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Wheels of the motor industry keep on turning; OLD COVENTRY VIII.


IN ITS heyday, Rugby Autocar had seven depots with a workforce of nearly 400, making it the largest Ford dealership in Warwickshire.

Formed in 1920 after two Rugby builders, George Varney and Frank Varney, (surprisingly unrelated) decided to join forces, the watchword in the early years was innovation. As war came to an end the Varneys bought old Ford army lorries and converted them into char-a-bancs. They also turned the 20hp army trucks into farm vehicles and travelling shops.

Frank's brother Fred joined the partnership, and so successful was the family business in Rugby, the Ford Motor Company persuaded Rugby Autocar to move to the heart of the motor industry.

Its first depot in Coventry was at the old Riley works in St Nicholas Street, which they opened in 1923. Later there were moves into Ford Street, Queen Victoria Road, Wheatley Street and onto the A45 at Allesley.

John Varney, who started an apprenticeship in the family firm at the age of 16 and was its last chairman and managing director, said: "The Ford Street showroom was bombed early in the war, but was eventually rebuilt and used by Swan Lane Garage.

"Fortunately we were able to move everything to Allesley which had been built in 1936. But father and Uncle Frank had the foresight to buy another city centre showroom in Queen Victoria Road, previously Bablake Garage.

"We stayed there until redevelopment forced another move down the street, first of all to the Salvation Army site, then into a new showroom at the end of the City Arcade."

Although the Varney family is no longer in the business of retailing cars, vans and tractors, the line is perpetuated through the firm Power Torque, gas engine manufacturers at Herald Way, Binley.


MORTON'S, one of the best-known names in road haulage and coal distribution, had been trading for 89 years when the firm entered the garage business in 1955.

The firm bought Miles Motors on Binley Road to build what ultimately became one of the largest franchises in the city.

Its first general manager was former Morton's apprentice, Geoff Mousley, who had previously been the firm's transport manager.

Within a couple of years a day and night petrol station was added to the established service bays and repair shops.

Tom Price, a former director of the garage remembers joining the firm from Humber when the garage first opened.

"At first we were retail dealers for Humber and Hillman cars, then later we added Sunbeam, Singer and Rootes' commercials - Commer and Karrier," said Tom.

"On the commercial side the Rootes two-stroke diesel TS3 engine was a popular engine used in tractor units for hauling articulated transporters. It was widely used for carrying new cars to Coundon Wharf, our railhead for loading cars onto the railway.

"Morton's was a real family business, very friendly - strawberry teas at the Birdingbury home of John Morton, son of the founder were something to look forward to."

One of Coventry's best-known sportsmen, Norman Shortland, was also a director of the firm, having joined as an office boy in 1934. He played for Warwick Cricket Club, was awarded his county cap in 1946, and went on to captain Coventry and North Warwickshire, whose headquarters were just across the road from the dealership.


SAM NEWSOME'S venture into the garage business was a success story from the start. His training as a pilot during the First World War came to nothing, so he built his own single-seater racing car and turned his attentions to the race track.

Early successes led to the setting-up of a motor garage on Walsgrave Road. Alongside sales and servicing for the family motorist he developed a tuning workshop for racing sports cars.

After gaining a Standard dealership in 1925, it was only a matter of time before a move to larger premises in the centre of Coventry. After the Hales Street showroom came a new workshop and two-storey shop window in the city's new prestige thoroughfare, Corporation Street.

By the mid-30s Sam Newsome had decided to concentrate on the sales and servicing for two local car makers - SS (now Jaguar) and Standard.

In the late 50s as central redevelopment required Newsome's land for the construction of Smithford Way, a showroom was acquired on Belgrade Square. The main business was moved out of town to the Highway Garage on the Coventry by-pass.


SAM ROBBINS opened his first premises in Coventry at the Gaumont Palace Buildings, Whitefriar's Street, in the summer of 1933.

It was the culmination of years of successful trading in his home town of Rugby from before the turn of the century. He opened his first branch in Nuneaton around the First World War.

Sam Robbins had traded in Austin cars from the early days, and about the time the firm moved to larger premises in Cox Street, a short distance from the Gaumont, Sam Robbins was granted a main dealership by the Birmingham car maker.

In 1961, when Mr S Foxon was managing director, a celebratory lunch took place at the Hotel Leofric to mark the firm's 25th anniversary as Austin main dealers.

By the late 60s Sam Robbins was forced to close after compulsory purchase of the land to build a new College of Art for the city.


COVENTRY Motor Mart on the London Road was owned by the Lord family.

The business opened in the early 1930s as a Daimler, BSA, Lanchester dealership. Later the firm were selling Riley and BSA three-wheelers.

The site became the Whitley Garage under new owners, J & HB Jackson, in 1972 and immediately became a main Ford dealer. Its managing director was Tom Price.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Mar 30, 2000
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