Best Kept Secret…
Racing historic automobiles is a passion that led Tom Hardman to set up a unique business in the heart of the Ribble Valley countryside
‘Just do it’.
A simple phrase that inspired and galvanised Tom Hardman to set up his historic-automobile business.
Tom, who has raced vintage cars since he was a youngster, worked for a local car dealer in his 20s, but spent his spare time racing on famous circuits in the UK and Europe in his 1929 Austin 7. He left school with no qualifications due to dyslexia, but poured his energy into racing, meeting many influential enthusiasts who became friends and encouraged him to work for himself in the historic car business.
In 2010 he made that leap of faith – fast forward 12 years and he has become one of the best kept secrets in the Ribble Valley, but with a generous, international following.
Tom is still racing and now his Foxfields base, just outside Hurst Green, is bursting with iconic cars including a Bentley, Alvis, Aston Martin and Frazer Nash.
Now married to Helen and with three young children, Tom recalls: “When we were deliberating whether to start the business, friends said ‘just do it’. So, we did!”
Tom got his first historic car at 22 – a 1929 Austin 7 that he built into a racing ‘special’.
“I was determined to do the Prescott Hill Climb – but I didn’t have time to make a body, so I built one out of hardboard at the event. It was a sight. It was christened the B&Q special!
“It became a really fast car – in 2006 I did the hill in 48 seconds – anything under 50 for a 750cc Austin 7 is very quick.”
While Tom’s racing continues, it’s not all been plain sailing. In 2007 at Cadwell Park, he suffered brake failure and the Austin rolled. The crash broke his shoulder and collar bone – and injured his right knee so badly that surgeons considered amputation.
He recovered, and met his wife Helen in 2008. They rebuilt the Austin together but decided to sell it and find something bigger for Tom to use. Last year Tom did Prescott in 44.2 sec in a 1.5 litre 1937 single seater MG Bellevue with Brooklands history.
His decision to set up in business followed a deal brokered by Tom between two friends for a Bugatti.
“I brought them together and it sold – my commission cheque was a surprise” says Tom. “It paid for the wedding.”
“That deal really sowed the seeds that Tom could do this,” recalls Helen.
Having raced historic cars for so long, Tom had many contacts, so finding cars to sell was the easy part. Finding premises to showcase them proved more difficult.
“Cars came from friends of friends. I owe much to those who supported me with advice but also helping me buy stock in the early days,” says Tom.
“We know life is better together – and this value underpins our business. We love to support other businesses, near and far,” adds Tom, who eventually found a home for his automobiles in an old barn owned by a family friend.
“Early on I sold a WO Bentley to a retail psychologist from the Czech Republic. While chatting, he taught me something important. We were talking about the barn and he said, ‘Make it homely and people will feel relaxed. That’s when they buy. Simple as that.”
Today the barn is a far cry from the place it once was. Not only does it showcase around 18 stunning historic cars from 1905 through to the 1960s, it also features a farmhouse kitchen with sofas and wood burning stove. It’s a place where customers enjoy fresh coffee or lunch while discussing the cars they love.
Helen explains: “We serve homemade soup and have a good chat. Tom doesn’t like the term ‘dealer’ – he’s a facilitator really. If people aren’t going to buy a car that day, it’s no problem. It’s about getting to know each other and the cars, which all have a story behind them, and it’s about finding the next chapter.
“Both the cars and people have fascinating stories behind them – that’s what it’s all about.”
While Tom and Helen have a burgeoning business and growing family, they are passionate about cars being central to both: “I never advise buying a car just as a financial investment – I know from my own life it’s more of an investment in yourself and the enjoyment you get out of it,” says Tom.
“It’s also an investment in family too,” adds Helen. “It’s an interest that kids and parents can enjoy together. The cars have energy and children love the power, the vibration, the smells – it’s sensory and hands-on. These cars create lasting memories – we love to see young people engaged and involved. In the digital world, analogue is increasingly a great attraction to young and old alike.