A Lookers employee has uncovered a legendary connection between the company and the famous French circuit, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Chris Worth who works in Head Office of the Lookers Group had the opportunity to visit Le Mans last year and then later made a discovery much closer to home which brought both the renowned event and one of the biggest motor groups together.
Chris shares the story of Reggie Tongue, the outstanding man who drove in the Le Mans in the 1930s right to the top of the Lookers Group in the 1970s.
When I visited Le Mans in early 2015, I was unaware at the time of an historic connection between the famous French circuit and Lookers Group, in the shape of an inspirational character who took part in the renowned 24 hour endurance race in the 1930s, and who later rose to the very top of the company.
Reggie Tongue, a former Managing Director and Chairman of Lookers plc, made the journey across the Channel at the age of just 21 – initially keeping the trip a secret from his family – and successfully piloted a semi-works Aston Martin to an impressive 10thplace finish in the 1934 Le Mans 24hrs.
The result is all the more remarkable when considering this was his first major motor race!
Not being one to hang around, the following month Reggie finished 2nd in class at the Belgian 10hrs at Spa-Francorchamps (firmly believing he should have won), before going on to enter numerous European Grand Prix and sports car races throughout the 1930s, winning occasionally (see his 1936 Cork victory here), but more often being happy to simply compete every other week, criss-crossing the Continent with race car in tow.
Known to be a bit of a daredevil in his youth, and by his own admission with more lives than the average cat, Reggie was born in 1912 in Urmston, Manchester – a stone's throw from Lookers Head Office in Stretford, which is where he remained Chairman until as recently as 1985, ultimately selling his family shareholding the following year “after a lifetime's association with the Company”, according to our Annual Report at the time.
In a varied and colourful career, Reggie not only raced at Le Mans and in multiple Grand Prix and sports car races, he also entered both the RAC and Monte Carlo rallies, flew Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain, was a test pilot for Rolls-Royce later in WW2, took part in a World Land Speed Record attempt in the US, and subsequently in the 1950s was a co-founder of the Oulton Park race circuit in Cheshire – long regarded as one of the most challenging and rewarding racetracks in the UK.
After all that, he settled down at Lookers!
The indications are that Reggie, by the early 1970s (if not earlier) a major shareholder in the Company, was instrumental in shaping the modern structure of the Group, taking it from being a local Manchester dealer and distributor into a publicly-listed firm in 1973, and then expansion into a major UK car retailer, presiding over a number of key takeovers and buyouts throughout the 1970s and 80s.
It therefore appears that without Reggie's influence, vision, and appetite for risk-taking (all mixed in with a huge passion for cars), Lookers might not be the company it is today.
And for that, we have to thank a Grand Prix entrant, Battle of Britain pilot, and Le Mans racer!
I would love to find out more about this unique person, so if you know any further info about Reggie Tongue, or know anyone who might have known him (or known of him!), please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.