by Phil Albers
Bert Thomas was one of the very first members of MAFCGB.
David Herbert Thomas as we knew him was in the motor trade. He rented a workshop from Bradfords in Farnborough, Hampshire. Fully occupied in crash repairs and insurance work on all sorts of cars, employing 4 staff. He had some very sophisticated equipment cemented into the floor for pulling and stretching cars back into shape, doing the jobs that no one would bother with today and just simply "write them off".
The owners of Bradfords and Bert's workshop had a model "A" Ford instead of offering it to Bert, Knowing he was interested in cars they sent it to Normandy Salvage for scrap. Bert, got to hear of this and bought it from the scrap dealer, this was in the early sixties, Bert also had a 1930's Rolls Royce 20/25 at the time.
As soon as he got the model "A" he discovered it was an early 1928 AR right hand drive two door sedan. He started work on it straight away in a corner of his workshop. He soon after sold the Rolls Royce for £275.00 (what he paid for it originally).
The restoration went on for some years through the sixties and in search for parts started to get offers of "clear outs " by main Ford dealers of all their old stock. One such deal was for a mass of parts from Chapel's of Oldam. He shared this haul of goodies with 2 other Model "A" owners, this led to the formation of "The Rose of England Chapter"
The Club was formed on the 4th of October 1970. The early members were voted as Bert Thomas President, Bob Bennett Vice President, Geoff Hewlett Treasurer and Betty Belcher as secretary others were Roger Bathgate, Steve Stevens. Subs agreed at 30/s (£1.50). Club meetings got under way on a monthly basis in a pub near Royston on the A505.
In 1969 I bought my model "A" in from Normandy. I had a 1936 Model "C" 10hp to sell to make room, the chap who bought it knew Bob Bennett. I got in touch with Bob, and that's how I got to join The England Rose Chapter in 1971. Meanwhile during all this in 1972 Bert got to hear of another car he fancied, a 1941 Mercury four door sedan. Although the car was in a sorry state he bought it, and on getting it back to his workshop the body broke into two parts it was so rotten.
Although the Model "A" was not yet finished he made a start on the Mercury collecting parts from his now fast growing collection. The Mercury turned out to be a rarity.
A 1941 is rare anyway even before the war stopped production, but it was right hand drive probably the only known survivor. It is rumoured to have been bought back from active service in Japan after the war and even used in the ceremony when the Japanese surrendered to the USA in 1945. Such a car can be seen in newsreel footage.
In early 1973 on the way to Monthly Club meeting, held on the middle Wednesday of each month, he picked up Steve Stephen's and Bob Neil in his Morris Minor Van then went onto Royston for the pub meeting.
Bert didn't want to drink that night and asked Steve to drive back, which Steve thought was odd. The next day Bert felt really rough, he saw a doctor who sent him straight to Milford Chest Hospital for an immediate Operation to remove one lung (he used to smoke 60 Woodbines a day!).
He was lucky to be alive, but had to get used to breathing on one cylinder and no more smoking. He had no intentions on giving up life. Continuing with work finishing the Mercury and final touches to the Model "A". When it was finished it looked great with all the right parts for an early AR. He put back the multi-plate clutch, it juddered like hell and first gear was very clunky. Later he got all the parts sorted including a new old stock original clutch to redo the gearbox and clutch, but I do not think that he ever got round to doing it.
Before he had his workshop he rented digs with Mrs. Bellinger and her family near Staines. The family moved down to Mychett near Farnborough. Bert moved with them as a now well established friend.
When he was ill and getting over his operation to remove one Lung Mrs Bellinger looked after him the best she could. Later she was to become ill and the roles were reversed. Bert did his utmost to help her right up to her death. In the will, she gave him the bungalow they lived in for as long as he was alive, Mrs Bellinger's daughter who had by now left home agreed to this.
Up to now Bert had kept lots of parts in the garden shed and down the workshop. He gave up the battle of trying to run the shop and packed up the business and decided to concentrate on the buying and selling of Ford parts.
It wasn't long before the Ford parts new and second hand started flooding in through the front door up to the loft, the stuff that would not get through the door went round the back into the garden shed or just under plastic sheeting in the garden.
With the Model "A" Club well established, the vast amount of new old stock and second hand parts piling up and a fast growing collection of Ford literature, plus Bert's memory for Ford Part numbers, etc,. in the evenings other Ford nuts would turn up to buy parts, exchange knowledge or suss out other details of their particular projects.
Wednesday night started to become a particular meeting night for Ford fans from all over. Since the Model "A" Club meetings were on Wednesday night once a month it seemed an ideal night to have an unofficial meeting on the other three Wednesdays.
Sometimes Bert's front room (not being very big) soon was filled up with all sorts perched on whatever they could find to sit on, facing the fireplace, the wall of which was stacked from top to bottom, end to end with Ford books, handbooks, service books, adverts, historical books, you name it.
He probably had the biggest and most detailed collection for reference in the country. When the fireplace wall got filled the books started growing in piles around the room.
The telephone got red hot in the evenings from callers wanting this and that and did you know that, what is this, have you got any of that, even calls from the Ford Motor Company for parts they had sold to him only a few years ago.............
In 1976 I had to move out of London where I lived. Bert offered the option of moving in and using one of his rooms in the bungalow, this I did.
The bungalow was very damp inside. Bert was convinced it did not have any damp course, maybe it was all that metal stored everywhere. Living in that place was not for the faint hearted. There was a permanent smell of old oil and grease, only someone who has dismantled an old axle to find the old black oil congealed inside, that’s the smell, not unpleasant you understand just not what you expect in a bungalow. But then it was by now full of Ford Parts. Bert was doing all sorts of work for people. From restoration of bodywork on cars to rebuilding dynamos, etc.
The kitchen had a machine for testing coils/condensers in one corner, in another a machine for testing dynamos and starters. The larder was full of Ford 8 and 10 engines. You could just about weave your way through a passage to get to the other side.
In the hallway one side was lined with shelves stuffed with dynamos, distributors, etc. The back room was full of all sorts of parts, it was also the place where Bert would overhaul carburetors, dynamos, distributors, by the door was a set of full size welding gear. There was only room for one person at a time in there. The bathroom was the only place without any parts in.
My room had parts in all the cupboards, plus miscellaneous sheet metal parts. Bert’s room had stuff everywhere mostly small hardware. There must have been at least a ton of parts in the loft with access up a fold down step ladder, up there was prop shafts, pistons, all the Ford tools, exhaust systems, valves, clutches, king pins, all chassis parts in fact.
...I remember being woken up one night by a hell of a crash above; I had visions of being impaled by a load of prop shafts piercing through the ceiling.
Out the back in the garden second hand stuff was under plastic sheeting. The shed included a lathe plus so much stuff pushed in the doorway you could not get to the lathe anyway. I don’t know how the shed stood up to the weight.
The Mercury was put into service by now, probably just as well the interior never go re-trimmed since Bert would be forever going off to come back with the car full of new goodies to squeeze into the bungalow somewhere. As soon as Bert got these parts into the house they were labelled, numbered with the correct Ford part number, boxed and put in the relevant shelf.
Bert’s Model A was parked at the side of the bungalow in the open and was not used very much, so it started to deteriorate, and I had my Model A parked behind, since that was all I had it was a daily runner doing 10 to 11,000 miles a year, but that’s another story!
I found workshop premises to rent in 1979 in West Sussex, although I travelled the 70 miles round trip each day in my Model A, it got too much, so I moved out of Bert's.
When I was restoring my Model A Bert showed me how to ‘butt hammer weld’ and ‘lead load filling’ and I have been doing it ever since. I used to visit Bert usually on ‘Ford night’ and meet up with all the Ford gang plus others. He got himself a Mk1 Escort Van to do all his running around, using the Mercury all the time at 16 mpg was getting too much, and was to soon sell it on. Whilst he had the strength he cleaned up the Model A and took a trip to see the original owner who had it from new.
The car was registered as a tractor, probably because that’s what it was mostly used for. The old man had a special set of steel braced wide wheels for ploughing with; he would take the rear wheels, rear mudguards and running boards off and plough the field. When the ploughing was complete he would change the wheels back over, put the mudguards on and off they went to Church. On his way back Bert called in to see his family in Crewe.
From the time he packed up the workshop in Farnborough, he helped restore quite a few projects including a 1930 Morris Commercial, a very rare 1937 Ford 4 Cylinder truck, Vic Cheesemans ‘stainless steel’ Chrysler 77 Roadster body and various Model A’s. Later on as he got older he spent most of his time in the ‘back room’ building and reconditioning dynamos, carburetors, distributors for V8’s etc, etc. He had a few mild heart attack scares and was taking more and more trips up to Crewe to stay with relations.
As time passed on like it does all too fast, he suddenly decided to sell up, the Mercury had gone sometime earlier, he sold the Model A to Tom Mansbridge and did a deal with Belcher Engineering for all the stock on the understanding that they did the clearing. They agreed to this unseen! They spent best part of a week and endless lorry loads to eventually clear everything from every room in the bungalow, up in the loft and the contents of the garden.
The vast Ford book library was split up to many a Ford enthusiast. From then on Bert spent his last 18 months or so with his family in Crewe until his heart finally let him down in March 1995, his one and only lung never gave any problem and lasted him for best part of 25 years. He was buried in Crewe. He was ‘The Ford Man’ who became well known for not only having that difficult to find part, but the right part. His skill in being able to know and remember part numbers with the back up of his home made Ford Archive.
He has gone but unfortunately not replaced.
If you have any other information to add to the Bert Thomas story please send it to:
The Model A Club of Great Britain, 10-14 Newland Street, Coleford Glos GL16 8AN
Email Mike Cobell