It's often said when someone who has made their mark in life dies, that it is the end of an era. Usually a cliche, in David's case it is literal truth: the history of the Sunbeam Rapier Owners' Club, and the wider fellowship of Rootes clubs brought together in the ARCC, will forever be divided into what happened with David at the helm, and what came afterwards. But I want in this Obituary also to pay a personal tribute to a great man who was also a great friend for many years, ever since we started working together on committees in 1994. May he rest in peace (well, probably at the wheel, enjoying himself hugely, actually...)
David was born in Yorkshire, in Horsforth on the outskirts of Leeds, and proud of his roots. His character reflected the admirable traits among those for which the county's sons are famous, particularly determination, loyalty and a strong sense of history, though I have heard him more than once bemoan the abrupt stubbornness and inflexibility occasionally encountered in other Yorkshiremen. Certainly, those less attractive characteristics were no part of his gentlemanly make-up! His parents moved, via North Africa (Tripoli, where his brother Ian was born, as his father served with the RAF) to Doncaster when David was of school age, and then to Derby, David being Head Boy at both Doncaster and Derby grammar schools - an early sign of the talents that came to fruit in his adult life. Derby was also where, after a spell in the Army, he later met and married Joan, in 1967 and, after an interlude as chief cashier for a large department store, worked for Rolls-Royce in their Information Technology section. Thus his choice of career from the start brought together his passion for cars and aeroplanes, and his interest in the new world of computers then opening up. After the birth of their children Richard and Lisa, David started work with IBM, initially in Nottingham and then in London, which prompted a family move south, first briefly to Essex and then, when IBM moved him there in 1976, to Hampshire where he was to live for the rest of his life. He worked for IBM in Cosham and briefly at Hursley until 1988. He set up his own company in 1994, working as an independent IT and software consultant, with long-term contracts for NatWest bank, Thomas Cook and other leading companies, overhauling their IT systems, as a very highly respected technical author of IT systems manuals and documentation.
His passion for cars, preferably fast ones, was balanced by his strong interest in aviation, although it was only late in life that he took flying lessons, an experience which he enthused about to his friends. An ideal weekend trip out for David was anything that combined classic cars, motorsport and planes; "wings and wheels" was the formula, and Brooklands as well as Goodwood and Silverstone were favourite venues on those relatively rare occasions when he allowed himself to go somewhere as a participant, rather than an organiser.
No surprise therefore that his interest in classic cars focussed so strongly on Sunbeam - of all the Rootes marques the one with the strongest rallying/ racing history. He felt himself privileged to have owned (at different times! IT never paid that well in those days...) the ex-rally Sunbeam Talbot 90, LLJ 900, which he completely rebuilt, and both the surviving works Sunbeam Rapiers, the rally car YWK 1 and the racing car driven by Harper and Rodriguez at Riverside in California and in Mexico, FSK 993 (only road-registered when brought back to this country after it had been discovered by Jean Gorjat in Mexico; and authenticated with much help from David - he often recalled how much those hours on the transatlantic phone must have cost and was glad it was not on his bill!). As children, Richard and Lisa travelled many miles in Talbots and Alpines, on the vestigial rear bench "penance" seat, wherever possible with the roof down. Joan vividly recalls that, as she should have realised was a portent for their future, a few days after their honeymoon, they were off again from Harrogate for a meeting in Southampton with Jerry Simmonds, who was trying to start what became the club STAR, returning to Harrogate with a new S-T 90 o/s front wing strapped on the roof!
But he was not exclusively a Sunbeam man, nor one to drive old cars exclusively; he made us all very aware how impractical the Works Team cars were for ordinary road use. Another favourite classic for many years was his 3-litre Ford Capri, which he maintained had excellent road manners as well as Rapier-beating performance. And then there were the Alfa Romeos... perhaps another enthusiasm prompted by his childhood, but certainly an enduring one. The passion for Italian cars, their merits apart, may owe something to the Italian nanny who looked after him in Tripoli when his father was posted to N. Africa; certainly it engendered a lifelong love of Italian cuisine, music and the country itself and prompted him, in later life, to learn the language in evening classes. One of the sadnesses of his final illness is that he managed only twice to drive the new Alfa he had bought last summer and so loved. One of those trips was to the Archive Centre at Westcott for our December Open Day, and despite being evidently so seriously ill, his evident enjoyment of the drive that day stands out as one of my later memories of him. Within the Rootes family of cars, he had also enjoyed owning, and putting through their paces, Sunbeam-Talbot 90's, Sunbeam Alpines and Tigers, and the odd Imp too. Indeed, regretting the absence of a proper classic, he had bought within the last couple of years a Sunbeam Alpine, an impulse buy which then took more time and money to get sorted than he had expected and which he sadly never got to enjoy properly.
No surprise therefore that he should have founded the Sunbeam Rapier OC, once he had discovered the appeal of this model for himself. The story of how this came about is recalled in other tributes and, in his own words, in an introduction he wrote for the programme for the club's 25th anniversary National Rally, reprinted separately in this the June 2008 issue, so I will not dwell on that part of David's story.
But David wasn't one to set up the club and just rely on others for its running; just as he was a hands-on owner of cars, liking nothing better than to spend time working on them in the garage (when not interrupted by having to service or mend one of the cars owned by the rest of the family, as his brother, sister and children recalled with affection when speaking to us at his funeral: "oh very well then, bring it over and I'll fix it" seems to have been a regular refrain!). Hence, not only was he our first SROC Chairman from 1979 until 1990 (when very fittingly he was elected President), he was also Editor until 1983, and set up the Parts Fund and was Spares Secretary until 1986. Without his efforts, the club literally would not be what it is today, so we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Of course, he would be the first to remind us that he couldn't have done it without the help and support of his family over all those years; his children (like ours!) have many memories of weekends spent at club rallies etc, but also Dad up in the loft of an evening hunting for spares to help a club member get their car back on the road. David would also insist that he didn't do it all single-handed; he had a good eye for seeing talent or a willingness to serve in others, and soon singled out Neil Cridland as the ideal club Secretary, thus commencing a close family friendship which lasted the rest of their lives; and it's a measure of his generosity of spirit that I know he would want me to record again here Neil's part in getting the club so firmly established.
To set up one club is one thing; to repeat the exercise not once, but twice, is something else... David also played a crucial role in the establishment of the Association of Rootes Car Clubs (ARCC). He was one of the small group of club chairmen who responded enthusiastically to the suggestion from Barry Paine of ASCO, and in 1982 ARCC came into being; David was elected its first Press/ Communications officer. In the early years, just as with SROC, his contribution was pivotal: he was responsible for keeping clubs in the picture as the new organisation found its feet and also helped in writing and getting approval from clubs for the ARCC Constitution, which still governs the way in which twelve clubs join forces without compromising their independent identities. In May 1984 he was elected ARCC Chairman and had successfully organised the first-ever ARCC Rally which took place at the Ryton factory that June. His first stint in the top job lasted three years, followed by another two years as Vice-Chairman when Paul Norton replaced him: during this period he negotiated the agreement with the specialist insurers Footman James under which club members get discounts on their insurance and the ARCC earns commission, one of the earliest such schemes which has kept the ARCC finances in a healthy state ever since. Four years and another two chairmen later, ARCC was in crisis, so David stepped back in and was re-elected Chairman at an EGM in December 1991. By 1994 he fully intended to stand down again, but was persuaded to carry on, perhaps aided by the election of a new Secretary whom he felt it necessary to house-train... When he finally decided to stand down in 2003, he had served as Chairman for 15 of ARCC's 21 years - and I still don't believe he felt I was fully house-trained!
Finally, and despite the leukaemia which was already taking its toll on his health and vigour, he willingly stepped forward as one of the founding trustees of the Rootes Archive Centre Trust when we set this up in late 2004 to rescue the Rootes/ Chrysler Engineering Archives, and took on the key role of Treasurer, in which he provided wise counsel and a steadying hand as the Trust established itself. In doing so, he was helping to fulfil one of the original objectives of the ARCC which he had drafted all those years ago, and in one of my last conversations with him he expressed a justified satisfaction in this final achievement.
In all these roles, over many years of service to the classic car movement, David showed the qualities of leadership, determination, an ability to work with and motivate others, and an appetite for sheer hard work which marked him out. It's fitting to end with what must stand out as the greatest event the Rootes clubs have ever arranged: the Millennium Rally held at Blenheim in 2000. The idea came from Paul Norton, a colleague of David's from early days in the Sunbeam Alpine OC and a former ARCC Chairman; but it was David who provided the leadership and vision that made it happen. I was privileged to work alongside him as Secretary throughout this period and well recall the groans from club reps when he announced that we needed a sub-committee and that it needed to meet monthly, for a whole year, to plan the event adequately.
He was of course right; he always was; and, all the way through that long series of meetings and the many phone calls between times, between us and with other key members of the team, he provided the drive and enthusiasm which never slackened. The event succeeded beyond our wildest dreams; it will never be forgotten by anyone who was there. It was a team effort, to be sure; but teams need an effective leader, and David, here as on so many other occasions, showed that he was that leader. The true measure of his character, though, is that he was as good a friend as he was a leader, and I know that every one of those involved in that event, just like those who worked with him in all the other committees and so on, shares that sentiment. We may admire and respect many people for their contributions and qualities, but in David's case he was also universally liked for them. The gap he leaves, in our club and in so many of our lives, will not be easily filled.