Then and now outside Cungenham Bentley in Edinburgh
An enthusiast in Edinburgh in the 80s leads us around the garages of the Lost City
It’s May 2022 and we’re in George Street, the smartest strip in central Edinburgh, but our minds are 40 years late, when that location was the Glen Henderson Porsche Showroom.
Before being uprooted for miles from the city, prestigious auto dealers like Glenn Henderson were scattered throughout the heart of the city, peacocks roaming the grand streets and hiding in hidden places. With the exception of London, perhaps, this is a story that is repeated all over the UK.
But thanks to David Whitton (right), an amateur photographer from West Lothian, we don’t need to just imagine those lost treasures. As a teenager in the ’80s, inspired by the car magazines of the time, Wheaton set out with his Canon AE1 35mm camera on “latent safaris” around town, exploring their way to showrooms and service centers to capture the kind of exotic cars that have become since Then a legend.
With his scrapbook of a wormhole, Wheaton is here with me and Team Autocar photographer Max Edleston to trace his steps.
In 1982, Porsche was deep in the transaxle with the 924, 928 and 944. The “base” 911 was the SC (Super Carrera), the 930’s whale tail went deep into the tea tray and Derek Bell and Jackie Eckx drove all three 956s to the podium at Le Mans .
After upturned sellers in his cozy three-car showroom on George Street turn Wheaton away, he finds a much larger bunker down the hill on Belford Road at the Glen Henderson Service Center.
Where now stands a pale tall building of apartments, the modestly sized workshop once filled with the finest apartments in Stuttgart. Wheaton’s enthusiasm opened the door and a box of digestive biscuits entered him. Service Manager Brian Miller and his team conducted a tight process.
“The place was really small, but they were doing big work there – engines that went out,” Wheaton recalls. However, the workshop was clean. They were showing me what they were working on and talking to me through it.”
Some of Wheaton’s photos confirm this accuracy, while others show cars parked outside. Business was booming, which wasn’t unusual.
Miller told me over the phone that cars always leak onto the street before August 1 for new records. “Traffic guards came in minibuses,” he jokes.
In fact, Miller occasionally allowed Whitton to swap cars — as good as the Kingdom keys for a high-octane youngster. Wheaton even remembers moving certain cars and the obvious smell inside unregistered cars.
“It was cars for most of the period,” he says. “911 is brown, fabrics and leatherettes. These were the times of red corsets.”
By 1986, Glenn Henderson Porsche had deserted the city center for a larger site on the Edinburgh fringes. But around the corner, in quaint Belford Mews, Ian Cunningham’s Bentley garage ran until 2001. It had stopped selling new Bentleys in the 1960s, but continued service and restoration.
In fact, the facade is still intact, while the interior is being converted into a private house. The owner (who promises to keep the signs) let us in.
“Compared to Henderson, Cunningham was spit and sawdust,” says Wheaton. “The inspection pit had water on the bottom. There was no heating, only a wood-burning stove they used in the winter. The work tables were soaked with oil and brake fluid. The roving garage was a Morris traveler.”
This does not mean that the work was only first-rate. Like his father, Cunningham had trained at Bentley, and by the time of Wheaton’s visits, he was tasked with maintaining Holyrood-based Rolls-Royce Phantoms. Rumor has it that Her Majesty borrowed the Morris Marina Page in storage in Cunningham when she wanted to travel undercover.
Big industry leaders and old money shaped customers, bringing with them the ordinary (Wheaton recalls cooking QC-educated Vauxhall Chevette) to the exclusive: Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, of course, but also new Bristol 603s (including a mind-blown Brigand 5.9 V8 turbo) and Jaguar E-Types, Daimler DS420s, and more.
Wheaton was fortunate enough to try some of them on the full-bore road tests towards the Forth Bridges.
The garage has now been cleaned, but the pit is still covered with the original rail springs. The workshop was small in size at 80 square metres, and the work was spread in locks on all sides of the cobbled patio.
One modeled Cunningham’s desk, with its mahogany desk and 1960s Formula 1 memorabilia. Some are now small Airbnb sites, others are private garages. But it’s good to know that Cunningham’s name will still be higher than number 13.
We drive up to Haymarket Terrace, near one of Edinburgh’s two main stations. At its western end, where the Tesco Express now occupies a large area of the ground floor, was once the showroom of Aston Martin dealer Victor Wilson.
The seller was friendly and suggested Wheaton take his camera to the service center, tucking separately a nondescript driveway a few doors away, flanked by six-story buildings.
He did and it blew him away from the Astons’ hidden fortune: “It was unbelievable. I was unable to speak. I remember seeing that beating, unrecorded Vantage for the first time, still warm from a road test. It sounded amazing and awkward.”
This was an Aston Martin from the Victor Gauntlet era, which was batting off sales of just 30 cars in 1982. All three current models were represented: the handsome, bruised V8, 170 mph V8 Vantage, and a ridiculously four-door Lagonda , with the color red. LED gauges. Each was designed by William Towns and powered by Tadek Marek’s 5.3L V8.
“Men hated Lagonda, whether to work on it or to move around the yard,” says Wheaton. “It was so long that the nose was on the road before they could see off the track.”
A few years later, he sold both Victors: Wilson to another dealer group and Gauntlet to Ford. The row of workshops has since been flattened, and its footprint has become more valuable as a parking space for Thrifty rental cars.
Wilson also held franchises for Lotus and Alfa Romeo, but better known for the Italian brand Jack Fisher Workshops, a 10-minute walk away on Canning Street Lane. A friend of Lotus boss Colin Chapman and subject of the recent book Special: Jack Fisher, he built no fewer than 22 single-seat and special GT racers and prepared racers on a production basis, including the 105 Series Alfa GT Veloce 2000.
Despite Whitton’s Alfasud 5m service at Fisher’s at the time, his pleas to photograph the venue were denied, but we were able to obtain some photos from that period.
Like Cunningham’s garage, Fisher’s original garage was expanded to fill adjacent spaces, eventually occupying 13 units flanking both sides of the driveway.
The glass facade is now a closed café, while the bays once littered with Alfa’s dual-camera rasp, young boxers chirp and Busso V6s’ hovering song are now muted, other than the buzz of electric vehicle charging, supposedly owned by workers in the towers now high above the driveway.
It was such a crowded place that the burgeoning sales department was re-housed in a large Art Deco showroom a mile away on Angle Park Terrace.
A late ’70s photo shows it adorned with an Alpha font, a lineup of yesterday’s champions peeking inside: Alfasuds Sprint, Ti, Super (“We made an Alfa you can’t refuse”), Giulietta, 116 GTV series and Alfetta 2000 (“Luxury didn’t rock that fast” Start”). Beginning in 1983, there is a photograph of Fisher presenting one of three late fascists they donated to a raffle for Hibernian Football Club, which Fisher sponsored.
Fisher closed in the early 1990s, but the iconic showroom has survived as a furniture store. There are still traces, such as the folding door of the elevator that used to transport cars between the ground floor and the large basement. We’re told that some sofa-buying customers still remember Fisher all these years after that.
The unforgiving economy meant that agents of this kind were ultimately (and justifiably) doomed. But there’s no harm in memories, right?
Tommy Gilroy was the first Edinburgh dealer to move out of town, selling Citroen, Fiat, Simca, Standard and more while also running a rental car fleet. In 1963, he moved from East London Street to a large dumpster next to a chicken factory nine miles west.
“People thought he was crazy,” says his grandson Peter Gilroy, who is still in the car business. “There were no garages outside of Edinburgh. But he offered him a reasonable sum off East London Street, and his thought was that if someone wanted to buy a car, he would come for him. He was right, I suppose.”
It certainly was. The Mercedes-Benz dealership took over the site in 1975 and has since joined it in Newbridge BMW, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover, Lexus, Mazda, Nissan, Tesla, Volkswagen and more.
the only survivor
The only dealership remaining in central Edinburgh is the UK-wide Rolls-Royce site operated by Grange Motors. From 1982, Korstorfen 1st Street has been home to BMW East, which in 2009 moved to a plot of land more than five times its size in Newbridge. Grange took over the site two years ago.
“It’s a fantastic space – the best showroom in Scotland, I think, by a diagonal mile,” says Rudy McAllister, Rolls-Royce Dealer Director.
The combination of a smart building, a prime road location in an upscale neighborhood, and arguably the need for less space than the oversized marquis means that here, at least, the equation still adds to the central playing field.
Not only did David Wheaton pick up cars at the dealerships – he scoured the streets, looking for the best gear that central Edinburgh residents, workers and shoppers could muster. Among his discoveries are the impossibly elegant Audi Quattro, E12 BMW M535i and Lotus Turbo Esprit, as is the local hairstylist Ferrari 308 GTB, which seems impervious to parking tickets. Glory days really. Check out some of the coolest places…
This rally legend looks surprisingly at home downtown, complete with the iconic faded Audi logo on the door.
The term “barber’s car” has been put forward a lot, but this is a real (sort of) term – the owner of this white 308 was a local hairdressing mogul.
This somewhat sporty coupe has become somewhat of a legend in enthusiast circles thanks to its striking straight-six design and truly iconic design.
The contemporary BMW 5 Series was arguably outstanding, if not better – its respectable performance paired with unrivaled practicality.
Porsche 911 Turbo
Find us more cars from the eighties of the last century. A brown Porsche we rarely see today, and to come out of this picture is a huge shame.
Lotus Esprit Turbo
Possibly the most dangerous single-car Lotus has ever made, the Esprit Turbo’s wedge-shaped appearance makes it look totally exotic on the road.
This luxury salon was once a popular location in the posh parts of town, but it’s becoming increasingly rare – this salon was canceled in 2008.
Possibly the most point Ferrari ever, the 400 is the company’s updated version of the classic 2+2 formula, and was the first Maranello to have an automatic gearbox option.