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Though not a North Yorkshire native, Derek Mathewson’s no-nonsense approach to buying and selling cars perfectly suits the down-to-earth reputation of his surroundings – and seems to have struck a chord with television audiences, too.
His auction house, Mathewsons, is the subject of Bangers & Cash, a weekly show with average viewing figures of more than 500,000 per episode, and the boss himself is the star.
Derek’s personal collection is inseparable from his company – indeed, much of it forms a ring around the walls of the main showroom in Thornton-le-Dale, packed in by classic cars of all ages destined for upcoming sales.
Yet a sticker in the rear window of a dark-blue Aston Martin DB6 on the back wall reads not ‘Mathewsons Auctions’, but ‘Mathewsons Ltd, Bedfordshire’.
A car trader since 1970, Derek began as an auction customer rather than provider, buying contemporary stock at used-car trade sales before retailing them himself.
“I bought the DB6 in the late ’80s, from Universal Salvage in Luton,” he recalls.
“It was a stolen and damaged car that I repaired, then I used it every day. I was lucky to own it at the time I did, able to use it how I did.
“They became really valuable just a few years later, but at the time I was driving it from my site in Bedford to Enfield twice a week, parking it all day long as I did my buying.
“Often by the time I’d finished it was the last car in the car park – you’d find that pretty worrying now.”
Derek’s Aston, along with most of the classic car world, experienced the asset bubble of the early 1990s.
Having paid £5000 for his car, he was receiving offers of £85,000 for it just five years on; then a mere six months and a crash later, he bought another DB6 (no longer part of the collection) for £15,000.
“I’m a bit worried we’re heading toward that at the moment,” he says, ruefully. “I think the market is very false currently.”
It’s this kind of honesty, even in the face of his own financial interest, that has made Bangers & Cash such a hit.
The DB6 is one of the longest-serving cars in Derek’s collection, and one of five Aston Martins – a marque he considers one of his favourites.
“I don’t want to be flashy or knobby about it, but there’s something about them,” he says.
“Their styling is second to none; I don’t think any cars are as good-looking.
“They can drive you a bit crazy, though, they’re not as well built as they’d like you to think.”
“This car [pointing to an AM Vantage] had a couple of valves go and I could write a book about setting the tappets,” he continues.
“I was amazed by the level of brute force involved, it’s pretty prehistoric.”
“I wasn’t that impressed at first, but then he started it and I was sold,” says Derek.
“They were the poor relation for a long time, but I think it’s between this and the DB4GT Zagato for the title of prettiest Aston.”
He also has a DBS, just acquired from a customer who approached him needing a quick sale.
With just two owners from new and only 17,000 miles ever covered, it will likely lead to the AM Vantage being sold once it returns to the road.
Finally, under a cover sits a DB9 Volante: “That’s my sons’ car; they’re more into the modern stuff than me.”
With the exception of two of the Astons and a Bentley, none of Derek’s collection are vehicles he went looking for.
In fact, he has sworn against ever searching for a car again, rationalising that he gets enough classics coming through his doors to satisfy him, as well as those he already owns.
“The best cars in life are the ones that you find by accident. They almost find you,” he says.
Derek has an ambivalent relationship with private sales that led him to swear off old cars once, and eventually to switch to auctioneering.
“I really think descriptions are important and there aren’t many who can do it well,” he explains.
“I got fed up for a period in the 1980s – older enthusiasts will remember it – when all the good stuff was going abroad and much of what was left here was misdescribed rubbish.”
“The last straw was a Healey 3000 that I drove all the way to Bristol for, and it wasn’t even the same colour,” he recalls.
“I blew up my wife’s Stag in anger on the drive home, which in fairness isn’t that hard to do…”
He gave up trading classics until the mid-’90s as a result, but eventually did an about-turn to concentrate exclusively on older vehicles as both he and his sons became disillusioned with the direction modern cars were taking, especially with regard to their ease of maintenance.
That was until the next big economic crisis, the Great Recession of 2007-’09: “We were just retailing classics, but then there was a really difficult period.
“We did sell a few cars, but what was really getting us down was that so many people were not showing up to viewings, messing us about, that sort of thing.
“When I could see that both my sons and I were getting quite bitter with cynicism, I knew we couldn’t go on.
“It was a case of switching to auctions or packing up. I felt that strongly about it.”
It turned out to be the right move, with Mathewsons being the only auctioneer of entry-level classics in Yorkshire for much of its history, and with business booming yet further following the success of Bangers & Cash.
The auctioneer hasn’t completely replaced the trader in Derek, however: unlike some sale houses, Mathewsons will facilitate deals being cut privately on cars – both before the sale for customers who just can’t wait, and post-sale for cars that don’t sell on the day.
“That’s one of the benefits of your own premises,” explains Derek. “I don’t know how the auctioneers that move around make it work, but they do, so good luck to them.”
These are his nostalgia ticket, taking him back to his days growing up in Kilburn, joining his dad at work in myriad light-commercials from the age of six.
“They’ve lived a life and have a history,” enthuses Derek, gesturing to one of the two Morris J-types in the room.
“I get more pleasure from a nice signwritten van than plenty of much more exotic stuff,” he explains.
“They have absolutely nothing on them that they don’t need, either.
“There’s no passenger seat – I’m surprised it has two wipers to be honest.
“But then we have this wooden shelf on the top of the dash for delivery papers.”
Both J-types originally came to Mathewsons to be sold at auction, with the firm having fetched record prices for the model in the past.
“A lot of them come in overpriced and don’t sell, because everyone thinks their van is worth the same,” says Derek.
“I never argue people down on reserve, though. I don’t like that. I want people to be happy with the price they get.”
The cream example is just one such van that failed to sell, and is now waiting to be picked up by its owner after a change in heart.
The green J-type, meanwhile, has been sold by the firm before, but when it came back in again Derek decided to buy it himself. The plan is to create a promotional vehicle, replacing the current signwritten Renault NN van.
“The Renault was already in our colours when we were looking for an advertising vehicle, but my heart isn’t really in it,” says Derek. “I’m a Bedford and Morris guy.
“They’re the best money you’ll spend on local advertising, because the only expense is the signwriting and upkeep. When you sell it, most of the money is still there.”
Derek has a wider appreciation for pre-war vehicles, but realises that they have increasingly niche appeal.
His 1926 Singer Nine, bought from an auction vendor after a bidder backed out on the purchase, is a car he enjoys, but is one his sons have no interest in.
“It’s a gutless thing, but charming,” smiles Derek.
With space always at a premium, he says it will be for sale soon, and he doesn’t expect it to be easy to find a buyer.
One car that is a keeper, however, is the 1930 Sunbeam 16.9, a part-exchange from his retail days.
Derek has fallen in love with this tourer, and keeps it in good ‘oily rag’ condition.
Unlike the Singer, the Sunbeam is a car all the family loves, its 2.1-litre straight-six and open body endearing it to those otherwise immune to the charms of pre-war motoring.
“They really are powerful,” says Derek. “They romp up hills. I just need to fabricate a rack for the back so I can put a luggage box on it.”
The collection isn’t just for fair-weather use, however: the 1958 MG Magnette ZB Varitone was Derek’s regular transport last winter, the latest in a line of ‘winter cars’.
“I pick something I think can stand up to the weather and I Waxoyl them,” he explains.
The Magnette is fitted with an MGB engine, and he is now looking to fit an MGB rear axle to make a better cruiser out of the car, but he otherwise loves how it drives.
In sunnier times, Derek’s daily driver is either a mint 1961 Morris 6cwt pick-up or a 1965 Bentley S3 Continental: “The Bentley was very much a car that found me – as part of a pair, actually.
“The vendor didn’t really want to give them up, this Continental and a Standard Steel S3.
“He was especially upset about the idea that they were going to be split up, because they’d been a pair in his ownership for about four decades.
“Unfortunately, I just had to tell him: ‘Whoever buys them, buys them; there’s nothing I can do about it.’”
A couple of hours of driving back to Thornton-le-Dale with the two cars on a low-loader, staring at him in the van’s rear-view mirror, changed Derek’s mind, however, and he bought both cars from the vendor, promising to keep them together for at least a few years longer.
“I wasn’t looking for one,” he admits. “I don’t think you really know what you want until you have it in front of you.
“I used to think it was quite odd when people would come into our showroom and not know what era or type of car they were interested in, but I can relate to that more now.”
That makes four Bentleys in the Mathewson collection, because he also owns two MkVIs and reckons the model is the most usable luxury classic of the 1950s, with performance that still does well in modern traffic.
A fond memory of actor James Robertson Justice driving them in period helps, too.
The silver 4¼-litre is used most weeks, but a black 4½-litre is waiting in the wings to replace it once it’s back on the road.
Derek won’t be drawn into saying if there are any classics he’s still lusting after, reflecting the content figure he cuts throughout our conversation.
“A lot of people can’t live without this or that, but we have so many cars coming through here, and I get my fix from many different things,” he says.
“I know I’m very lucky. I’m living my dream and what I know is a dream for many people.”
Images: Max Edleston
Thanks to: Mathewsons; see more of Derek in Bangers & Cash, 8pm Thursdays on Yesterday, or stream for free on UKTV Play