Auctions magnate began by selling just one old car
February 13, 2007
by Pete Castle
A CHARISMATIC businessman, who founded a car auction company at Frimley that would later become the largest in the world, has died.
David Wickins, who died on January 28 in Mallorca aged 86, built up a multi-million pound fortune through British Car Auctions, the company he founded by chance with his brothers.
Through the company, Mr Wickins was one of the largest private employers in the area, initially at the Frimley Bridges auction site and at offices in Farnham and later at purpose-built premises at Blackbushe Airport near Yateley, which today employs 160 people.
Mr Wickins saw the potential of car auctions in 1946 when, as a serving naval officer, he placed an advertisement in a local paper offering his car, a Riley Lynx tourer, to the first person to turn up to his mother’s home in Farnham with £200.
Arriving late, he found a crowd of people eager to buy his car, which he auctioned off for £420.
He set up his first public auction in a rented farmer’s field at Frimley Bridges, now under junction 4 of the M3, at which 14 cars were sold for a total of £8,250.
After freeing himself from naval service, Mr Wickins set up Southern Counties Car Auctions, which quickly expanded throughout the country and became BCA.
By making acquisitions in the United States and Europe, the highly-profitable company soon became the largest car auction business in the world.
Mr Wickins became involved with Lotus in 1983, taking a 29% stake in the troubled company. After bringing in other investors and holding off the Inland Revenue, he oversaw a turnaround in the sports car manufacturer’s fortunes. It was sold to US car giant General Motors in 1986.
Although he retired from the company in 1990, BCA — still based at Blackbushe — now claims to be Europe’s largest vehicle auctioning company, selling 1.3 million vehicles last year with a turnover of £3.3billion.
Mr Wickins was a close friend and frequent golfing partner of the late Denis Thatcher — husband of former Prime Minister Margaret — who was a director of a company Mr Wickins part-owned.
BCA sponsored the motor racing career of the Thatchers’ son Mark, who later worked for Lotus in America while he was chairman.
Mr Wickins’ other interests included sport, especially horse racing. He learnt to ride in his 40s and founded the Priory Equestrian Centre at Frensham near Farnham.
Mr Wickins bought The Mariners pub in Frensham in an ill-fated attempt to turn it into a high-class restaurant — one of his many business ventures, not of all which succeeded. “If you don’t bet on a few losers you’ll never bet on a winner,” was a motto he used.
His eldest daughter, Sarah Wickins, who lives at The Wrekin in South Farnborough, said her father tried to bring some honour back into the motor industry.
“He always said to me ‘A handshake is more binding than any piece of paper from a lawyer’, and he was right,” she said.
“When he walked into a room everyone took notice. Not just the women, because they automatically noticed him, but the men as well.
“He was one of those sorts of people who are larger than life. He was like a magnet to people — it was quite amazing.”
Miss Wickins, 56, who worked with her father for 23 years and now owns a natural healthcare business, said her father would throw himself into every venture he undertook.
Andrew Hulme, BCA UK’s managing director, said: “He was a truly entrepreneurial and bold businessman, who was instrumental in creating the modern vehicle auction business.”
Popular with women, and an unashamed ladies’ man, Mr Wickins’ accounts of his number of marriages varied between five and six.
He was married briefly twice in South Africa after the war, before his marriage to Diana Gordon, with whom he had two children. She has since remarried and lives in Windlesham.
He is survived by his fifth (or sixth) wife Karen, who lives in Mallorca and to whom he remained married until his death, and his children Sarah, Charles, Deborah, Rebecca, Samantha and Hannah.