When it comes to finding the ‘next one’ it doesn’t matter to Richard Oakley if it’s a 1956 Beetle Cabriolet or a 1988 Polo. It’s the thrill of the chase for this serial VW purchaser! Rich has been a customer at Heritage Parts Centre for almost 20 years, and I’ve known him for close to ten. Before moving to the Midlands he was a regular in our shop, and I’d often serve him with parts for his most recent acquisition.
If we have to…
It’s early December and we’ve journeyed north to visit him at his workshop in Leicestershire; having relocated from Burgess Hill a few years back. Greeting us on this cloudy Monday morning is an enviable collection of aircooled machinery that are all at our disposal for some photographic jaunts out into the nearby countryside. Our first choice, largely by default as it’s blocking the entrance, is a beautiful 1957 Canterbury Pitt converted Split Bus. The only van in Rich’s collection, he toyed with putting it up for sale recently, but friends talked sense into him, and this RHD early bus has remained in his possession. Driving it is remarkably refined and whilst Rich readily admits he’s never actually stayed over in this one, it’s got all the creature comforts you could need for a retro weekend away. After blocking a country lane for some photographs we head back to the barn to get ‘the next one’.
Like kids in a sweet shop myself and photographer Lee ‘settle’ for Rich’s RHD ‘56 Oval Cabriolet from the choice of classics on offer. Rich tells us he found it after talking to a friend who had known about the car languishing in a garage in Kent for twenty five years. It could possibly be for sale to the right person if they were willing to pay rather a lot for it. Undeterred by the cost he thought he’d take a look and find out more and came across the car you see here. It was repainted by the previous owner, and then stashed away, with only a few trim jobs and a service away from being finished. True to form (for anyone who knows Rich), he cut a deal that was considerably less than first requested, and bagged this beautiful RHD car, one of only a few known in this rare colour.
Out the stable and onto the street
Next out the barn is his 1959 Beetle, and a car which holds an amusing coincidence. Having moved away from Sussex a few years back, he picked a village close to Market Harborough to call home, largely for the proximity to his new workshop. The only time he’d ever been here before was exactly 20 years previous, when he came to collect this car, from the very same place! Finished in this lovely one year only Garnet Red, it has undergone a sympathetic restoration by friend and local Brighton based Beetle legend Karl at Wolfsburg Wizards. This car retains its honesty and integrity, having only been painted up to the body trim; the bumpers show some rust patches, and the roof and wings display their age with pride. Inside there’s no carpet, but Rich loves this car! “I lent it to a mate to drive to Le Mans last year, as his 356 was out of action” he says “but it could do with a new clutch” a job that he’s more than familiar with, having owned somewhere in the region of 150 aircooled cars in the past 25 years! Gun to his head; he’d keep this one over all the others…
Well, that’s until we take his ‘65 RHD fastback for a spin. The earliest surviving UK RHD example, this car oozes class, and is a pleasure to be a passenger in. Rich sold his company hack BMW recently a little quicker than expected, and he had to call upon the Type 3 for daily duties; not just for pottering ten minutes down the road to the office though. No, Rich did 1800 miles in a fortnight, travelling all over the country, in his work as a Sales Manager for an electronics manufacturer. “It’ll do over 90 if you want it to” he tells us, and in comparison to a Beetle of similar age it’s so refined, quiet and comfortable. “I’d never sell this one” Hang on, he said that about the ‘59, too… Rich couldn’t choose between the two; it’s funny how sentimental attachment far outweighs the monetary value. Which leads us nicely to the last shoot of the day, the jewel in the crown to most onlookers, but for Rich a car that’s been “nothing but trouble” following with “every time I’ve used it something has broken; and parts for these aren’t cheap!”
American Army Special Order
Rich has owned this 1947 Standard Beetle for ten years, having bought it from a friend who imported it from the US, where it was restored in the early nineties. “I’d always wanted a British built Beetle” says Rich. This particular car was built for the US Army and painted grey. Cars built for the British Army were green and RAF cars were painted blue. “I’ve driven it to Hessisch and Bad Camberg, but it’s not a comfortable trip, the maximum speed is about 60mph.” Whilst the novelty of being in such a special vehicle is running through my veins, I can well imagine the drone from the road noise and mechanicals would soon become a nuisance after an hour or so!
If you thought for a second his serial collecting was slowing down, and the early Split window Beetle would represent the ultimate VW, then think again. He finishes our conversation with “I’ve just been offered 3 Ovals….” Sounds like this VW addiction is for life.
A massive thanks to Richard for taking the time out to show myself and Lee around his collection. We look forward to seeing you back in the Heritage Parts Centre shop again soon.