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The one thing lockdown has given us is time to indulge in our passions. Forget making banana bread, the most exciting thing we’ve been able to do is work on our cars.
And if you happen to own a Volkswagen, chances are at some point you’ve ordered from Heritage Parts Centre.
“We’re in a business where people are doing something they enjoy, it’s a hobby,” says Andy Gregory, community and PR manager.
“They don’t have to be restoring a Beetle, but if people can’t go out, that’s what they start doing, buying parts and getting some kind of enjoyment.”
The firm has had a few names along the way and is now run by Barney Dines, Mark Rickard and Paul Howard, but it all began with David Ward and wife Nickie, who have since retired.
The couple met at university and heard of cheap campervans in The Netherlands, so in ’79 they hitchhiked over to start a removal business for students.
That changed when a neighbour offered to buy their £400 van for £600. David bought a train ticket to go and find another.
Converting Type 2 panel vans into campers came next. David would drive them back, stacked with organic food for a local firm, do the conversions on his parents’ driveway, and Nickie took them to South Bank to sell to Aussie tourists.
Karmann Ghias became pivotal. It was almost impossible to restore them with genuine parts, so David drove to Germany for the hard-to-find items and, in ’86, started a supply business.
The scale has grown since, but a passion for VW runs through the staff.
“Quite a few were customers,” says Gregory. “Some have been here 25 years, and are fans first and foremost.”
Heritage joined the big leagues in 2011 when it became the UK partner for VW Classic Parts.
That granted access to the dormant world of stock in Germany, where the dusty boxes had for many years been in warehouses near Wolfsburg, with no way to get to customers.
VW hadn’t realised such a lucrative market had existed for decades, and now relies on independents such as Heritage to sell its stock.
Staff trips to Germany are a regular part of life. “I can’t believe I was in the staff canteen eating bratwurst,” smiles Gregory.
“Even they have a part number – it’s the best-selling part! If we can give a bit back to our staff they can say: ‘Not only is this a cool company to work for, we are starting to get a connection to the brand.’”
That connection is also evident in the firm’s summer Heretics events, which began in 2009.
“We thought, ‘Let’s throw the doors open, invite a few people over and see what happens.’ It was just two of us organising and a small selection of cars; now our biggest night has about 250 cars.
“We get all sorts; most are customers, but we even have school kids on ’bikes and scooters park up. They may be customers one day.
“People liked that we opened the place for a bit of late-night shopping and we did guided tours. It’s an opportunity to bring people together, rather than just say ‘you need this distributor’.”
The events illustrate how Heritage looks after its customers. VW ownership has always had a community feel that goes back to the hippy days of the ’60s, and happily continues.
The company now supplies parts to Porsche owners, too.
“It was a natural progression and a case of not putting all our eggs in one basket,” says Gregory, slipping on his other German hat for a moment.
“A lot of Porsche suppliers had a crossover with VW, so we thought in 2018 it was a good time. Like other specialists we do 911s, but the real opportunity for us lay with front-engined and mid-engined cars.
“It’s one of the reasons why I bought a 944, so that I could go out and meet people and be genuine about it.
“If I’m going in to that community, I’m doing it as a Porsche owner: I’m wearing the T-shirt, walking the walk. It all works so much better if you’re part of it.”
Images: Max Edleston
- Name Heritage Parts Centre
- Address 47 Dolphin Rd, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex BN43 6PB
- Specialism Parts for air- and water- cooled Volkswagens and Porsches
- Staff More than 80
- Tel 01273 444000
- Web heritagepartscentre.com
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org