Purpose: To celebrate the historical similarities between WO Bentley, Lagonda & Aston Martin, their connections with each other and with the City of Adelaide.
On Sunday morning, October 29th, 30 cars and approximately 60 members of the BDC and/or AMOC gathered in Rundle Mall, the premier shopping precinct in the City of Adelaide, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the purchase, by David Brown, of both Aston Martin and Lagonda motor car companies.
David responded to a very modest advertisement for a ‘high-class motor business’ in The Times in late 1946 – that business turned out to be Aston Martin. While impressed with the car that Aston Martin were developing, he was less impressed by the engine. Consequently, when the opportunity arose a few months later, David bought Lagonda because he they had developed a modern, 6 cylinder, overhead cam engine. This engine was designed by WO Bentley and it was used in the early DB Aston Martins. In so doing, David created the 1st WO Bentley powered Aston Martin and forged a direct link between these three iconic British marques.
This was the first time there had been a mass gathering of cars in Rundle Mall (a pedestrian shopping mall) and hence there were challenges getting the cars into a semi- circle around a raised platform due to the many fixed obstacles. When all the cars were lined up, the organiser, Terry Jones (a member of both AMOC and BDC), welcomed the attendees to the Mall and outlined why the event was taking place on this day (70 years and 7 months since David Brown bought Aston Martin). He then welcomed the Lord Mayor of the City of Adelaide, the Right Honourable, Mr Martin Haese to the ‘stage’. Martin, also a motoring enthusiast, arrived in his V8 powered Jensen Interceptor that impressed the crowd. Martin explained to the attendees why the meeting was being held in Rundle Mall.
The reason was that 177 years (and approximately 177 days) earlier, a 29yr old Yorkshireman named Thomas Greaves Waterhouse boarded the 475 ton ship Lysander in London and after a 100 day voyage, he landed in Adelaide. At that time, the port of Adelaide was not fully established and it had yet to acquire its first wharf for unloading passengers and goods. Passengers were therefore rowed ashore, often up the Port Creek to the Port Creek Settlement (now Port Adelaide) and when the rowing boats could go no further, passengers (with their luggage) would have to traverse a few hundred yards of mangrove swamp and then a sandhill before reaching the road to Adelaide! The port was also known as ‘Port Misery’ as a consequence of this inconvenience, abundant mosquitos and dust. Thomas was apparently not deterred and he started a very successful grocery business, with his brother, on the corner of Rundle Street and King William Street. At the time the building, known as Waterhouse Chambers, was the largest commercial building in the CBD and it was immediately outside this building that the Lord Mayor addressed the gathering. The Mayor advised us that Thomas was a shrewd businessman who made a fortune investing in the highly successful copper mine at Burra in the mid-north of the state of South Australia. He was a founding member of the Bank of Adelaide and he also profited by buying many Adelaide CBD properties at depressed prices when the Victorian gold rush lured swathes of Adelaideians to seek their fortunes in the neighbouring state. When they returned a few years later and property prices recovered, Thomas enlarged his fortune considerably.
The Lord Mayor further advised that Thomas married Eliza Faulding, (who also hailed from Yorkshire) at Trinity Church, Adelaide in 1853. Eliza was the sister of another Adelaide identity, FH Faulding who started a very successful chemist & druggist business that survived through to very recently. Thomas and Eliza had 5 children and the eldest, Emily, was likely born in Waterhouse Chambers in 1853. The family returned to England in 1868, apparently because Thomas did not like the extreme heat of the Adelaide summer. Emily later married London businessman, Alfred Bentley and together they had nine children, the youngest being Walter Owen Bentley. When Thomas died in 1878, he left £60,000 in trust – Emily was to live off the interest and her children were to inherit the money. It was this money that provided WO with his education and later the opportunity to buy the UK marketing licence for the French car, DFP (Doriet, Flandrin, Parent) in 1912. Hence, the Mayor observed that the family fortune, made in South Australia, funded WO’s early development and his start in the manufacturing of motor cars.
At the end of his address, Terry Jones thanked the Lord Mayor and presented him with a copy of Classic and Sports Car™ from his own collection that carried a story comparing the Aston Martin AMV8 (that Terry owns) with the Jensen Interceptor (that Martin owns). The Lord Mayor thanked Terry and then instructed drivers to ‘start their engines’. The noise/music from the 30 cars (many V8s) was most impressive in the built-up Mall. The cars then made their way in convoy to Prince Alfred College for morning tea (that tragically didn’t arrive).
The reason for choosing Prince Alfred College as the second venue was that Thomas Waterhouse was a significant philanthropist and he gave generously to many causes, including a £4000 donation that allowed the building of the College (the 1st Wesleyan College in Adelaide) that was named after Prince Alfred who opened the building in 1867. When we arrived at PAC, the headmaster Mr Brad Fenner, informed attendees of this link between TG Waterhouse and the College and invited us to examine the painting of their benefactor that has hung in the headmaster’s office since the 1870s.
The cars were parked in a large semi-circle on the lawns with the Waterhouse Wing in the background that presented a perfect picture opportunity. To mark the visit, Terry Jones and Terry Holt (also a member of both the AMOC and BDC) presented the College with a framed picture that incorporated photographs of both TG Waterhouse and his grandson, WO Bentley along with the BDC and AMOC logos.
From PAC, the cars proceeded on a drive through the Adelaide Hills (set by Terry Holt) arriving at the final venue, Mount Lofty House around noon. This was yet another ‘significant’ building in the story because Arthur Waterhouse (Thomas’ eldest son) bought the stately home as a summer retreat. After welcome drinks and canapes, a lovely lunch was served and the ‘two Terrys’ addressed the crowd with a fuller expose of the historic links and similar aspirations of WO Bentley, Lagonda and Aston Martin. This included a photograph of the Waterhouse Chambers building from 1866 that also showed a 3hp vehicle (a heavily laden wagon pulled by 3 horses!) as well as Holden’s saddlery premises – the fore-runner of the GM Holden car company that has only just ceased manufacturing in South Australia. Terry Jones advised that WO had been very successful at the Aston Hill Climb in June 1912 (2 years before Lionel Martin) and that if WO had had the same idea as Lionel (to capitalise on the success he had at the Aston Hill climb by adopting the name Aston as the first name of the car), we could have been driving ‘Aston Bentley’s’ and perhaps ‘Bamford-Martins’!
Terry went on to outline the history of Lionel Martin, Robert Bamford and WO and noted WOs contribution to the 1st World War effort when he was among the first to use aluminium alloy pistons to improve performance and reliability of early aeroplane engines. The BR1 (and later BR2) engines powered many Sopwith Camels and Snipes. Similarities between the marques that were noted included the successes of the three marques at LeMans and financial difficulties before and during the Great Depression that resulted in both WO and Lionel Martin losing ownership of their companies. WO left Bentley Motors (now owned by Rolls Royce) in 1935, to join Lagonda and this was remembered by the presence of two beautiful cars of the period – a 1935 Derby Bentley and a 1934 Lagonda in the group of ‘display cars’.
Terry Holt educated attendees about the very complex WO designed engine that attracted David Brown’s interest in 1947 and how it was used and developed in the early DB series cars.
Having established these links and shared heritage between Bentley and Aston Martin, Terry proposed that it would be a good idea to have a regular joint BDC & AMOC meeting in the ‘far-flung outpost’ of South Australia. The general consensus appeared to be that this meeting had been a success and it would be a good idea to meet regularly. Many members gave their assent to this idea to Terry Jones in person after the event.
The weather for the day was ideal but there was a dire forecast for high winds and rain in the early afternoon. Fortunately the weather front did not arrive until much later in the day when attendees had reached their homes and the cars securely stored in their garages.
The event was made possible because of the generous support and involvement of several individuals & companies and Terry Jones thanked them for their contributions. These included the Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Mr Martin Haese, The Rundle Mall Authority, Prince Alfred College and Solitaire Motors, Adelaide agents for both Bentley and Aston Martin. Solitaire’s contribution included having a new Bentley Bentayga and Aston Martin DB9 in the group of display cars for members of the clubs and public to admire and generous financial support for the lovely lunch.