the demise of a great little garage.

  40. Bond’s of Pocklington were a long established independent Ford dealer who sadly closed a few years ago as the younger generation weren’t interested in taking it on.

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