Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Remarkable Raymond Way

Opposite Belsize Road, the ground floor of Nos.67-75 Kilburn High Road were occupied from 1956 by Raymond Way Motors. For many years there was also a smaller site with an office and garage at No.10, on the corner of Greville Road. Over time Way had other outlets in the area and a motorcycle department at No.36 Willesden Lane.
Site of the Raymond Way showroom, (Dick Weindling, 2012)

The famous car and motorcycle company were founded by Douglas Raymond Way (1905-1981), who came to Kilburn in 1933. He was originally based in the old Humber car repair works in Canterbury Road (previously the Saxby and Farmer railway signal factory, which has now been demolished). It was the largest used-car dealership in Europe, selling 2,000 cars and motorbikes a year. ‘Don’t delay, buy your car the Raymond Way,’ was one of his best known slogans. The firm supplied cars for the television series Z Cars, and even had an aviation department, displaying a Piper aeroplane in the Kilburn showroom.

Way had an adventurous life and a variety of careers: as a fairground barker for the Wall of Death, a Brooklands racing driver, RAF pilot, boxing and wrestling promoter, farmer, Radio Luxembourg motoring correspondent and a Lloyds underwriter. He was a tough and hardworking businessman who became a millionaire.

Likeable and vastly entertaining, but loud and brash rather like the comedian Max Miller, Way lambasted his way to riches, owning a penthouse near the BBC in Portland Place and a farm in Berkhamstead. He was driven everywhere by his chauffeur in a Rolls Royce fitted with personalised number plates and a TV set. His voice was husky and he smoked using a long cigarette holder. He wrote on the back of a photo of his motor yacht ‘White Ghost’: ‘Every kid wants to wear loud ties and get his hair waved. And every millionaire wants to own a yacht. I’ve done the lot. Here’s my yacht, with me at the helm, after I had loaned her to the Admiralty when War began. We searched the Thames and the North Sea for mines. Thank God we never found any. After all, she was a nice yacht.’  Despite his wealth, Raymond stayed on first name terms with all the street traders in Kilburn, many of whom he had known for 30 years.

In the early 1960s Way sold his company to Kings Motors (Oxford) for £650,000, but the venture was not a success and he bought the firm back in 1967 for £400,000. He finally sold out to Moons Motors in 1973 for £750,000.

Douglas Raymond Way was born in 1905, the fourth in a family of five children of a bank clerk in Sutton. He went to the local primary school where he said he did as little work as possible. In contrast, his youngest brother studied hard, earned a scholarship to Cambridge, and became a stock broker.

Aged 16, Raymond found his first job as a ‘grease boy’ at a local garage for 15s a week. For a time he drove a ‘stop me and buy one’ pie van. He saved some money and with a friend, opened a small garage in Croydon but it failed to make money and they sold it after a year. Then he worked as a fairground ‘barker’ for a Globe of Death motorcycle show. He strongly believes his experience as a showman led to his future business success. He learned the value of exaggerating, shouting “Come and see the most amazing show on earth. Lady, I bet you’ve never seen a motor cyclist hurtling around a perpendicular wall at a hundred miles an hour! It’s the most thrilling sight in the world and it only costs you sixpence,’ Later he said, ‘Nobody ever got killed—there wasn’t far to fall and they don’t go fast really, you know.’

Way’s motor racing career started as an amateur driver of an Austin Seven at Brooklands in the early 1930s’. He later became a member of the pre-war Rover team competing in reliability trials. After WWII he gained success with his BMW 328 racing car competing in sprints and hill climbs.

BMW 328 (Wiki Commons, Lothar Spurzem)

In 1931 Way set up a second hand car business in Hamilton Mews in St Johns Wood (today it is called Hamilton Close, off St John’s Wood Road). His starting capital was just £50 and he bought four used cars. This was the time of the Great Slump with over 2.5M men unemployed. But he was sure people would still buy cars - if they were cheap enough. He needed a gimmick so he adapted Woolworths slogan at the time of ‘Nothing over 6d’, and said ‘Nothing Over Ten Pounds’. Gradually, he sold the cars and used the profit to buy more stock. The rain leaked through the roof, the plaster walls were cracked and the paint was peeling off the doors. He used the poor state of the building as part of his sales pitch. ‘There is nothing fancy about us. We don’t even paint the place! That’s why the prices are the lowest in London.’ He put up a sign on the old corrugated iron shed; ‘Please don’t come to buy cars when it’s raining as the roof leaks and I get my suit wet’.
1890s Map St Johns Wood showing Hamilton Mews in Red

Success meant he soon quit Hamilton Mews for somewhere bigger. He moved into the old Humber car works in 1933. As the business continued to expand he moved again, to Nos.67-75 Kilburn High Road and several other sites in the area.

By 1957 he had a 36 year old personal assistant called Mr Warrell who he had appointed from a major finance company. Interviewed by Robin Hancock for the Spectator, Way said: ‘I have 300 cars under one roof and at Willesden I’ve 700 motor- bikes on three floors. I’m selling 200 cars a week and seventy-five motor-bikes.’ As part of his millionaire manner each customer served by Mr. Way was given a cigar. These were Jamaican: ‘Set me back 4s. 6d. each; am I right or wrong, Mr. Warrell? Right, Guv’nor.’ The previous year, he gave away 10,000 boxes of cigars. Each cigar was in a metal container on which was printed in red ‘Jolly Good Luck! Raymond Way of Kilburn.’ He said, ‘Sure they are good cigars, why I smoke them myself!’

Way liked the sight and sound of his own name. He spent £150,000 a year on press, poster and TV advertising and he was the motoring reporter for Radio Luxembourg. ‘My poster at Cricklewood - I think it just says, Two miles to Raymond Way—takes some beating for length. It’s 160 feet long.’

There was even a free coach to deliver people from the suburbs to the Kilburn showroom.

Way loved to buy the cars of the rich and famous. He had the black Buick in which the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson travelled during their honeymoon (bought for £455). He also owned the eight-ton Mercedes armoured car Field-Marshal Goering which was purchased for £1,050. Way said, ‘Couldn’t get rid of it, I had to sell it to the Montagu Motor Museum in the end’.

Other cars of his had belonged to George Bernard Shaw, Earl Mountbatten, Eva Braun, Marilyn Monroe and Sir Winston Churchill. He said oil financier Calouste Gulbenkian’s London taxi was, ‘The dearest taxi in the world at £6,300'. It was built by Rolls-Royce on a standard taxi base. He exhibited the cars which made the name of Raymond Way well-known around the country, but they also raised money for charity. ‘We got £10,000 for charities last year by charging a bob a nob to see ‘em. Am I right or wrong, Mr. Warrell? ‘Right, Guv’nor.’

The Guv’nor was a great car collector himself. ‘Just now I have seven and they range from Rolls-Royces to a Land-Rover.’ His most spectacular was a 23-ft.-long, all-white Cadillac, known to all at Kilburn as ‘The Creep’ which he hired to film companies.

All the cars used regularly by Raymond Way had built-in tape recorders. This enabled him to dictate letters and memoranda between jobs and on the way to work. It was part of Mr. Warrell’s job to turn these terse, taped messages into the banalities of business. So Mr. Way’s command, ‘Tell this bastard to take a jump,’ emerges on notepaper headed ‘From the Desk of the Managing Director’ as something like ‘Mr. Way thanks you for your kind letter but he regrets …..

With nostalgia Way recalled some of the car-buyers of pre-war days. ‘Lord Flapdoodle would come in with his girlfriend and buy her a big car. Next day she would be round to flog it again for £300 less than the old cock gave. Then you could sell it again to her when she brought a new punter in. I’ve sold a motor three times in one day without taking it out of the showroom.’

In 2001 Andrew English interviewed Fred Way, Raymond’s son, for the Daily Telegraph. Raymond Way found time for three marriages at the same time working seven-days a week trading cars. ‘He had complete devotion to the business,’ says Fred, who started working with his hard-nosed father for 30 shillings a week at the Canterbury Road showroom. ‘He attracted tremendous loyalty from the staff, who were paid a basic wage of one pound a week, plus one pound commission on every car sold.’

Bizarrely, there was a full size mechanical elephant in the showroom, which fascinated children, but the staff complained was always breaking down.

He employed ex-wrestler ‘Man Mountain’ Ray St Bernard at the showrooms, from his days as a promoter.

‘There was a huge mirror on the back wall of the showroom in Kilburn High Road to make it seem enormous," recalls Fred. ‘That was one of dad’s ideas.’ He was bursting with promotional ideas - nothing illegal, but he wasn’t above easing the wool over a few punters’ eyes on occasions. Prices were always in guineas to give a sense of class. ‘If you’d made a mistake buying a car in too expensively, he’d stick a star in the windscreen,’ said Fred. ‘Customers thought it meant the car was a star buy, but in fact it meant the car had to be sold quickly.’

New Year 1939 advert
Way wrote all the press adverts, promoting an almost permanent sale at the showroom. He talked about his more bizarre part exchanges for cars: pianos, parrots in cages, dray horses, radiograms, even crockery sets were taken in.

In 1951, a motorcycle showroom was opened in Willesden Lane. Local celebrities were serenaded by the famous band leader Harry Roy at a big opening party that Way managed to combine with the Festival of Britain celebration. At one point the band leader was seen dancing with the girls, but Way was having none of it. Fred said, ‘My father strode up and asked him what he thought he was doing,’ Harry Roy replied, ‘I’m dancing’. But my dad said, ‘I don’t pay you to dance. Now get up on stage and stay there if you want paying.’

Raymond Way died on 15 Oct 1981 and left £889,135 (today worth about £3.25M) to his widow Mary. She was his third wife who died in 1996.

There is a British Pathe film clip about Goering’s armoured car:

Today, the name of Raymond Way is largely forgotten, but as we have shown he was a great showman and a major figure in Kilburn.


  1. I remember from my youth seeing a big Raymond Way sign somewhere around Kilburn or Cricklewood, where could it have been?

    1. Hi John,
      Raymond Way says there was a huge sign in Cricklewood, but I don't know exactly where it was. I would guess it was somewhere on the Edgware Road.