(Young) Man of Many Cars

By David Milloy

When I was five, I was given a pedal car for Christmas. When Finlay Beatson was the same age, his parents also bought him a car, but this one was powered by an A-series engine…

“I was fascinated by Minis when I was a child,” says Finlay, “so my parents decided to buy me one as a Christmas present. They bought a 1996 Rover Mini with an automatic gearbox from a breaker’s yard. Their plan was to cut it up and turn it into a play area for me in the back garden. As it turned out, it was in too good a state to cut up, so they had it repaired and treated it to a respray.”

It was the start of a journey that would not only influence Finlay’s choice of career (he’s now 75% of the way through an engineering apprenticeship in his native Ayrshire), but also result in him amassing, at the tender age of 20, an enviable collection of cars.

Having cut his teeth on helping his dad to work on the Mini, Finlay’s passion for cars soon broadened into a taste for motorsport.

“I took up karting when I was eight and competed for about four years,” notes Finlay. “The cost of buying and running a competitive kart was getting silly, so my parents suggested that I get a track car instead. Needless to say, I chose another Mini. This one was a wreck when I got it, so my dad and I fixed it up with new subframes and a second-hand engine. We added a roll cage and door bars, and I used it to compete at my local sprint track (Kames) for about four years, after which the Mini and I both retired from competition! I still have both of my Minis and have no intention of ever parting with either of them.”

In 2018, Finlay added another British icon to his collection: a 1981-registered MGB GT, in Snapdragon Yellow with a standard B-series engine. He’s not, however, a stickler for originality: “I much prefer classic cars to moderns, but I’m really not bothered about keeping my cars as they were when they left the factory. I like to modify them to suit my own taste.”

Finlay also has a second MGB GT, a 1973 example that was converted to Rover V8 power by a previous owner: “I bought it from a man whose friend had installed the V8. Sadly, he died not long after the work was finished. His widow sold it to the man I bought it from. The conversion was very nicely done, and the bodyshell was free of rust. My dad and I re-trimmed the interior, fitted uprated brakes and suspension, and installed a Holley 4-barrel carburettor. A hole had to be cut in the bonnet to accommodate the Holley carburettor, which we covered with a fibreglass bonnet scoop from an American car. It’s not for purists, but I like it.

“I can’t get insurance to drive this car because of my age. That’s not a problem, though – I’ll look forward to being able to drive it when I’m a bit older.”

Finlay also owns another Rover V8-powered car: a 1974 Rover P6 V8. As he explains, “This is as near as you’ll get to a barn find. In 2019, I placed a wanted ad for classic cars, which led to a phone call from a man who said that his dad had an old Rover in the garage. It had sat there since 1987, covered by an old tarpaulin and surrounded by logs. A deal was struck, after which the garage had to be emptied of logs to enable the Rover to be removed – pretty hard work! It’s a very solid and sound car that’s never been welded and still wears its original paintwork.”

Perhaps the most unusual car in Finlay’s somewhat eclectic collection is a 1988 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham limousine that he bought in 2021: “My dad said that he’d seen a barn find Austin Allegro up for sale. I messaged the seller but was disappointed to find that someone else had already bought it. I was surfing the net to see what else might be available when my dad joked that he’d just seen a limousine for sale which I’d no doubt want to buy. He was right about that! It was being sold by a private limo company and had been off the road for about ten years.”

The Cadillac was built by Hess & Eisenhardt, a noted American coachbuildiing company which supplied armour-plated cars to several US Presidents, including the Lincoln Continental in which JFK was riding on that fateful day in Dallas in 1963. It’s not yet ready for the road, however, as Finlay is still acquiring parts for it from the USA. Besides, he’s not yet decided on whether to keep it original or turn it into something a little more dramatic, such as a low rider.

Also on the large side, although not as large as the Cadillac, is a Daimler DS420 limousine. “The first one I bought had a fuelling problem. I stripped down the fuel pump and had it running within a day.

Unfortunately, it was very rusty underneath. However, I was lucky enough to find another DS420 for sale on Ebay. Its engine was seized but it was otherwise in very good condition, so I bought it and transplanted the engine from the rusty car into the one with the good bodyshell.”

Slightly smaller in size is a Rover Metro, the exterior of which is painted and badged to resemble a ‘Jet Black’ special edition model. Inside, though, it’s a standard Metro 1.3 litre. There’s also a rare Rover 114 Cabriolet that Finlay acquired from the proprietor of a nearby garage. “Although it’s a low mileage example, its head gasket had failed. Its owner knew that I was into classic cars, so he offered it to me. I bought it, fitted a new head gasket, serviced it, and replaced both the fuel tank and the fuel pump. Jobs done, I turned the key and it burst into life. The electric roof wasn’t working but that was an easy fix – a loose wire just needed to be re-connected. All that’s left to do is to sort the rear screen, which has become brittle. Other than that, it’s in great condition.”

It’s not just cars that Finlay owns – his fleet also includes a classic Ferguson tractor, a dual fuel petrol/paraffin model from the late 1940s. “I’m not from a farming family,” he explains, “but I ended up buying the tractor after seeing one at a show.”

He’s also got a 1956 Austin A30 van that’s been converted to A35 specification, similar to one that was owned by James Hunt, the 1976 F1 World Champion. It’s been stripped to the bare metal and is currently undergoing a full body restoration. Although Finlay is doing all the mechanical work on the Austin, he’s entrusted the bodywork restoration to a retired panel beater.

There’s also the shell of a Volkswagen Beetle, sans engine and floorpan, which Finlay uses as a garage ornament. “I hate to waste things,” he says, “so I decided that it would be better to find a use for the Beetle shell rather than send it off to the breaker’s yard.”

The jewels in the crown are, however, Finlay’s two Rolls Royce Silver Shadows. He acquired the first of them when he was 16. “I bought it to prove a point,” he says. “People kept saying that only Rolls Royce trained technicians could work on such cars, but I didn’t believe that. Having asked the Rolls Royce Owner’s Club for advice on what to look out for when inspecting a Silver Shadow, I found this one for sale on Facebook. It’s a 1970 car, in silver with red leather. There was no service history with it when I bought it but it did at least come with the original owner’s manual.”

Restoring the Silver Shadow to running condition became a lockdown project in 2020. Finlay stripped down the suspension, made new brake pipes (no easy task, he says), replaced the exhaust, and gave the engine a major service. A new water pump and whitewall tyres were also fitted. He then decided to tidy the engine bay, painting the tips of the radiator fan blades yellow to resemble a propeller on a Rolls Royce Merlin aero engine. And in the spirit of not letting things go to waste, he replaced the missing screenwash bottle cap with a hubcap centre from an MG!

Since finishing the car, Finlay has taken it to several shows. But there’s a catch: because of his age, it’s a condition of his insurance policy that a mature driver must occupy the passenger seat when Finlay’s at the wheel – a position often filled by one of his grandfathers.

Finlay’s second Silver Shadow, a 1969 model, is currently awaiting recommissioning, including the procurement of a new Spirit of Ecstasy to replace the missing original. A new bonnet is also being sought out to replace the one currently on the car, it being from the Silver Shadow’s sister model, the Bentley T1.

Quite a collection, then, but Finlay’s on the lookout for more cars. He’s got his heart set on a Scimitar GTE or a Marina, though he’ll no doubt end up with them both…