When we fancy a new car, we nip down to the local garage. Lee Rowney jumps on a plane to Brazil or Japan to add to his ever increasing ‘zoo’ of rare and unusual vehicles…
Words: Julie Burniston
Pictures: Chris Booth
Job: Owner, The Car Warehouse
When did your love affair with cars begin?
Believe it or not I’ve never really been a petrol head, it all happened by mistake. When I was a teenager and looking for a job, I saw a vacancy for a pizza delivery driver. I had no money and drove cars worth £2-300 at most. I worked at the delivery job seven days and nights a week, so much so that people called me ‘Pizza Lee’. But it gave me the opportunity to save up and buy a half decent car which I did up even more and then sold on at a profit – I was always OCD about presentation. It went from there really – I was great at buying, doing up and selling on. It turned into a business in 1996, first from premises in Stockton and then on Snowdon Road in Middlesbrough. Seven years ago I followed my heart and stopped dealing in UK cars. These days I only buy, restore and sell unusual, promotional, rare or imported cars. I buy the cars other dealers daren’t!
How old were you when you passed your test?
I was 18 and my first car was a 1972 Mini – I swapped a video recorder for it!
Tell me about the cars you have now…
Business-wise I have over 300 cars in four countries. If I see a car that is unusual or made in limited numbers then I’m interested. On a personal level, my Beetle is my pride and joy. I was having a day off hunting (‘looking for’) split screen VW Campers (Kombi’s) in Brazil when I saw it listed on the equivalent of the Brazilian Auto Trader. I called up and then arranged to see it. I took security with me as it was out in the favelas. The seller is a well-known Brazilian airbrush artist called Delphino. He was a good person, he made me a good deal and said ‘Promise to send me a picture of the car outside Buckingham Palace.’ I replaced the interior when it arrived and I kept it. It’s a great car – a real one off.
Do you choose your ride according to your mood?
I do in some ways. If it’s good weather I will jump in a convertible. If I want to turn heads I’ll drive ‘The Dog’. I think the most fun car though and the one that everyone seems to love is a classic Mini.
Have you ever been in a car accident?
I’m either lucky or a very good driver as no, I’ve never been in an accident.
What’s your best drive-time music?
On a Summers day you can’t beat Sunshine On A Rainy Day by Zoe.
Where’s the best place to drive?
I really enjoy driving in Malta. I hire an open top jeep and cruise around all the beaches on Gozo looking at the cars.
What was your dream car as a child?
I loved the 1970’s Porsche 911’s
Which car did your parents drive?
I wasn’t that fortunate – my parents didn’t have a car.
What’s the worst car you’ve ever had and why?
Ha! Well that’s a story! I was in Japan attending some car auctions when I spotted a Toyota Century Convertible foe sale across the other side of the country. If you know your cars you will know that’s an amazingly rare find, a totally unreal car. I told my agent to buy it, which he did. I was so excited! Three months later it arrives and we soon discovered it was actually Toyota Saloon! Some enterprising Japanese had cut the roof off with a chainsaw! It had no back seats and no suspension!
What’s your dream car?
I buy somebody’s dream car every week but personally I don’t get that excited about cars for myself. I must admit to hankering after a Maybach 6 convertible though.
Where’s the maddest place you’ve ever driven?
Sri Lanka. It’s crazy! There are no traffic signs and no rules. Cars just swerve round each other, pedestrians, bikes or trucks. Sao Paulo is mad as well – for the sheer weight of traffic. It can take two hours to go a couple of miles.
Tell us about the car journey you will always remember…
My daughter Zoe has made me say it was the day I picked her up from the hospital when she was born in 2011. I was driving a Mercedes S Class at the time – so a grown up car for me.