Warwickshire-based Aston Martin specialist John McGurk is a PHer's dealer if ever there was one. Sitting down in his office, decorated with pictures of cars he's owned over the years, he tells me how he began. "I loved cars as a kid, I bought my first car when I was 15 or something like that, and the first thing I did was take the engine out of it. Me and my mates were in the garage, pulling the engine out of the car, messing about with it, and just learning about it. We took the engine out, took it apart, put it back together again, put it back in, and it started. We were all high fiving each other and it was all very exciting. So that then kicked off the whole car thing and, like most boys that age, I just wanted to drive. I'd be driving the lawn mower or whatever it might be, as long as I was driving something I was excited."
'Whatever it might be' quickly turned into Mk1 Golfs, cars he's been into since he was 20. A stripped and caged, track-ready example sitting alongside the DB9s and V8 Vantages in his service centre; "200hp and 700kg", he proudly declares. That's not all though, alongside the stock in his showroom - located in an old WW2 hangar near Gaydon - sit his Lotus Cortina "for track days", an Escort Cosworth "a car I couldn't afford as a teenager", and a Ferrari F40.
He's a dealer's dealer, too, having gone from working as a salesman on a Rover forecourt to running his own Aston Martin dealership. John began his career working in the hotel business, doing 110 hours a week as a trainee manager. "It wasn't really working for me, so I left and didn't know what to do. I hadn't got a penny and was starting to freak out a bit about where I was going in life and all of this sort of stuff. Then I decided that I should look at the car thing." He started work as a trainee sales person at Quick's Rover in Coventry selling secondhand Rovers - "I absolutely loved it." - before moving to Ford, then TWR Jaguar - where he first encountered the XJ220, a car he would later own. It was a Sytner buy out which gave him the chance to run a Ferrari dealer in Loughborough, though, setting him on the path to dealing in a higher calibre of machinery.
Nowadays his focus is on Aston Martin, a decision he says was down to the lack of used specialists at the time, following lean years for the marque in the 80s and 90s. The subsequent decade saw a change in fortune for Aston, of course, and McGurk Performance Cars took full advantage, growing considerably over the years to now stock around 35 cars at a time, expand its servicing department - John being dissatisfied with the quality of work received at main dealers - and embark on the company's first classic restoration project - a DB4 - set to get underway soon.
As far as his picks of Aston Martin's back catalogue go, from his stock
John singles out a manual DB7
and Vanquish S
, "undoubtedly a car of note for the future" he says. And when it comes to the current lineup, he says he'd take a DB11 over a Vanquish with examples of both cars now available on the used market for similar money
, "even though they're different cars, it's just so good." Neither of those would be top of the tree though, John having daily driven a Rapide for two years, a car he confidently declares to be the most complete in Aston's current lineup.
McGurk's clientele mainly consists of first time buyers, put off by main dealer posturing and attracted to the more personal service he can provide. "We've always been very clear on our business model, in as much as we always do exactly what we say we're going to do, we'll always hold people's hands, and we'll always do everything to the best of our ability. When people want to buy these expensive cars, sometimes, without sounding patronising, you just need to put an arm around them and say, 'don't worry, that's not really as expensive as everyone makes out it is.'"
Providing a third party 12 month warranty on the cars he sells is another way of putting buyers' minds at ease, John explaining that if something goes wrong "all you have to do is talk to me, if the policy does not cover the fault nine times out of ten I'm there to support you, the car, and all the rest of it." "Just be an easy company to work with", is how he sums it up, an opinion that seems to be shared by PHers
who've done business with him in the past
His service centre is obviously important to him in that regard too, allowing him to provide what he considers to be superior work to a main dealer for a lower price. "We don't work to strict time lines in the workshop, it's all about getting it right first time and being thorough even if it takes longer than it should and that cost is ours and not the client's. We have to be competitive on price of course; it's a combination of what the car needs and what our client wants" McGurk says, adding: "Now that the DB9 and Vantage are over ten years of age we can focus on certain servicing requirements that we know the cars must have and we can give that advice, so rather than quoting for an Annual Service we will tailor service packages specifically for each car, each year. We are very transparent and straightforward to deal with."
What seems to be behind that understanding and determination to go the extra mile is his obvious passion and enthusiasm for all things petrol powered, which can't help but come through when you talk to him. "I just love cars" he says, "and my Fireblade, in the hallway downstairs. If I can get a day off in the week and the weather's good, I'm at Donington on that and I'll whizz around on it all afternoon. I'm dying to go racing the Cortina this year too."
To close our time together, I can't resist asking John to go into more detail on his F40. "When I worked at Ferrari in the late 90s I had my first passenger ride in an F40" he tells me, "Oh my god. It was like having a jet engine strapped to your back, I've never been so blown away by anything. I love the rawness of it, I love the look of it, the whole thing about it; I genuinely love it. We were buying and selling a few of them at one point, before the prices went crazy, and that one was left over at the end of the year. So I rang my wife and said I've got a great idea, and I've had it ever since. It's the most violent car, it's not the quickest anymore, but it's not about that for me, it's about driver ability. Cars now do everything for you, it's not just the noise, or the flames that spit out of the back of it, it's that there's no servo assistance, there's no power steering, there's no ABS; there's nothing but you, a steering wheel and three pedals, and I love that."