*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 at school, as soon as he passed his test, Robert invested the profits to buy and sell 21 cars, even selling one to a teacher.
In 1983, Robert launched a fully-fledged car business. Underwriting part-exchanges independently at five British Leyland dealerships, he traded on volume with lean margins selling up to 12 cars a week, and quickly established in-roads to BL’s coveted Jaguar division.
He also started to restore classic Jaguars, so a niche was carved selling yester-year models alongside young. When a Hughes restored Mk11 achieved JDC concours in 1985, it set a benchmark.
Months later, he embarked on a foreign adventure, hiring a transporter jointly with another dealer to exhibit cars at Techno-Classica, Essen, and by the late 80’s had also exhibited at London Olympia, Wembley and Birmingham NEC. Cars were starting to be used in glossy editorials by Classic Cars and Classic and Sportscar magazine. As a side line, Robert loaned vehicles for film and television, occasionally supplementing his income as an extra.
Following a brief partnership at a car site in Kingston, the business diversified exporting later prestige cars to the Far East, satisfying 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 also supplied a dealership in Tokyo. Closer to home Robert scooped Top Gear’s TNT Express ‘Best Dealer’ award at the NEC in 1993.
A chance opening came when a Telegraph journalist featured Robert’s operation as an ideal supplier of older prestige models qualifying for competitive company car tax. The Times picked up on story and the two articles generated over 200 enquiries.
In 1995, Robert was commissioned to write a book on the history of Jaguar, and progressed the project in Ireland whilst investigating the local sales market. In 1998 he opened a satellite branch near Dublin, staging a car display at The Keadeen Hotel, though the management complained that “too many people” turned up. Robert continued to hold regular car shows during the Celtic Tiger years at venues such as Citywest ballroom, Red Cow Exhibition Centre and the grounds of Barberstown Castle. A popular motoring fixture, they were often covered by local and national press including The Irish Times, Irish Independent and Radio Ireland.
Apart from cars, Robert’s activities diversified to local property investment and management from the mid- 90’s, incorporating farmland from 2001 and expanding to serviced apartments in Tallinn, Estonia from 2003 where he became a member of the British Estonian Chamber of Commerce. Robert is currently a Director of two property Management Companies.
In 2002, Robert took a winter sabbatical to resume public speaking courses in California and Hawaii, a passion he had first developed as a child when he won two public speaking awards. An active member of Junior Chamber of Commerce for the City of London for some years, Robert served as Business Director in 2002, 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.
In recent years, the motor business has moved to providing more personalised services for a growing number of car collectors, investors and loyal customers apart from maintaining its established trading base. Since 2009, Robert has sourced and supplied over 50 classic cars to a private museum, continues to exhibit at the NEC Classic Motor Show and is consulted by specialist magazines and journalists including ‘Honest John’. He has featured on BBC Southern Counties Radio, The Car’s The Star, The Car Show and Posh Pawn evaluating classic cars.
Robert has been a member of the Jaguar Drivers’ Club since 1983, one of the first 70 members of the Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club, and 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. Robert enjoys writing and has penned a series of motoring articles for ‘Sussex Style’ in 2016 and wrote a series of film celebrity biographies in 2020, some of which have been published by The Renown Film Club and Talking Pictures TV. 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