History of Crayford

Compiled by The Crayford Convertible Car Club / David McMullan

Click on the dates below to reveal what was happening at crayford in that period.

  • 1981
  • 1976
  • 1966
  • 1969
  • 1965
  • 1964
  • 1972
  • 1959
  • 1978-2
  • 1972-2
  • 1964-2
  • 1999
  • 1996
  • 1966-2
  • 1978
  • 1981
  • 1976
  • 1966
  • 1969
  • 1965
  • 1964
  • 1972
  • 1959
  • 1978
  • 1972
  • 1964
  • 1999
  • 1996
  • 1966
  • 1978
1959/60


David McMullan (sales manager) and Jeff Smith (R & D) were working together at Lambretta-Trojan in Croydon, near South East London. They worked on various Lambretta projects together, and then even more closely together under the supervision of the Group Chief Engineer, Ian Williams, on Kart racing projects. Finally they were both closely involved in the development of the Elva Courier sportscar at Lambretta Trojan.

 

1959 - registered car, AFO 887, supplied by Jeff's father's garage in Brecon, Wales.
They worked by day at Lambretta, and in the evening worked in a garage owned by a brother in law at Throwley House, Strood. David had a flat at Bexleyheath. The flat telephone was on the Crayford exchange, and answering the phone with the word 'Crayford', the name soon stuck and so Crayford became the name of their unborn Company. By the end of 1961 the convertible Mini, AFO 887 was completed, it was finished the same night that David’s first baby, Sean was born.

 

1961

While still working at Lambretta in Croydon, Jeff and David formed a lifelong working and personal partnership. They also shared a dream to produce a car of their own making. At that time the revolutionary Mini was still new so they sketched out the idea of producing the world's first convertible Mini. Unable to afford a brand new car, they started work on a 1959-registered car, AFO 887, supplied by Jeff Smith’s brother-in-law Tony Brookes who owned Central Garage in Brecon, Wales.

1962

David and Jeff move both families to the village of Tatsfield near Westerham in Kent. David and wife Maureen borrow £40 from Barclays Bank at Bexleyheath to buy tools.

1963

On June 3rd Crayford launch the Mini convertible to the world in the national press, it cost just £129 if you supplied the car. David and Jeff give up their day jobs to set up on their own as Crayford Auto Developments, with a toolbox each and a joint investment of £20.

1964

Crayford Mini sales boom, an Autocar advert shows a UK dealership of 16 approved Crayford Mini agents, including one in Jersey. Crayford set up a system with dealers supplying customers with new saloons for conversion. Crayford keep the capital outlay to a minimum and hold monthly audits. It stood them in good stead over the next 20 years.

1964 - Crayford Mini production set up in Australia under Licence by Birchwood Motors in Victoria.

1964 - Crayford Cortina Mk.1 launched at the Racing Car Show at Olympia, London.

Thirty are ordered as a taxi hire fleet for the Island of Bermuda. A further 17 also sell before the Mk.1 model ends.

1965

Crayford launch the Ford Corsair convertible for £325, to many it will be the best looking of all the Crayford conversions, over 100 convertibles and 19 Cabriolets, are sold. Carl Deutsch in Germany builds all the cabriolets.

The giant Heinz 57 Food Company (Ltd) ask for 57 Mini convertibles to give away as prizes in a soup competition, in a hush-hush deal with the Heinz directors at a greasy spoon café in Biggin hill, they secure a deal around 57 Wolseley conversions to keep the cars unique to Heinz, with no copies. A years delay in the competition was agreed to give Crayford time to build all the prize cars. Crayford appoint Wigley engineering of Leatherhead to decapitate the cars after which Jeff and David finish and trim each car at their homes in Tatesfield. 

BMC 1100 Estate conversion launched for both new and used cars from £79-£115 (deluxe). This was a UK first and preceded a factory built 1100/1300 estate.

1966

From May – Heinz give away the 57 prize convertibles in a long summer of individual and group give-a-way's surrounded by lots of press. The payment from Heinz for the 57 cars provides the funding for the deposit to buy a Crayford factory in Westerham. After a deal to acquire the site of Westerham Railway Station (recently axed by Dr. Beeching) falls through, so the Old Printing Works, in Westerham, complete with attached cottage, becomes the new Crayford factory, and the name Crayford Auto Development Ltd is registered. Soon they would be recognised worldwide as 'Crayford of Westerham'. 

The Austin/Morris 1800 (landcrab) 5 Door Hatchback Estate is launched at £115. It becomes one of the companies longest and best sellers, the Landcrab 1800 has a production run of 11 years and the Crayford estate versions, which cost £1000 in tooling the rear conversion, is Britain’s first successful large hatchback.

The new Cortina Mk.2 Convertible is launched on 19th October at Crayford's first International Motor Show at Earls Court, London. 

This was only two weeks after Ford had launched the Mk.2 saloon range. Jeff Smith had worked night and day for those two weeks, not only converting the car, but also taking the car to GT spec from a bare shell, as Ford had no spare 2 door GT cars available before the launch. The conversion cost from £325. In time, a Lotus convertible was also available. Selling over 400 units it was Crayford's best seller, along with 400 Mk.3 Cortina's. The Cortina being the company’s bread and butter car for 20 years.

1967

Rover 2000/V8 P6 Estate launched and marketed by Crayford. They sell the first 100 cars as Crayfords, over 400 in total are made. Car is a Crayford design and built with some of the roof panel work by FLM Panelcraft's Fulham based works.

1968

Crayford Vauxhall Viva HB Cabriolet launched with Wallace Arnold as main agent. David Mc Mullan's wife is asked to buy the all new saloon donor car for the prototype cabriolet, as a working doctor, she alone has the funds.

1969

Crayford launch the Capri convertible, called the Caprice, based on the all new Capri Mk.1, ‘the car you always promised yourself’. Crayford sell over 35 units and have some direct competition as Abbott's of Farnham make and sell 9 convertible Capri cars and Carbodies built 2 Capris with power hoods for Ford to evaluate, then dump the cars as unprofitable to build in volume.

Crayford BMC 1300 Cabriolet is launched for Kent BMC dealers Caffyn's who have a branch at Westerham, next to the Crayford Factory. A Complex re-design of a hatchback into a convertible, it cost from £1,519 and only 12 are sold.

The "Exterminator" a 4.7 Litre V8 Capri Saloon Q-car is shown at the Earls Court Motor Show. Orders for 30 cars, for one delivery to Spain are taken, Spain also import many V6 engined Mk.2 Cortina saloons.

Crayford launch the Mercedes Benz 114 'Compact' Estate. A Crayford design, built with some FLM Panelcraft of Fulham development. Mercedes Benz take legal action to prevent all Mercedes Estates appearing on the Crayford stand at the 1970 Earls Court Motor Show. By 1971 Mercedes Benz have approved the conversions, dealers are approved and take four cars a month, with a total of over 400 sold.

V8 Mercedes Benz (116) conversions to Estate Cars are launched.

1970

Austin 3 Litre Estate launched, like most Crayford Estates it has some roof panel work done at FLM in Fulham. At £595 + Car. sales are tiny.

1971

David McMullan sets up another overseas Crayford operation, this time in South Africa with Cooper and Cooper in Johannesburg, building 114 estates for wealthy farmers, and also launching in South Africa, the Polecat Amphibian ATV.

1972

Crayford import from Italy the Lawril Microcar and market it as The William Microcar, the worlds smallest 4 wheel car at 80 inches. Only 5 where imported, the first arrived damaged, the rest are hard to sell. Also imported from Italy is the Di Blasi 50cc folding motorcycle in a bag, this would fit inside a car boot, or on a boat deck. These are a big success and Crayford market hundreds over the next 10 years, as the Crayford Puma Packaway.

Crayford launch the Mk.3 Cortina Sunshine conversion. Like the Mk.2 it has a long run and sells over 400 units, mainly through Crayford's link with Bristol Street Motors. And Phillips Motors, (known as The Convertible Car Centre) at Chalk Farm, near Regents Park in London.

1973

Crayford Litzenfabrication set up in Germany / Belgium to build under Licence both Mini and Ford Taunus (German Cortina) convertibles.

1974

Crayford launch the Westerham built, all new Mercedes Benz "S" as an Estate car. Very expensive, around 15 sold, including one for Sophia Loren to carry her 5 dogs, as a direct order from Mercedes Benz. The car is also sold to rich clients in the USA where it is built locally for Crayford by Hooper’s of Detroit. The “S” class Crayford wins Specialist class gold medal at Barcelona Motor Show.

1975

Crayford Allegro is launched in Spain at The Barcelona Motor Show. By now Spain is Crayford's biggest export market. Spikin’s of Twickenham pay development costs, but only 19 are sold, as the BMC car has too weak a bodyshell, even concrete sills are tried, most of the shells too have leaks and build quality problems. Crayford pull the plug and refuse to make any more.

BL 2200 series 5 door Hatchback is launched by Crayford and is so successful that British Leyland correct their mistake by making their own 5 door car.

The 2200 range re-launched as the Princess range of models, with tailgate.

1976

Crayford go upmarket with the launch of an Audi 100 Cabriolet with expensive hood that includes fixed glass, this and increased volumes of Mercedes Benz conversions mark the beginning of the end of an era with BMC products.

March 1st, Audi 100 Estate added to Crayford line up. Conversion cost £2,040

1978

Crayford launch the exclusive and very expensive, (over £10,000 ) conversion of the New W123 Mercedes Benz 280C into a convertible with a power operated hood. It is called the Crayford 'St.Tropez' cabriolet.

Crayford’s last BL product, the TR7 "Tracer" Sports Estate, is developed for Triumph dealer, Page Motors of Epsom, as a design exercise. The three door TR7 fails to get a single order at the Motor show despite huge interest. The show car becomes a one off. Later Volvo produce a copycat, the Volvo 240 ES. 

Upmarket Crayford Cortina Mk.4 launched. Cars can be sold by Bristol Street Motors as new cars with full warranties. This is achieved with the use of a full roll cage within a padded T- top, similar to the Triumph Stag.

Crayford launch similar Vauxhall 'Centaur' based on the new Cavalier/Manta. It later has full UK type approval. Magraw Engineering Ltd build 118, all numbered, under licence to Crayford. Car cost £7,103, of which £2,808 is for the conversion. As a full size 5 seater convertible it had little competition.

1980

The Crayford 'Condor' a one off style exercise for a three door Mercedes Benz 450 SLC sportswagen is exhibited and sold at the NEC Motor Show. So too, is a VW Sirocco Crayford convertible with a power operated hood. The cars grab headlines but the Condor is a one-off show car and the Sirocco fails to get a single order, as on the very next stand VW launched the Mk1. Golf GTI Convertible, undercutting Crayford by £8,000. The writing is on the wall as all major manufacturers jump on the convertible revival bandwagon.

The last Convertible Cortina is made for the October Motor Show. Based on the all new Mk.5 Cortina. Crayford had this Mk.5 go through full Ministry of Transport type approval, a world first for a small conversion company. The whole project and the Motor show car, was sold to Carbodies of Coventry, who made and sold over 30 cars. Fully loaded, one car cost £14,000 in 1980, as much as a new Jaguar Mk1 XJ6. The Mk.5 Cortina and the Centaur had both cost fortunes to type approve and sales only just recouped these costs.

1981

The Fiesta Fly is launched, after a short run at Westerham a deal is done with F. English Engineering of Bournmouth. They build a run of approximately 30 XR2 convertibles under licence to display at all Ford sports dealers around the country, but at £8,900 in the showroom, they are expensive and slow to sell. Crayford even change policy and offer the car ‘off the peg’, based on a used car, to get the fly convertible below the £3,000 level. Jeff Smith designs and builds two Austin Metro convertibles alongside David’s Fly project. Jeff Smith's Metro project is shattered when Rapport Internationsl threaten legal action and insist the design is theirs, the project is cancelled.

1985

April 1985 Crayford partner Jeff Smith dies in a motorcycle accident near Crayford's Spanish villa in Alicante, while he was out shopping for a gift.

May 1985 the Crayford Owners Club show the Mini AFO 887, Jeff Smiths first car, at the Classic Car show, the day after attending his funeral in Brecon.

Surviving partner David McMullan soldiers on alone for the next two years at Westerham. The mainstay of the business is now the Argocat, an 8 wheel All Terrain Vehicle which replaces the now defunct convertibles. Argo sales are steady at over 30 units a month. Crayford keep a toe in the car conversion world with lucrative one off projects and mild cosmetic specials, such as 'Blue Steel', an XR3 saloon with a turbo and blue metalflake trick paint. Another is the Crayford Sierra Turbo and the 'Starlight Express', a late Capri 280, again with turbo and trick paint.

1987

David McMullan decides to retire. The Crayford company, who's biggest assets are a worldwide brand label, and the ongoing Argo ATV franchise, is sold to a new partnership lead by David Butlion, a senior director at GM's Luton factory, truck division. His partner is David Connold. The factory freehold is still owned by David McMullan who leases the premises to the new Crayford owners. The No.3 at Crayford, David’s right hand man Eugene Dunn, who apprenticed under Sidney Allard, stays on under the new management. The Argo makes Crayford the world’s largest supplier of ATV machines outside North America, and a range of four wheel ATV bikes is added to their portfolio.

David Butlion buys back the Mercedes Benz Condor Sportswagen after it is crashed. He has the unique rear restyled around a GM Cavalier tailgate, the work is outsourced to O'Keefe of Croydon. David Butlion then oversees the last and biggest Crayford convertible ever, a Leyland International Roadtrain truck, all the work was outsourced including the ragtop, done by Oxted trimming near Westerham. The convertible truck cab was used as a starter and pace car in International truck grand prix racing series all that year.

1988

1988 – The new Crayford partnership moves the whole Crayford operation to their home territory, Harpenden near Luton, where they already have a Vauxhall main dealership and service operation, and Argo clients in the north and Scotland are closer.

1989

1989 – David Connold buys out David Butlion to become sole M.D of Crayford.

David Butlion leaves to develop a new sports car with an ex Vauxhall designer. They set up a factory in Devon to build a fabulous car like a Lotus 7 on Steroids called a Merak. They made only 6, all sold in Germany or Japan before David Butlion ran out of funding and had to wind up the company in 1993. He and his family had to sell their lovely home in Harpenden and move back to South Africa after 14 years in UK.

1990

1990 - Alan Brooks buys 25% shares in Crayford as joint MD with David Connold and Eugene Dunn still as Sales Manager.

1992

1992 – Alan Brooks sells the whole Polaris quad bike franchise to EP Barrus Ltd. in order to pay off the heavy bank borrowings in the recession. Eugene Dunn retires and Ann Groom, who has been secretary since David Butlion moved her with him from Vauxhall, introduces Alan Brooks to David Butlion in the Silver Cup pub, Harpenden. They become firm friends.

1993

1993 – Alan Brooks’s son Alastair joins Crayford as Parts Manager. Crayford moves from David Connold’s garage site to temporary premises on a Harpenden trading estate.

1994

1994 – Alan Brooks introduces a friend from his 10 years as a JCB executive, Martin Roddy who also lives in Harpenden but owns half of the largest JCB dealership, to buy out David Connold from Crayford. They refinance Crayford 50/50 and move the Company once again to Berkeley JCB’s HQ on the elite trading estate in Hemel Hempstead. Ann Groom meets their Parts Manager, Kelvin Revitt, whom she later marries.

1996

After a short one year lease to Overload Electronics, the historic Westerham factory is empty and soon falls into disrepair. David McMullan still owns the freehold, but is now retired in Spain. Working part time as an Oxfam engineer in worldwide hotspots. David sells the freehold to a local developer and in June 1996, in only one day, the historic landmark that was Britain's last independent conversion company for four decades, ended when the site was leveled to make way for a small housing estate, even the thatched cottage that was the office block, and thought to be listed, (like much of Westerham village), was reduced to a pile of rubble.

1999

Crayford Special Equipment Ltd, the new company, move again to nearby St.Albans. They still market the Argocat ATV, plus quad and Tri ATV bikes, and now sell small 2 man hovercraft, selling the first two to BAA at Heathrow as future rescue craft. 

David McMullan's son Sean, who worked at the Westerham factory for his father, starts up his own company, Crayford Coachworks L.A in California. Currently they mainly service and repair BMW/M-Benz/Porsche cars only. But with the support and backing of David McMullan it is only a matter of time before they are tempted to do a conversion of their own.

2005

David Butlion dies from cancer, and in USA Crayford L.A closes.

2006

Crayford still survive and expand with a marine division in Scotland.

2012 Update

Crayford still thrives as a company specialising in all-terrain vehicles, off road 3 wheeler bikes, hovercraft, and a boat division in Scotland. Today they are based in St.Albans just off the M25 north of London. Crayford LA did not make a new conversion before they closed, but did redesign the Porsche Boxer chassis for many Californian owners to take the hard mountain driving without fracturing the original chassis. Financially successful, they folded when the land under and around them was sold for a corporate luxury development. 

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