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The original Headland garage 1957

In 1947, during the austere days immediately after the Second World War, the small rural garage at Headlands in Downton was taken over by its new owners, Mr & Mrs Daniel Richmond. The Richmond’s were never what anyone would imagine as your run of the mill garage proprietors, both had a somewhat aristocratic air and seemed poorly cut out for their new career. Mr. Richmond even claimed he only ever bought the business because of the excellent local Salmon fishing.


The business grew slowly over those early years but began to develop quite a reputation in the servicing, repair & tuning of vintage motor vehicles. Rolls Royces, Bugattis and Lagondas became a common sight alongside the more mundane work taken on from local villagers to pay the bills. It is said that Mrs. Richmond, “Bunty” to her friends, considered the customers who entrusted her with their vintage automobiles “her sort of people”.

The Richmonds Rolls Royce Silver Ghost

"The honourable Charles"

Daniel & Bunty Richmond

It was in the mid 1950’s when Downton Engineering Works was approached by one of their regular customers to fit a tuning kit to his Morris Minor that things began to take a different direction. Mr. Richmond found this kit to be horrible, it made the car noisy and difficult to drive, the engine became fussy and temperamental and the fuel consumption increased dramatically. In his usual forthright fashion, he told this customer that he thought the kit was rubbish and that if the customer required he could provide a better one himself.

Downton Conversions was born.

For the first few years “Downton” would produce tuning kits for almost any car you fancied, Morris Minors, Austin A40’s, Triumphs, Humbers, Citroens, you name it. This “Jack of all trades” philosophy continued until the late 1950’s when it was decided for reasons long lost in the mists of time that Downton would become specialists in the BMC range of cars with an emphasis on the A Series engine. This was probably a very wise move because at that time almost half of all the cars on British roads were manufactured by BMC and a good percentage of those had an A Series engine under the bonnet. This turn of events was quite surprising as when one of their employees a certain Paul Ivy first started working on an A Series engine in the Downton workshop, Bunty, who was always very certain of her opinions and didn’t mind making them felt in the most clear terms, demanded that THAT HORRIBLE LITTLE ENGINE be removed for her workshop forthwith. The rest of the rebuild was done under a tree in the yard.

Bunty Richmond & Samantha

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Bunty at Prescott Hillclimb in the mid 1950's.

During these early days the Richmond’s spent their spare time either competing in local Sprints, Hillclimbs and Time Trials in a variety of powerful sports cars fitted with some even more powerful engines, amongst these are a supercharged Lagonda Rapier, an Allard J2 fitted with a 6 litre engine, a Lotus 7A and even a single seater Austin Venom racing car. When he wasn’t working or competing Daniel would always be found on his local Salmon run or in the Bull quaffing his preferred tipple, vintage Krug champagne. The switch to specialising in BMC coincided with two other major events in the Downton story, their move around 100 yards up the road to new premises and the introduction of the BMC Mini.

It was in December 1961 that “Autocar” magazine published an article entitled “Mini-Ton-Bomb” this was a rave review of a Downton converted Mini Cooper that would not only do a genuine 100mph but was easier to drive, quieter and even more frugal on fuel than the standard model. This was closely followed in 1962 by a Downton modified Mini Cooper competing on the Targa Florio road race in Italy. It not only did remarkably well in it’s class, but outperformed many of the larger cars on the event. It was not long before news of the work being done in this sleepy Wiltshire village made it back to the people who ran the British Motor Industry of the day and Mr. Richmond was invited to demonstrate his wares to the men at BMC. This initial meeting was a great success and shortly after, Downton began supplying BMC with modified engine components for the Race & Rally cars prepared by the BMC competitions department the Richmonds even fitted a Downton tuning kit to the Mini driven by its designer Alec Issigonis. BMC were so impressed with the quality of his work and the insight into the workings of the internal combustion engine that Daniel Richmond showed, he was offered work as a design consultant, with particular emphasis on the cylinder head, the heart of any internal combustion engine. It is said that Daniel bought his first stretch of Salmon fishing river with the consultancy fee he received for the design of the cylinder head fitted to the 998cc Mini Cooper and he bought the opposite bank with a similar consultancy for the BMC 1800.


original Mini Ton Bomb Article

176 NWL on the Targa Florio 1962

By the mid 1960’s Downton Engineering Works was no longer a sleepy little garage, it was a thriving business employing many people in a wide range of areas including welding and fabrication, engineering, turning, milling & grinding, cylinder head modification, fitting and many other areas. There was even a showroom where customers could buy standard or modified BMC cars. Although Daniel was always the engineering brains of the operation the works was run with a rod of iron by Mrs. Richmond, it is said that the threat of a visit to Bunty’s office could have a grown man shaking in his boots. This was possibly one of the reasons that at Downton only good employees managed to last the course. The Richmond’s strange employment practices did however ensure that the quality of staff was second to none. Working at Downton did have its perks though, all employees were allowed to use Downton components on their own cars and were encouraged to race them as part of research & development. A very big plus when the sort of competition equipment supplied by Downton was way out of the league of most young men.

During these days in the swinging 60’s the Downton order book looked like a page out of “Who’s who”. With the latest film stars, models, actors, celebrities & even members of the Royal family queuing up to buy Downton modified cars, either direct from Downton or from their London offices. There was however one rule that applied to all customers. Everyone was expected to settle in cash or cleared funds, there would be no exceptions. One notable event when this policy was enforced strictly was when a royal equiry was sent down to pick up a newly modified car for Lord Snowden but when he presented his cheque it was refused by Bunty who told him to go away and come back with cash. The equiry had no choice but to stay overnight in the village and re present himself the following day after the cash had been wired to him from Buckingham Palace.

A typical bespoke "Celebrity" Mini

Daniel in the experimental shop

Gauloise in hand

In 1968 both Downton & BMC were at the top of their game. BMC were by far the largest & most profitable car manufacturer in the UK & had finished the Monte Carlo Rally first 4 years on the trot using Mini Cooper Ss fitted with engines built by the BMC Competitions Department at Abingdon in Oxfordshire using components supplied by Downton. It was with a great fanfare that BMC announced the introduction of a range of “Stage 1” tuning equipment that could be fitted to the BMC range of cars without violating the new car warranty, Downton were of course the company who supplied these kits.


Very soon after, Downton were producing up to 100 tuning kits a week for BMC and were employing over 80 people, making Downton Engineering not only the largest employer in Downton by a very long way, but also a name known worldwide in motoring circles. Daniel & Bunty Richmond were now very wealthy indeed.

The manufacture of tuning kits for BMC became the mainstay of Downton’s work. But it had now changed from an innovative small company that had a reputation for designing creative solutions to tricky engineering problems to simply churning out the same old products day in day out. It was in retrospect almost inevitable that things would change, probably for the worse. Daniel began to find the slog of running a factory that was little more than a branch of a huge organization like BMC boring and he began to withdraw from the business spending more & more time at his smallholding in Devon either fishing or pursuing other interests. Bunty was left to run the business more or less alone. This coupled with the fact that many of the most faithful & talented employees who had made Downton what it was were leaving & setting up in direct competition to their old employers made what had previously been a pleasure a pure hard slog.

Outside the works in 1974

shortly before its closure

In early 1974 Daniel, who had always been a very heavy drinker died suddenly, leaving Bunty on her own. Bunty continued to run the business and despite support from some very long standing employees, she was heard to say on more than one occasion the only thing that she was living for was to look after her beloved Staffordshire Bull Terrier Samantha. In early 1976 Samantha died and the following morning Mrs. Vincent the Richmond’s cleaning lady let herself into “The Homestead” the house that Bunty & Daniel had shared & found a note. It explained that Mrs. Vincent should not go into the bedroom and that she should call the appropriate services as Mrs. Richmond had taken her own life.

The business was wound up shortly after.

Downton Engineering Works (1947 - 1976)
The Greatest A Series Tuner of them all.
Downton Engineering Index
Click on the Downton Logo to see the main index of Downton pages.
Downton Engineering Index

For the love of cars (Channel 4)

The restoration of a Downton converted Mini Cooper was featured on the Channel 4 programme for the love of cars.  Click the image opposite for a brief history of Downton from this programme.

PS. The glamorous lady in the picture opposite is not Bunty Richmond on a good day, its Bernard Cahier (the photographer’s) mistress.