Ben Samuelson10 February 2014

In memory of Tony Crook: 1920-2014

One of Britain’s great car company owners died last week. A Top Gear tribute to Bristol Cars’ Tony Crook

Tony Crook, who died last week, ran uber-posh car manufacturer Bristol for nearly 50 years. He didn’t like motoring journalists - Top Gear’s magazine's contributing editor Tom Ford in particular – but the motor industry is going to be a rather duller place without him.

He was already a very rich young man when he left the RAF at the end of the war, owning a BMW 328 and a supercharged Alfa Romeo, which would be like a 25 year old Tornado pilot having a 911 GT3RS and an Aventador today. As you would, he took up motor racing; as you probably wouldn’t, he did it very successfully. He won hundreds of motor races and even got a podium at the Monaco grand prix. Ulrich Bez, Aston Martin’s current CEO, has done a bit of racing, but you don’t get the impression that he dresses up in his racing kit and sits in his office loudly reliving his past races, corner by corner, providing his own commentary and racing car noises. Crook did.

One of the cars that he raced was a Bristol. His grand prix car was also powered by a Bristol engine, and he became a Bristol dealer in 1948. While Bristol was a very serious car company in those days, Crook had a novel approach to getting one over on the competition. Stories abound of the type of stunts that we need to see more of from car manufacturers and their bosses today. At one motor show, he reportedly paid the scruffiest and smelliest people he could find to sit on the Rolls-Royce stand and put prospective customers off. At another, he dressed up as a sheikh and pretended to buy every car that Frazer-Nash had for sale.

It is true that Tony Crook didn’t like many motoring journalists, especially in the later years when he came to own the company. Very few were allowed to drive his cars and a quip in the wrong place would provoke a properly angry, slightly mad but normally very funny letter to land almost immediately. Sometimes, it didn’t even take that. When our very own Tom Ford had the temerity to ask to try a Bristol, an entry was written in Crook’s Rolodex which simply contained Tom’s name and the word ‘no’, written 40 times in angry green capital letters.

To be fair, Crook was fairly choosy about who could become a customer too. He allowed cars to be sold to Sir Richard Branson, Peter Sellers, Bono, King Hussein of Jordan and Will Young - the only man Jeremy has ever flirted with. But when he saw Michael Winner walking towards the famous Bristol showroom in Kensington, he dashed to the door and flipped the sign to closed. Those with long hair, tattoos and jeans would get the same treatment.

His single-minded approach kept Bristol Cars alive for half a century. During this time many mainstream manufacturers with more conventional approaches to customer and media relations went to the wall. Dany Bahar showed some promise at Lotus but, in his absence, the challenge is on for the British motor industry to produce someone with some proper Tony Crook style eccentricity.

Tony Crook 1920 - 2014

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