Last September a man turned up at the museum with some great photographs. His name was Roland Packer and he had recently acquired a little car, for restoration.
We were immediately intrigued. The little car was still on the DVLA database, registered as “PP Special”, the only one of its kind.
Mr Packer had acquired the car from friends, the Pooley family. It was once very well known in the local area, and had been made by a remarkable man, Percival Pooley.
Percy was the son of Fred Pooley, who set up a bicycle shop in Newport, Barnstaple which the family ran for many years.
In 1945 Percy was 21. During the war he had served in the local Royal Observer Corps, being medically exempt from the main forces due to the asthma he had had from the day
he was born. He suffered the same rationing problems as everyone else and was desperate for a car. But cars were in very short supply – most factories had been turned over to making munitions and war equipment during the war and second hand cars were few and far between. New cars were well beyond Percy’s means, and there were long waiting lists.
Percy’s son Denis takes up the story:
“Young Percy had a vision, when he came into possession of four small wheels. If he could not buy a car, then perhaps he could build his own. Not from used cars, because there was too little to work with from the old cars. No. He would make a car from scratch, by gathering things that were all around him. Unrelated things that he would bring together in a new combination, to create a whole new machine.
It was unheard of. Impossible to anyone that he shared his ideas with. The negative response that he received from others to his idea only served to inspire him more with his stubborn nature. He was very skilled with his hands and it seemed that he could repair anything that people brought to him. He was not a skilled tradesman in the traditional sense. But that was not what was required for this unique project.
It took something else. A stubborn streak that would not quit, and a nature of being fiercely independent. He brought together bed irons, wheel barrow type wheels, a motorcycle engine, a windshield from a wartime glider, a tarpaulin from a lorry that was then cut and sewn into a convertible canopy, and new sheets of aluminium that were purchased, and then formed by his own hands into a car body. All in a bicycle shop.”
It took three years, but in 1948 the car was ready, and featured in a story in the North Devon Journal!
Percy drove the car for 12 years, constantly renewing and rebuilding it. It was famous around North Devon, turning heads wherever he drove it. He even changed the bodywork completely to make room for his growing family.
In 1960 the car was laid up in the workshop and Percy started driving a 1954 Morris Minor. On his death in 2017 his sons Denis and Mike offered it to family friend Roland Packer, who loves the little car and is working hard to bring it back into working order.
We are really looking forward to seeing the car come back to Barnstaple very soon. We are grateful to Roland Packer for telling us about it and to Mike and Denis Pooley who have given us lots of photos and even a recording of Percy talking about building the little car. It’s remarkable story and the car is a really wonderful thing.