The Collectors – Alex Aldous and Tim Sawyer

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by Russ Smith |

Some automotive collections just sit and gather dust, but Alex Aldous and Tim Sawyer make their classics work for a living as wedding cars

Good friends Alex Aldous and Tim Sawyer keep costs down by housing their classic car collections together in an old Rutland chicken shed.

Alex is a lifelong classic car owner. His first car, back in 1975, was a 1953 Sunbeam Talbot MkIIA, followed by a low-mileage 1954 Ford Popular. ‘Next up was a 1968 Citroën DS21. It was nice, but I didn’t like buying something so modern, which it was back then. I soon traded it for another Sunbeam Talbot, this time a 1955 MkIII. Then I fell for a 1951 Armstrong Siddeley Whitley; not a bad car for someone still in their third year at uni.’ I used it to take our rugby fives team to events across the country. Then people asked to use it for weddings, which really started something.’

Tim returned to classic ownership three years ago, with a Rover P6 itch that needed scratching. ‘I’ve always liked them; I had a TC when I was young, and when I worked in a Leicester garage all five of us had V8 P6s. We’ve had some Morris Minors too.’

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Bride’s view of the Rover P6 saloon’s interior ©Richard Pardon

The two met through a mutual friend – the farmer who owns the chicken shed – when Alex was looking for someone to help look after his fleet. ‘Seeing how busy Alex was with wedding hire, I decided to have a go myself and bought two cars from a wedding car firm in Chesterfield that was shutting down. We try not to compete by advertising in different areas.’

Their dusty old shed is at odds with its shiny contents. With cobwebby corners, bulbs (half of which don’t work) loosely strung across rafters, and the odd shaft of light from a ventilation shaft, it looks like somewhere you’d find projects, not polish.

‘The swallows that nest in there are a nuisance,’ says Alex, ‘but they’re only here for a few months a year – we just have to keep the cars covered up in summer.’

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Cars must be kept spotless inside to protect bridal gowns ©Richard Pardon

1937 SS Jaguar 2.5

This coachbuilt SS is the star of Alex’s fleet. ‘It’s pre-1938, so built the old way: steel over an ash frame – later SSs were all-steel and a bit wider. SSs are now more collectable and expensive than their original Bentley rivals. It was exported to Melbourne from new and was still there when I found it via a classic car website in 2007. It had been restored in the Nineties by the Nantes brothers, who are well known in early Jag circles. I started a dialogue with the owner and Ed Nantes and had the floors and doors strengthened – both original weaknesses – then had it shipped over. It arrived in Southampton three days before a cousin’s wedding I’d promised it for. We MoT’d it on the way, still wearing its Australian ‘SS 250’ registration plates.

‘It has since come second in a Jaguar Drivers’ Club concours, and been driven to Essen to appear on the club’s stand. During that journey the tail fell off the Jaguar bonnet mascot; I had to have a new tail made and soldered on.

‘We also had a front wheel fall off one day. The splines had gone, but we jammed it back on and finished the wedding, driving very carefully and using the handbrake so we didn’t strain the remains of the splines.’

1975 Rover 3500S

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1975 Rover 3500S, 1972 Rover P6 estate, Vanden Plas Princess duo (landau on right) and 1969 Singer Chamois ©Richard Pardon

This car reintroduced Tim to the joys of classics three years ago. ‘I’d sold a Fordson Major tractor I’d restored. I wanted something for the family and kept thinking about the P6s I’d owned. This one had only done 41,000 miles. All I had to do was fit a new radiator and water pump to cure a bit of overheating, though it blew a hose when we went to a Rover and BMC rally at Gaydon. We searched round the stalls and found an Austin 1100 hose that fitted. It’s been really good otherwise, and even gets use on the wedding fleet for people who want something less traditional.

‘We had it on the Rover P6 Club stand at the last NEC show and people kept trying to buy it – but it’s not for sale.’

Jaguar MkV 2.5

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Jaguar MkV 2.5 – Jessica Ennis’s wedding car ©Richard Pardon

‘This was used for gold medalist Jessica Ennis’s wedding after the London Olympics,’ says Alex. ‘She’s an F-type ambassador for Jaguar but wanted a MkV for her wedding. Jaguar Heritage hasn’t got a white one, so they contacted me. Its other touch with stardom was for All Saints singer Shaznay Lewis’s wedding at Belvoir Castle. Don’t ask me to name any of their songs though...

‘I bought it in 1999, my first Jaguar after the Armstrong Siddeleys. In 2002 after we moved to Rutland I decided to get serious about wedding hire and added a Jaguar 420. It all grew from there.

‘This was a British market car that went out to Pennsylvania in 1956 then fell into disrepair. It was discovered and restored in 1992, then brought back to the UK. It’s had the whitewalls on since I got it – something to reflect its US past. We’ve had to seal up the sunroof after leaks proved impossible to cure. We once had a bride and groom catching drips in their Champagne flutes.’

1972 Rover P6 3900S estate

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One of only about ten manual Rover P6 S models converted to estates by FLM Panelcraft ©Richard Pardon

Tim’s other P6 is one of only around ten manual S models converted to estates by FLM Panelcraft. ‘I’d wanted one of these since seeing one outside a pub in Margate. I found this two years ago on eBay. It was an unfinished project in beige but the guy had fitted a 3.9-litre Range Rover engine along with Megasquirt fuel injection and a Toyota five-speed gearbox. I don’t know what power it puts out but it’s an absolute flying machine, so much faster than my 3500S.

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Rover P6 estate has a 3.9-litre Range Rover engine ©Richard Pardon

‘My wife Sandra said, “It’s an awful colour – are you going to buy it?” You bet I was! The guy we bought it off cried. He didn’t want to sell but needed money for a kitchen. He even kissed the bonnet goodbye.

‘I took it apart and had it painted Jaguar Primrose Yellow, then fitted new bumpers. The rear screen was cracked and you can’t get new ones, so I had a chat with a guy I knew at Give Us A Break double glazing in Leicester. He cut some glass to size, ratcheted it over a barrel to put a bend in it, then got it toughened. It fitted perfectly and only cost me £100. It’s also not for sale!’

1936 SS Jaguar 1.5 coachbuilt

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Alex Aldous shows Russ the SS Jaguar 1.5’s engine... a Ford Cortina 1600GT unit ©Richard Pardon

Alex’s other SS has even more potential to offend purists. ‘It’s one of only five 1936 1.5s left in the world. You can tell them by the square lower windscreen corners and lack of quarterlights. The Ford Cortina 1600GT engine was already installed when I bought it, but that makes it more practical so we rebuilt that rather than try to return it to standard when it broke.

‘When I bought it in 2005 I inherited a contract with a film company for Channel 5’s Worst Celebrity Driver. People like John Noakes and Brian Blessed were involved, but my driver was an obscure Puerto Rican actor who I recognised from a film I used to use in teaching.

‘I had it restored by Ron Champion of Locost sports cars fame. He did a great job and we spent much time tracking down all the right bits to put the rest of the car back to original. We even visited the one in Coventry Motor Museum to get the unique sunburst pattern right for the door cards.

‘On one occasion an engine mount broke and split an oil pipe as we were arriving at a bride’s house. We topped up with oil and nursed it to the church and reception with oil streaming out along the running boards. We got the bride out OK, but when I turned my back for a moment the photographer had placed her by the front wing and her dress was soaking up oil. He was popular.’

1967 VDP Princess landau

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1965 Vanden Plas Princess (left) and ’67 Princess Landau ©Richard Pardon

Tim followed up his original pair with an Austin Sheerline from a wedding business in Stoke-on-Trent. It had been converted from a Sheerline rescued from a scrapyard. The chassis was stretched and 1ft added in the rear doors, then the opening Landau rear roof section was constructed. ‘We had it repainted and also had a lot of welding done. It kept overheating, which turned out to be a worn impeller in the water pump.’

Another Princess followed, but the pride of the fleet is the Vanden Plas Landau, one of that original pair. ‘That’s the one people want to book when they come and see our cars. This has also been repainted, and we fitted the missing occasional seats in the rear along with new carpets.

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Princess cabins have all needed restoration ©Richard Pardon

‘The worst thing was the brakes, which kept sticking on when I was driving. I tried everything except the servo, because it had been reconditioned. I once got stuck at traffic lights with a bride and groom on board. All I could do was put my foot down hard – the brakes got very hot on that run. When I finally took the servo apart I found an extra spring fitted in there. With that out and a new set of rubbers, it’s been fine.’

1949 Jaguar MkV 3.5

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Hot rod: burgundy and cream Jaguar MkV 3.5 caught fire at a wedding ©Richard Pardon

Arguably the prettiest of Alex’s collection, ‘it unusually has cutaway rather than full rear spats, possibly because it started life in Australia. I imported it from Brisbane in 2006, via the internet. It had been restored and the Australian dollar rate was very good, so I only paid around £9000.

‘It was shipped to Southampton and I drove it back from the docks one day and to a wedding the next. It also used to overheat – so badly that one day the clutch pedal got so hot I ruined my expensive shoes on it.

‘It caught fire at another wedding, with a new driver at the wheel I’d hired to trans-port the bridesmaids. Luckily I was nearby in the other MkV and was able to put the fire out. We got a repaint and engine rebuild out of the £15,000 insurance claim.

‘The only departure from standard is a Toyota five-speed gearbox fitted in Australia. That helps make this the nicest to drive; it cruises all day at 70mph.’

1969 Singer Chamois

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Chamois got Tim’s son into classic cars ©Richard Pardon

With classics back on the menu, Tim was quick to involve other family members. ‘We got this three years ago as our son Jack’s first car, when he was 17, and he loved it. We fitted a fresh engine after the head gasket blew. It was cheaper to buy an exchange recon’ unit from Imp specialist Malcolm Anderson than for me rebuild the old one. And it meant the car was only off the road for a couple of days. Sadly, it’s not been used enough since he started a family, so it might be for sale at the right price.’

1961 Vauxhall PA Cresta

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1961 Vauxhall PA Cresta: Tim’s wife wanted fins ©Richard Pardon

The latest addition to the fleet is for Tim’s wife. ‘Sandra wanted something with fins, preferably in powder blue, but this is a lovely colour scheme. It’s only done 35,000 miles. We found it on the internet in Warwick, and I could tell it was good from the underside and interior – it all looks original and isn’t rusty.

‘Once we’ve rechromed the bumpers and repainted it, we’ll try it on the wedding fleet – but it’s more for having a bit of fun with.’

Thanks to: Alex Aldous (gladstonecarriages.co.uk) and Tim Sawyer (vpprincessweddingcars.co.uk)

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