*BIOGRAPHY AND CV* *SPOTLIGHT ON ROBERT HUGHES* *EARLY DAYS- A PHOTOGRAPHIC RECORD*
PROFESSIONAL BIOGRAPHY AND CV
At the age of 14, Robert Hughes set up a mail order business dealing in obsolete motoring literature and publicity material.
While still boarding at St George’s College, and upon passing his driving test, Robert invested the profits to buy and sell cars between studies. By the time he left school, he had bought and sold 21 cars including one to a teacher.
After training in estate agency in 1983, Robert sold the mail order operation and resigned from his job to launch a fully-fledged car business underwriting part-exchanges independently from five British Leyland dealerships. He traded on volume with lean margins selling up to 12 cars a week, and soon established in-roads to BL’s coveted Jaguar outlets and Rolls Royce.
He also started to restore classic cars, so a niche was carved selling yester-year models alongside young. When a Hughes restored Jaguar 3.8 achieved a JDC concours placing in 1985, it set a benchmark.
Months later, Robert embarked on a foreign adventure, hiring a two-deck transporter jointly with another dealer to exhibit cars at Techno-Classica, Essen, Germany, and by the late 80’s had also taken stands at London Olympia, Wembley and most notably Birmingham NEC where he exhibited annually for 30 years.
Since 1987, many of Robert’s cars have been used for glossy editorials in Classic Cars and Classic and Sportscar magazine and have featured in numerous other related periodicals. As a side line in the 1980’s and 90’s, Robert hired vehicles out for pop videos, film and television productions, occasionally supplementing his income playing minor on-screen roles as an extra.
Following a brief partnership at a car site in Kingston during 1987 the business diversified, exporting later prestige cars to the Far East to satisfy a surge in demand ahead of the 1992 emission regulation changes. Robert secured a loyal client base in Hong Kong selling by fax and phone and supplied a specialist dealership in Tokyo.
Closer to home Robert won the Top Gear TNT Express ‘Best Dealer’ award at the NEC in 1993 which was awarded by Quentin Wilson.
The car business attracted national media attention in 1994 when a Telegraph journalist featured the operation as an ideal supplier of prestige models qualifying for competitive company car tax. The Times picked up on the story and the two articles brought in over 200 enquiries. The Standard devoted a piece to Robert’s classic car activities in 2001. He has also been quoted by the Telegraph’s motoring problem fixer “Honest John” and has contributed to the Millers Guide. He has been interviewed on BBC Southern Counties Radio, Channel 5’s The Car Show and evaluated classic cars on Channel 4’s ‘Posh Pawn’ in 2014-15.
Robert was commissioned by publishers Cassell to write a book on the history of Jaguar in 1995 with 4,500 copies produced in hardback. Robert wrote much of it in Dublin where he rented an apartment for 3 months whilst also investigating the local car sales market.
After obtaining an Irish TAN licence, Robert held a car sales exhibition at The Keadeen Hotel near the Curragh racecourse to launch a satellite car sales branch nearby, but the management complained that “too many people” turned up! Robert staged car shows in Ireland regularly from 1998 until 2011 at venues such as Citywest Hotel, Red Cow Exhibition Centre and the grounds of Barberstown Castle. They became popular motoring fixtures during the Celtic Tiger years and were covered by Irish radio, local and national press including The Irish Times and Irish Independent.
Robert’s business incorporated residential property investment and management from the mid- 90’s, including farmland from 2001 and expanded to serviced apartments in Tallinn, Estonia from 2003 where he lived part-time until 2006 and became a member of the British Estonian Chamber of Commerce. Since 2017 Robert has been quoted on property rental matters a few times in theTelegraph property supplement
An active member of Junior Chamber of Commerce for the City of London for some years, Robert served as their Business Director in 2002 and Deputy President in 2003, though reluctantly turned down the opportunity to be President in 2004 owing to a family crisis. In 2007 he joined a panel of entrepreneurs to speak at the JCI National Conference in Sheffield.
Robert’s passion for speech and presentation dates-back to 1980 when, as school champion he was asked represent St George’s College in the Catenian Public Speaking Contest receiving first prize.He kept the skill active completing courses at London’s City Lit, with the N.S.A. in Hawaii, and he received one-to-one training with Tom Drews in California.
Robert wrote the motoring page for Sussex Style magazine in 2016-17 and penned several film celebrity biographies used by Renown Picture Club and Talking Pictures TV in 2020-21. At last count,17 of Robert’s letters concerning current affairs have appeared in national newspapers.
Nowadays, the motor business operates more personalised services for a growing number of car collectors, investors and loyal customers apart from maintaining the 40-plus year trading base in classic and prestige vehicles via specialist publications and online portals such as Car & Classic. Since 2009 Robert has sourced and supplied over 50 classic cars to a private museum.
Robert is a director of two Property Management Companies,and one afternoon a week, enjoys presenting traffic and travel live on Radio Jackie, London’s oldest independent radio station.
Robert has been a member of the Jaguar Drivers’ Club since 1983, one of the first 70 members of the Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club and was an invited member of The Jaguar Specialists’ Association. He is an associate member of The Institute of Advanced Motorists and a member of The Royal Automobile Club.
In 2018 Robert received The Freedom of The City of London.
SPOTLIGHT ON ROBERT HUGHES By David Sharp
Robert Hughes loves the great marques from the glory days of British motoring much as a devoted parent coos over a particularly indulged new-born baby. There are grand master paintings less cossetted and fettled than a 1960s Jaguar, Daimler or Bentley in the Robert Hughes stable. There is no shortage of coves out there trading classic cars these days – but very few who have the deep expert understanding of or sheer love for the cars he sells as Robert Hughes.
So it says much for Robert’s character that when a columnist for The Daily Telegraph borrowed one of the most beautifully preserved Rolls Royce Silver Shadows then still in existence for a photoshoot, and returned it extensively damaged after it was broken into, that Robert and the journalist remain firm friends a couple of decades later. For rather than wafting it down to the Riviera – or at least Belgravia – as Robert imagined, the disgraceful hack had left Crewe’s finest parked outside a fish and chip shop on one of Chalk Farm’s meaner back-ways.
In almost four decades in the business Robert has become the go-to classic car aficionado for collectors and media figures alike, keen to source the most beautifully preserved original specimens. Sixties Jaguars are a particular passion – Robert has written entire books on the subject – and he would probably rather sever a finger or thumb than lose his own beloved S-Type.
Because uniquely among dealers, Robert cares about the car more than the cash. He once refused to sell a gorgeous unrestored Mark11 to a customer who made the mistake of announcing he intended to change the colour of the seat hide. He will sometimes wait decades to buy a car, often welcoming back old friends with the warmth parents might reserve for grown children returning home for Christmas. When one customer turned up to sell his Series 1 XJ6 Robert startled the owner by saying: “Yes I first saw the car driving down the Kings Road a decade ago, I have looked out for it ever since.”
Robert is a massive film buff, particularly anything black and white, but rather than salivating over Diana Dors or Rigg, Robert is most likely casting furtive glances at a Jensen or an Alvis (or even an Austin A35 – for like all true classic car enthusiasts, Robert can find charm in the humblest as well as the grandest wheels).
Like a particularly good tailor or vintner who becomes a well-guarded secret among the smart set, Robert is often beseeched by collectors to tip them off about in-coming stock before it glides onto his website. While he has been a mainstay in national newspapers and magazines for decades, most of his customers have come through personal introduction, and will buy dozens of cars from him over a lifetime, sometimes sight unseen. There was a period in the 90s when half the staff car park for journalists at The Times was filled with Jaguars sporting a “Robert Hughes” sticker in the back window. One customer drawing up outside Annabel’s one night was amused to notice a glorious Jaguar 420G in the next bay, its gleaming paintwork glittering in the drizzly street light with period gangster menace. The scene only required Lord Lucan to tumble out of the nearby Clermont Club, tossing his last chip to the doorman, to complete the film noir mood.
For many, the appeal of a Robert Hughes car is that stepping into its walnut and leather interior is to step back in time: right back to when the customer was a child who marvelled at the model when it was new. That or remembering what it was like, childhood nose pressed up against a car showroom window, raging at the world: “Why, oh why, doesn’t my father drive a car like this?”
Pebble Beach glitters with automotive jewels restored at infinite expense. Lower down the old smoker food chain are cars with more filler than the average artiste on Love Island. Robert Hughes cars are not over- restored: they are unmolested. They look that good because they have been kept that way, treasured, loved.
It is a reputation that has taken years to foster and would be lost if Robert Hughes sold just one sub-standard car. He protects that reputation because he has worked hard at it.
The only problem customers sometimes have is persuading Robert to part with one of his beloved babies. He probably will eventually, but best not mention that Silver Shadow…
In 1984 an old school friend, Mark Harrison was training as a professional photographer and one of his assignments was to follow a subject in a working environment . I agreed to be shadowed by Mark’s camera for a couple of days, and these pictures now provide a fascinating insight showing how the motor trade operated all those years back.
Please click on the photographs below for further information and additional pictures.
The photographs are displayed with Mark’s kind permission www.markharrisonphotography.com