15.04.19 Past Master Martin Payne

A visit to P&A Wood, Great Easton

In 2005, Coachmakers were invited to P&A Wood for a guided tour of its workshop and showroom. In the intervening years several Coachmakers have ‘popped’ in (me included), simply to admire the range, quality and variety of Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars undergoing the P&A treatment.
This time we were especially privileged as Georgina, Managing Director of P&A Wood and daughter of Paul Wood, gave us a superb guided tour of the workshops, the showroom and the work done by the apprentices, demonstrating how many of the traditional skills are being kept alive by their skilled craftsmen and apprentices.

Coachmakers spent time with some unique heritage models

P&A Wood is an authorised Rolls-Royce motor car dealer and the only Rolls-Royce authorised accident repair agent for the UK. It is also a Bentley Approved Service dealer and founder member of the Rolls-Royce and Bentley Specialists Association. It specialises in sales, service, restoration and spare parts for the entire range of Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars from 1904 to the present day.

Just one of the models we saw was a car that many of us would wish to own – the R 562 Silver Dawn. The Silver Dawn was built in 1908, it wears its original registration number and features original parts including chassis, engine, gearbox and front and rear axles. All major components are stamped 1908 and the engine even retains its original cast iron pistons. The car was restored to an impeccable standard.

Silver Ghost (the Silver Dawn)

Also on display was one of the oldest Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts in the world. It returned from Europe in 2013, having successfully completed 1,800 miles on the 2013 Centenary Alpine Trial, the oldest Silver Ghost to do so. It conquered treacherous and demanding conditions, including the infamous Stelvio pass in Italy and the Loibl pass that connects Austria with Slovenia.

Founders Paul and Andrew Wood

Twin brothers Paul and Andrew Wood set up as specialists in mature Rolls-Royce and Bentley models in 1967. They began in Moreton, Essex, with Paul doing the coachwork and handling sales, Andrew in charge of the engineering side. In 1970 the growing business moved to Great Bardfield, grew some more and in 1988 landed on the current site in Great Easton. The Wood brothers built a new engineering workshop and in 1995 added a new, but period-looking, two-level showroom.

Today P&A Wood employs around 65 people, and the brothers continue to do what they enjoy the most. The place is full of valuable and unique Rolls-Royce and Bentley models of impeccable provenance and considerable age.

We began our tour in the original workshop where a number of historical cars are kept alongside an engineering/machine shop where one of my favourite pieces of equipment was found. Before the days of anti-roll bars (pre WW1), the front and rear axles had to be balanced to avoid chassis roll. The machine, which was acquired from Crewe when Rolls-Royce and Bentley separated, is now an integral part of balancing the periodicity of the springs and shock absorbers for pre 1919 cars. A spring and shock absorber combination is placed on the machine, the machine subjects the combination to certain road conditions and a hysteresis graph is produced. Another spring and shock absorber combination is then set up and adjustments are made to match the earlier graph. The same exercise is repeated for the rear axle. This machine was rescued from a skip (apparently there were two such machines but one was damaged in transit), which makes this one unique.

Today, Paul and Andrew are the proud owners of three Rolls Royce V12 Merlin engines. In pride of place in the main showroom is a zero hours Merlin engine carefully looked after by the company; Andrew Wood’s Merlin V12 aeroplane engine also sits here, never flown.

P&A Wood also initiates the training of young people through its Classic Vehicle Restoration Apprenticeship Scheme, which offers apprentices the opportunity to work with world class craftsmen on some of the world‘s finest and most famous motor cars. Successful applicants train for a minimum of three years at Great Easton.

This prestigious scheme is designed to share the specialist skills required to restore and maintain all pre-war, post-war and modern Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars and ensures these skills continue to thrive. Apprentices learn about all aspects of a unique business, covering mechanical maintenance, servicing, coachwork and restoration, working towards Level 2 and 3 Diplomas in Classic Vehicle Restoration.

Enormous thanks to Georgina for taking time out to explain the international reputation that the company justly deserves; and to John Knightley for organising both the tour and lunch at the Green Man.