Thursday April 4, 2019
This is the tale of a rather significant Vauxhall Wyvern, one that goes by the name of “Black Bess”. She represents not only a long and dedicated restoration process; she is a true family car in addition to raising awareness for Mind, the charity which supports and empowers those with mental health issues.
The thousands of visitors who attended the Practical Classics Car and Restoration Show, with Discovery will confirm that she was one of the stars. Furthermore, the Wyvern was an undoubted highlight of the stand of the Gay Classic Car Group, who were declared National Car Club of the Year 2019.
Vauxhall’s E-Series went on sale in August 1951, with buyers having the choice of the four-cylinder Wyvern or the six-cylinder Velox. The range was facelifted in late 1954 with a new slimline grille and flashing direction indicators although some drivers grumbled the wipers were still engine-driven, as opposed to electrically powered.
There was also a new flagship in the form of the Cresta, Luton’s rival to the Ford Zephyr-Zodiac and a car aimed at the sort of motorist who habitually wore a cravat and a Leslie Phillips moustache. The F-Type Victor replaced the Wyvern in early 1957, and by the end of that year, the Velox and Cresta were succeeded by the tail-finned PA.
The E-Series remained a common sight on British roads throughout the 1960s, but by the 1970s they were becoming quite a rarity. From a 2019 perspective, the quasi ’49 Chevrolet lines of the E-Series lends them an agreeably louche air – even if the reality was probably a well-polished Wyvern making the weekly shopping trip to Liptons in East Cheam-type suburbia.
However, for those of us who are devotees of Talking Pictures Television, it is easy to envisage a Vauxhall driving through London docklands en route to the Sydney Tafler Pool Hall, its headlamps peering through the fog as various spivs and Teddy Boys scheme and plot in a seedy café owned by Sam Kydd.
However, most drivers of the 1950s were probably more concerned with a 1955 Autocar test of the Wyvern which stated, ‘the 1 ½ litre engine gives a creditable performance and is both smooth and quiet’. There were also the glossy brochures which claimed that ‘you cannot help liking the Wyvern with its fine sleek lines and new rich colours’ in addition to reassuring the prospective customer that the body was ‘Dust-proofed, sound-proofed and sealed against draughts’.
All the above may well have prompted a Mr. F Berkholz to call SANderstead 2236 and place an order for a Vauxhall with the Selsdon Garage near Croydon rather than opt for an Austin A50 Cambridge, Ford Consul Mk. I, Hillman Minx Mk. VIII or Morris Oxford Series II. As his choice of colour, the mildly flamboyant likes of “Morocco Red” or “Pewter Green” were shunned in favour of black.
The Cresta may have been available in an array of duotone paint finishes, but a Wyvern represented understated respectability at a time when Dixon of Dock Green and a nice cup of tea was the highlight of the week.
Bess cost Mr. Berkholz some £766, and she was registered on 14th February 1956. In 1960 the Vauxhall relocated Devon and in 1961 she was sold as a taxi and hire car to Stanley Oborn of Oborn & Sons garage in Beer. In addition to vehicle repairs, the firm also offered a private hire service, and Bess was the ideal car for an outing to the Blackdown Hills or Exmouth.
When Stanley and his brother Gerald decided to retire and sell the business in 1977, the Wyvern’s mileage had already passed the 100,000 mark. Bess was passed to another owner in July of that year, and in 1984 her registration had changed from 825 ABP to LSV 811.
April 1985 saw her given as a retirement present to Mr. Ron Long by his wife, Marjorie. Naturally, the Wyvern continued to provide sterling service, and 2005 saw her being gifted to Ron’s granddaughter as a wedding present. However, Bess’s whereabouts was described as ‘unknown’ in 2006 but nine years later Ron’s grandson Elliot who embarked on some detective work on a par with Superintendent Duggarn in a Scotland Yard film.
And so on 1st July 2018, the Vauxhall was discovered under a tarpaulin in a front garden somewhere in the UK; she had been there for over 12 years. As can be seen from the photographs she was certainly in need of care and attention.
Fortunately, the Wyvern was in a near complete condition and on the 15th July 2018, Elliot became her new owner – as he puts it ‘we went back with a trailer and dragged her out of the garden’. Later that evening ‘we surprised grandad with the return of the car. Lots of tears that evening’. The restoration work now commenced, and Elliot remarks that ‘The biggest challenge after tracking her down, has been finding the funds to undertake the extensive and skilled metal work, needed to get her back in order’.
Elliot also ‘researched the previous owners and made contact with the grandson of the second owner’, who sent some him photos of Bess in the West Country during the 1960s. Mr. Dunn further pays tribute to his ‘super supportive partner Phillip Smith’, and as virtually any car enthusiast will tell you, encouragement really does make all the difference during the long process of refurbishing a classic vehicle.
Bess is a significant motor car. She represents social history on wheels, is a testament to the devotion of her custodian - and she is a family car in the best sense of the term. Ron and Marjorie were both at the Restoration Show to witness the attention that the Wyvern attracted throughout the event, Elliot’s grandfather pointing out the trademark Vauxhall “flutes” on the bonnet and reminiscing about the three-speed steering column gearchange.
Such memories are priceless, which is why the future adventures of “Black Bess” are keenly anticipated - https://www.black-bess.co.uk/