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A short history - when the first UK Beetle came to Colbornes

18th August 2014

A short history of George La-Haye - the man who introduced the first UK Volkswagen Beetle to John Colborne-Baber at Colborne Garage

Guy Rowson, Finance and Operations Director at Colborne Garages, recently had the pleasure of meeting with Monika, the second wife of George La-Haye, and she shared with us the fascinating story of George and his Volkswagen Beetle.

George La-Haye, born in Scotland, joined the ‘Royal Scots Greys REME Core’ at an early age during WW2, and was stationed near Bremen, Germany, serving as the ‘Theatre and Music Officer’. George always had a passion for cars, and purchased a variety of models whilst he was serving in Germany.

One of his proudest acquisitions was a Mercedes ‘Maybach’, which was eventually commandeered by Field Marshall Montgomery, and is now believed to be in a Military vehicle museum in the UK. After the Maybach, George went on to purchase no less than three Volkswagen Beetles during his remaining years in Germany. His first Beetle was sadly stolen only days after he acquired it, however he was able to bring his last Beetle back to the UK with him, where he eventually set up home in Surrey with his first wife Dolo.

A photo of the Beetle in Germany prior to importing into the UK

A family photo taken in Germany during 1948, those in the photo include Dolo, her sister Else and a young Monika

Dolo pictured with the Volkswagen Beetle in Spiel Germany, at the time when George and Dolo were stationed at Bad Salzuflen and were helping with Save the Children Fund circa 1950

Dolo, an ambitious woman herself, had aspirations of becoming an opera singer in the UK, but when this didn’t happen she packed her bags and returned to Germany. In the meantime, George had established himself as a planning engineer at BAC Weybridge and was involved in many projects, including the Concord. In George’s early days living in Surrey, he visited Colborne Garages in Ripley (which was founded in 1949), and the proprietor, John Colborne-Baber, showed an immediate interest in the Volkswagen Beetle. He made George an offer on a part-exchange for a Wolseley 6/80, which he accepted.

John Colborne-Barber was so impressed with the Beetle he’d purchased, that he then approached Volkswagen in Germany and began importing Volkswagen vehicles into the UK – and the rest is history!

Photo taken of the first of the three Volkswagen Beetles owned by George prior to this one being stolen

The original Beetle that George sold to Colborne Garages is still going strong, and is pictured below (with its UK registration – JLT420). This picture was taken recently at Brooklands Museum, with George’s second wife Monika standing beside the car. George and Monika, both passionate about cars, started an American Car Club together, which they named CAN-AM (Canada and America Car Club) and built up a very large membership. On George’s death, the running of the car club was passed over to the members, and was renamed The New CAN-AM Car Club, which still runs to this day.

A recent photo of Monika stood beside JLT 420 at Brooklands Museum

On a final note, Monika shared with us one last story often told by George. When he arrived in the UK with his Beetle, before the days of self-serve petrol stations, he would often stand back and watch with amusement when the attendant tried to find the fuel filler, and then, when they lifted the bonnet and realised there was no engine – it always caused a look of bemusement!

A photo taken in Bremen of young Monika on the bonnet of Volkswagen Beetle aged six

We feel extremely privileged at Colborne Garages to be a part of this fascinating story, and are extremely grateful to Monika for sharing it with us – thank you!

Guy Rowson pictured with Monika with the Beetle on display at Walton Volkswagen