Ben Mantle, founder of the company, came down to Biggleswade from Northumberland in 1920. He had been recruited by John Maythorn to set up, equip and manage a repair section of Maythorn & Son Limited, the well known vehicle body manufacturer, located in Biggleswade. Following a change of mind, Maythorn decided to help Ben to set up his own business and Mantles Garage was incorporated. Ben was a fully qualified electrical engineer as well as being an expert in mechanical matters. He had worked with Herbert Austin building Wolesley cars for the ‘Wolesley Machine and Sheep Shearing Company’. He later knew William Morris who came and opened the ‘new’ Mantles Garage in Biggleswade in 1933.
Ian Mantle took over running the business after the Second World War, during which time the Biggleswade premises had been requisitioned for carrying out repairs to aircraft parts. A motor vehicle engineer, entrepreneur and motor sports enthusiast, his achievements ranged from the world of caravans to rally cars. Ian became a leading influence in the development of touring caravans from the early 1950′s. A keen motor sports enthusiast, he had considerable success as a rally driver in the diminutive and distinctive Berkeley fibreglass sports car, winning many trophies.
Caravan World Record holder
A pioneering spirit, he was involved in developing caravan stability in conjunction with Sprite Caravans and in 1966 he established a world towing endurance record at Monza, Italy. On that occasion, driving a Ford Zodiac, he towed a Sprite Major 16ft caravan around the Monza track for 24 hours at an average speed of more than 70 mph, a feat which got him in the Guinness Book of Records. He won the British Caravan Road Rally – in those days a taxing event including some hair-raising forest sections – four times in the 1970’s.
In the mid 1950’s he helped to develop and publicise the Berkley, a sporting microcar powered by an air-cooled motorcycle engine. This was designed by Lawrie Bond at Charles Panter’s Berkeley Coachwork’s, a large caravan manufacturer whose factory was also in Biggleswade. With its fibreglass monocoque construction the Berkeley was driven at Goodwood by Stirling Moss in September 1956. At one point Ian was leading the International Tulip Rally in the Netherlands when his Berkeley’s engine expired.
Ian was very competitive and enjoyed Autotesting, a highly accessible form of rally-style precision car control testing and he won the BTRDA Flather Star Autotest Championship in 1955. He then went on to captain the England team in the Ken Wharton Memorial Five Nations Championship which was televised on BBC’s Grandstand in the 1960’s.
A member of the National Caravan Council for more than 40 years from the mid 1990’s, Ian was also chairman of the organising committee of the Caravan & Camping Exhibition at Earls Court from 1986 to 1991. A well known local figure in Biggleswade, he served its Magistrates Court for a quarter of a century, for five years of which he was chairman of the bench. In retirement in Cambridge he enjoyed gardening, particularly his famous lawn which was said to be the envy of many a Cambridge college groundsman!
Ian Mantle, previously Chairman of Mantles Group, died on 2 August 2010 aged 90 years.
John was the third generation of the Mantle family to join the motor and caravan business; he has been involved for the past 34 years. A Mechanical Engineer by profession, he was educated at Douai School and Bromsgrove College of Engineering where he followed a training path directed specifically at the Retail Motor Industry.
Motor Trade Consultant
He then spent a period of 8 years working with the University Motors Group in London, Nissan in South Africa and Coventry Steel in the Middle East where he marketed mobile hunting palaces to the ruling families of the Gulf States! After a period of time spent working with Ron Sewell & Associates – the leading Motor Trade Consultancy – he joined Mantles as Sales Manager at the Biggleswade branch in November 1978.
John has managed considerable change during his time with the business – re-organising the structure of the company and moving away from Caravan retailing and Mobile Homes as well as expanding the Car Dealership business. Following a demerger the family interests were consolidated and subsequently the decision made to move away from Caravan retailing in 1993. A period of growth followed with development of a new car dealership in Royston, the take over of a business in central Cambridge and the acquisition of a new dealership in Letchworth.
During this time an MG Rover implant business was set up within the British Aerospace plant at Stevenage and run successfully for a number of years. With a past history of close involvement with Austin, Morris and MG, the company enjoyed a strong relationship with MG Rover, having representation at 4 separate locations. Following in his father’s footsteps, John became involved with the MG Rover Franchise Board and took on the Chairman role just before the decision made by BMW in 2000 to sell off the company to the infamous Phoenix Four consortium. Subsequently, he became heavily involved working with this manufacturer over the ensuing 5 years to try and find a viable future plan. Sadly, the demise of MG Rover in 2005 was a major blow to Mantles, resulting in a downsizing of the business.
Ford Mitsubishi & Kia
Fortunately, the decision had already been taken a few years earlier to take on the Ford, Mitsubishi and Kia franchises. In recent years John has managed the business back into healthy profitability with the support of an established and loyal team. The more recent franchise partners have all contributed towards further growth in turnover and, as the company approaches its 94th birthday John can look with some satisfaction at what has been achieved and enjoy seeing everyone in the team sharing in the company’s success..