Richard Walsh has always had ambition. However, Richard’s hopes were more of a mission, more of a passion than that of his classmates.
Even from an early age, he knew he wanted to own a garage and he knew he wanted to compete in top motorsports events. According to Richards tutors, his dreams were just that, dreams. He was not going to be a rally driver or a businessman, and was told to concentrate on Maths and English. Richard, however, had other ideas...
While still studying for his exams, schoolboy Richard Walsh used to work at a local golf club near Manchester cleaning cars. The car-cleaning job enabled the young petrol head to get up close and personal with some lovely cars and at the same time he pocketed enough money for his first car. This job fuelled his passion for all things four wheeled. Reading about his rallying heroes of the day, Mikkola, Clark, Hopkirk etc, Richard continued with his dream of competing in rallies around the UK. With cars already running through his veins he left school and went straight into a Vauxhall dealership in Manchester as a young and very naive salesman. Experience soon came and at 21 he became the youngest sales manager in Vauxhall dealerships. Behind his desk in the showroom there was always a copy of Motoring News and he made regular trips to some of the larger national rallies, still dreaming of the day he would be taking part.
In his early days in the Manchester area he met a colleague, Hilton Goddard. This chance meeting was to form basis of a partnership, which would last over twenty years. They were soon preparing plans to buy their own Vauxhall dealership. Richards’s passion to go rallying was hindered by the fact that he still had little money. Long hours in the showroom and regular weekend work meant his rallying debut was still only in his mind.
Richards’s plans for his own Vauxhall dealership were now firmly laid. By 1981 he and his partner, walked into Thurlby Motors based in Alford, Lincolnshire. Funded by the brand new GM holdings scheme. It was not long before Richards’s enthusiasm got the better of him and with a few spare pounds he decided that a very old Nova saloon which could not be sold on the forecourt would make his ideal first rally car. Nova saloons have never been known for their rallying prowess! The Lincolnshire dealership began to flourish and sales at the ‘garage in the sticks’ were increasing every year. More staff were taken on, with Richard and Hilton being noticed in high places at Vauxhall H.Q. especially after they paid off their GM Motor Holdings loan in just five years.
With the part time help of one of his mechanics, the Nova Saloon was ready for its world debut on the rally stage, a short tarmac event at an old airfield in Lincolnshire, no glamour and definitely no prize money. But the second part of Richards’ dream was just being born!
The saloon turned heads but was never going to be a winner, but it was a good experience. The trusty steed was sold to make way for a Nova Hatch, a true clubbies rally machine. Team Thurlby, now aided by staff mechanic Martin McNair. The other part of the dream was a bigger reality than ever, the dealership grew and thoughts were made of expanding. Richard was spearheading the sales while Hilton kept tabs on the purse strings. The Vauxhall range became a best seller and business moved forward again.
By 1995 a second dealership was being planned on the country. More staff were hired and a Greenfield site was acquired in Louth for a summer 1996 opening. Not only was the business dream a very large reality by now, it was turning into a very successful one.
Team Thurlby were now feeling their feet and a purpose built Corsa 1.6 was acquired to compete in much competitive events across the British Isles. They also experienced their first foray in Europe. The team came more under the spotlight when Emmerdale actress Glenda MacKay joined Richard as co-driver.
By now Richards’s partner in the business decided he wanted to retire and Richard singularly took over the helm of the two sites. Now, Thurlby Motors became one of the leading Vauxhall dealerships in the UK. But Richard was not going to stop there, another dealership in the south of the country was up for grabs.
The new Boston site was acquired giving Thurlby one of the largest Vauxhall market areas in the county stretching from Louth in the north down to Boston in the south. The Corsa rally car was now replaced by an ex works Astra which over the few years gives Richard many successes culminating in an overall rally win and winning the prestigious formula 2 title in the British Tarmac Rally Championship.
Thurlby was offered an opportunity to open a Nissan dealership in Louth: realising a demand for pickups and four wheel drive vehicles we opened up in 2010. The dealership is now very successful and is well established in the Thurlby fold.
Time for a change
Richard decided it was now the right time to make some important changes to the business; Gail Smith had been appointed as Company Secretary, born and brought up in Lincolnshire, exceptional credentials in the business world, successfully running the financial affairs of another local dealership group. Through her hard work and diligence she has managed to put Thurlby on a much stronger financial footage as she became joint partner in the business.
Together they decided it was time to concentrate on used cars, people, customers and staff. Happy staff means happy customers. So the ‘Thurlby Feeling’ was born. Looking after customers has become our most important part of the business and you can see the changes already. No quibble guarantee, clean and new courtesy cars and vans, a friendly and warm welcome to all our customers.
Not only being in the forefront of rallying over the years, we decided to enter the Famous British Touring Car championship. We purchased an ex works Vauxhall Astra coupe to be driven by the only female driver in championship, Fiona Leggatte. This gave us huge television exposure at every race meeting. In the final race Paul O’Neil, the brother of Spice Girl Mel Chisholm drove our car, and led the race for a couple of laps.
This involvement in the BTCC brought us to a close relationship with the famous 888 racing team (Principal) Ian Harrison, ex Williams F1 chief, a no nonsense team manager who helped us develop the famous Thurlby 888 Astra diesel.
The power of this diesel car was increased to 200 bhp which could match the performance and handling of an Astra VXR but with double the fuel economy. This car became so sought after, it was acclaimed by all major motoring journals and we sold out of all the 90 cars built. They became an icon to all the Astra aficionados, nobody had developed a diesel that could handle and drive as well this. Even now values of a good second hand 888 remain very high. A Channel 4 programme 5th gear did a head to head test of the 888 against the VXR, concluding that both cars were equal on performance and handling but the 888 had far better fuel economy. Following this we developed a successor to the T9 and then the white line and the black line all limited edition models.