Ian Gladstone started what was to become Blue Diamond in 1974, working from his parents’ house in Reigate. This coincided with the start of over 40 years of collaboration with Brian Lloyd-Jacob and the purchase of the entire remaining stock of Caffyns, the main Riley dealership at Brighton for the modest sum of £200. This gave them an insight into the spares requirement of a Riley main agent.
After 6 months, Ian was able to move out of home and rented a garage and accommodation for the princely sum of £10 per week. He soon made a basic list of spares found at auto jumbles and from the Caffyns’ stock. In addition, Ian began to pick up repair and overhaul work at the same time. There was no capital input save Brian’s £200 for the Caffyn’s stock, Ian was frequently travelling to auto jumbles with just the stock to sell and £5 to spend.
In 1979, Ian moved to Suffolk and after working from home for a time, obtained a Corsira workshop at Leiston on the East Coast. This new workshop enabled BDS to present a proper professional front for the business and acquire some good jobs whilst continuing to sell spares. Also at this time BDS employed a young mechanic to assist and a part time girl to help with the dispatch of parts.
In 1983, for family reasons, Ian had to move the entire business to Langport in Somerset, where BDS started in an old warehouse. In time, he employed first one mechanic and then, as work increased, a second mechanic– this increase in business also meant that the adjacent workshop was required.
Fast forward to the mid 1990’s and Brian had taken early retirement and was putting more money into spares. The restoration side of the business was taking up even more of Ian’s time and he felt the need for a parts manager and someone to take on the role of invoicing and estimating work. This went well for nearly four years, Andy Rice was efficient and had a fantastic rapport with Blue Diamond’s customers. Sadly, Andy’s involved with Blue Diamond was cut short when he died of cancer. Ian meanwhile was committed to take on the Riley Motor Club’s post war spares which he had negotiated to give Andy more work in the office as Brian did not want to relinquish his side of the spares service. By chance, Andy’s wife, Carol, was in need of a job and had worked in the motor trade previously. So, for the next 5 years until BDS passed on the RMC spares operation, she managed the office and spares operation.
Just before Andy’s passing, BDS had taken on an apprentice, Ben Pinkham. Ben is still a part of the BD team some 20 years later. In 2001, the business’ continued growth meant that a move to a larger premises in Fivehead at Moortown farm was required. Again, this greatly improved the image and efficiency of the business. At this time, a well-qualified precision engineer was recruited and in order to support this BDS invested in lathes and a milling machine, plus the required tooling and special tools.
In 2012 another move was required to the current 6,000 sq. foot premises at Lower Listock farm near Fivehead. Each time the business moves ahead, the costs of training personnel to be competent, knowledgeable and profitable takes a lot of time and money. You can be assured that no-one arrives at Blue Diamond as a trained Riley mechanic or having experience of selling pre-war Riley spares.
Throughout these years of expansion, as well as developing the mechanical side of the business, BDS has continued to move with the times regarding technology, business practices and the demands of a customer. These include the provision of e-mail, a website, credit card facilities and computerised accounting.
In Ian’s words, “When I started the business, most of the old mechanics had died or retired and a great deal of expertise had been lost and had to be re-learned, mostly the hard way! The customers at that time were in the main impecunious and the cars had relatively low value, so people had become used to bodging up and making do. It was difficult to do a thorough job and keep in mind the need to make a profit. There was also a certain amount of resentment because at the time many people did not like the idea of anyone making money out of repairing or providing spares!”
Despite this, the first year that Ian attended the Riley Register Coventry rally in 1976 (again, in his own words), “I loaded the old ford Thames van with mostly original new parts gleaned from auto jumbles and old dealer stock. It was a most successful day, I ran out of room in my pockets for notes and had to fill a carrier bag! The sales only told one story I should come again next year.”
At this time, the Riley Register only provided a very small spares service comprising mostly of steering parts and old stock spares, they also failed to provide for the future by selling at cost. Brian and Ian had built up the spares service by providing good advice and a gradually widening range of spares. For many years they sold flat out at Coventry with 3 of them working the stall, queues in front of each of them until closing at 4pm. Today, with the arrival of credit cards, e-mail, and the internet postal, sales have been revolutionised and Coventry is a much quieter affair!
It is no idle boast to state that BDS have, over the years, contributed to the large number for pre-war Riley’s in use today, this is the result of restoration/servicing, the sale of parts and the making free with advice hard won from experience.
The spares list and recently the introduction of a colour illustrated parts list has opened up the market for our ever increasing number of overseas customers for whom technical English can be a closed book.
In August of 2015, the business was sold to John Lomas and his business partner, both came from long established Riley families with John’s father, Alan, owning an Imp for over 60 years and the other partner’s father having raced Imp’s in the 1930’s. The new business was keen to maintain the traditional of excellence that BDS was famed for, whilst investing in the future. To this extent, a new website was created and launched, Facebook and Twitter pages created and an 18-year-old apprentice recruited. Just as Ian did 20 years previously, BDS Ltd will continue to invest in the next generation of restorers and mechanics.
Blue Diamond advertise in and support all of the Riley clubs, both national and regional, as well as the VSCC. In 2015/6, the business took the step of sponsoring the National Rallies of the following:
The Riley Motor Club
The Riley Register
The Ulster Riley Club
The Scottish Riley Enthusiasts
The business also sponsored a class race at the prestigious VSCC Prescott annual weekend, in addition a large stand was provided to show customers the work and spares operation that the business provides.
BD broke new ground in 2016 by entering an endurance rally, namely the Monte Carlo Classique. This involved covering over 1,600 miles in 4 days from John O’Groats to Monaco in a 1931 Riley 9 War Department Tourer, the team were honoured to be flagged off in Paisley by Victor Riley himself. Upon arrival at the finish line the car had only suffered two faults, a blown dipped headlight bulb and a perished exhaust gasket.
Blue Diamond Riley Services Limited will continue to maintain the values of Ian’s business, whilst investing and moving with the times. We are able to assist with spares, servicing or full restorations.