Sixty-five years of motor history in Emsworth

Brothers (l-r) Paul and Mike Lillywhite. 

Picture: Sarah Standing (142407-2654)

Brothers (l-r) Paul and Mike Lillywhite. Picture: Sarah Standing (142407-2654)

The world of cars has changed dramatically over the decades with technological advancements. Lillywhite Bros in Emsworth has survived all those changes since opening in 1949. But the friendly, family-orientated atmosphere has never changed. An open day was held with a range of classic cars on show, and tools, artefacts and equipment on display for people to see. Reporter Elise Brewerton went along to find out more.

For 65 years Lillywhite Bros have been serving the community of Emsworth and beyond.

Classic cars, top-of-the-range modern vehicles and old bangers have been brought in for repair and servicing.

No matter the price of the car, every owner is treated as an old friend – and most of them are.

That’s because Lillywhite Bros is a unique business. In a world of fast turnover the firm still has an inimitable, old-fashioned style combined with modern techniques which has enabled them to thrive for seven decades.

At the reception customers are greeted by huge, friendly Bernese mountain dog Sheba, owned by 57-year-old Paul Lillywhite who runs the company with 55-year-old brother Mike.

The division of labour is clear cut – Mike does the physical work and Paul does the paper work. And neither of them would have it any other way.

Mike, a grandfather, says: ‘Paul was the one who was good at school, not me. I couldn’t sit still for two minutes. Even now I’d never be able to sit there filling in VAT returns.

‘I’m constantly thinking about what I’m going to do that evening and getting outdoors.’

Lillywhite Bros was started in 1949 by four brothers, fresh from National Service, Charlie (Paul and Mike’s father), Joe, Len and Bob.

The boys, from nearby Westbourne, bought the Queen Street garage from the Wheatley family.

After the first year Bob left to start his own plumbing business and the three remaining brothers and their wives continued to grow the business which has become a landmark in Queen Street, particularly for the old-fashioned attended petrol pumps.

Mike and Paul took over in 1989 after their uncles, followed by their father and mother, Brenda, retired.

‘I remember well when I started,’ says Mike. ‘I was just a boy and I’d park the cars. I was so small you could seen me through the steering wheel. Everyone thought it was very funny.

‘I repaired punctures and worked my way through the workshop. And when I started to make changes my dad would say “what do you want to do that for? It’s worked perfectly well for the past 40 years”.’

Paul joined the family business in 1985 after gaining experience in the accounts side at other companies.

‘I feel very proud to be part of a family business that’s been around this long,’ he says.

‘It doesn’t happen very often now. It’s been great seeing it develop over the years. There are loads of great memories. One that sticks in my mind is of Uncle Joe riding up the hill on the Chopper motorbikes.

‘He wasn’t a young man, but he was such a character. All the bikers would bring them in to him to repair.’

They celebrated their anniversary on Saturday with a display of all the important cars they have worked on over the years, including the classic American racing car Old Yeller II.

Owner Ernie Nagamatsu sends the car for servicing during Goodwood Revival each year.

There has been expansion with new workshops opened up over the years. Sadly the original art deco frontage has been removed but Mike hopes that one day it will be put back in place.

Mike says: ‘People don’t realise how big this place is. And, luckily for us, there are still lots of undiscovered places piled up with old paper work and memorabilia. It’s like a treasure trove because it’s never been moved or sorted out.

‘I still love exploring the lofts and rooms.’




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