Norwich man restored rare veteran car

One of Norfolk's finest veteran cars was restored to run again thanks to engineer, Mike Vincent, who has died suddenly aged 71.

He led a band of enthusiasts and volunteers who successfully restored and maintained the 1899 Panhard et Levassor car given to the City of Norwich Museums more than 70 years ago.

It was Mr Vincent who persuaded the then head of the Norfolk Museums Service, Catherine Wilson, to allow the complete overhaul of the car, which had been briefly owned by the Hon Charles Rolls, of Rolls-Royce fame, before selling it for �1,200.

Mr Vincent, who has died suddenly at his home in Newmarket Road, Norwich, was one of three at the wheel of the 8HP car for the 1994 London to Brighton veteran car run – also marking the 20th anniversary of Norfolk Museums Service.

Mr Vincent, then of the Friends of Gressenhall, where the car is now garaged at the Rural Life Museum, near Dereham, recruited additional expert help to prepare the car for the 66-mile trip.

The wooden-wheel car had been given by Hubert Wingfield Egerton in 1936 and was displayed at Strangers' Hall Museum for many years until it was restored firstly in 1968 to run in that year's London to Brighton.

For 15 years, Mr Vincent and fellow members of Team Panhard had kept the vehicle roadworthy, as one of just 400 cars in existence in the last years of the 19th century.

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It was once clocked by the police exceeding the 30mph speed limit and was regarded as a 'racing car' when it was built – quite a feat for a car made three years after Parliament scrapped the need to have a man walking in front carrying a red flag.

Mr Vincent, who was born and schooled in Exeter, became a qualified engineer at RAF Holton.

He was later posted to RAF Swanton Morley, near Dereham, where he served for more than 20 years, and was later in demand as a technical author.

He had always been fascinated by engines and cars and over the years had even built his own but the Panhard was always his first love. And he was delighted when others shared his enthusiasm and the veteran four-cylinder car could be used to celebrate highlights of museum events. It lacked efficient brakes and was quite a challenge to drive.

He was a former chairman and long-serving committee member of the Norfolk Industrial Archaeological Society. However, he was especially delighted, after many years as secretary to Norwich Engineering Society, to be elected president in April.

A keen member of the Norwich Photographic Club, he was always willing to join in and do his bit.

In so many ways, he was a 'doer,' who liked to make a difference.

He leaves a widow, Lynda. A funeral service will take place at Colney Woodland Burial Park on Friday, December 3, at 1.30pm.

Michael Pollitt