Running In Overdrive

But not for Lyall Williamson. The me-
chanic, racing car team manager, and now dealership owner, is just revving up and showing his backers why he’s winner.
Since he built the Parnell Rover City dealership in February last year, the business has exceeded its forecast revenue, and says Williamson, they’re now planning phase two – almost two years ahead of time.
On top of that, as one of this country’s most experienced and successful racing managers of touring cars, he continues to run and own International Motorsport which runs the BMW Motor Sport team, which he founded with his friend the late Denny Hulme. And he’s founder and managing director of Motorsport Lifestyle – the MG, Mini, Lotus, BMW Motor Cycle, Lamborghini, Hummel agency – which is now run by young Matt Fenton and Williamson’s two sons.
Five minutes into talking with him, he ducks into cupboard and out comes photo album – bulging with photos – most now lying loose on their well worn pages.
“There’s much more than this in shed at home,” he laughs. The racing memorabilia he’s collected includes more photos, clippings, crash helmets – he was even presented recently with one of Hulme’s steering wheels. They’re all waiting for permanent museum somewhere if Williamson ever finds the time.
His penchant for speed goes back to his boyhood, and he was “in seventh heaven”, he recalls, when he got an apprenticeship with Archibald Jaguars in Christchurch. It was here in the 1960s he met Kiwi racing great Denny Hulme and the two formed an enduring friendship, and business partnership, until Hulme’s death in Bathurst in 1992.
Despite his passion for fast and fine cars, Williamson was never tempted to drive. “I realised that wasn’t my calling. I was taught early on to make up your mind what you wanted to be. I’ve worked with lot of unbelievably talented drivers and I knew I had nowhere near the skills they had.
“Denny’s view was ?I am the driver – you get on and run the car.'”
It was while he was the mechanic for PDL on Minis, Falcons and Mustangs that his management skills were spotted by PDL owner Sir Robertson Stewart. “My role was then to run PDL Motor Sport until its close down in 1976.”
In 1976 he started up Penny Farthing, bicycle store in Christchurch, which he grew into national chain of nine shops, selling it in 1995. Throughout these years, he maintained his interest in cars and motor racing and built up an ongoing relationship with major manufacturers and sponsors who still support him today.
And it’s career that’s seen him headhunted around the world to manage racing teams in New Zealand, the United States, South Africa, and Australia.
In all he’s won 11 national touring car championships and manufacturer’s championships, as well as hundreds of races here in New Zealand. In Australia he won the touring car championship and manufacturer’s championship for BMW and the ultimate car prize, the 1997 Bathurst 1000.
After three years managing BMW’s team in Australia at the end of the 1990s, he turned down their offer to run the team in Asia, and he and wife Joy, came home to focus on the family business Motorsport Lifestyle. He continues long relationship with BMW, and now owns and runs the BMW Motor Sport team.
In sport of high profiles and personalities, Williamson’s style has always been one of the backroom rather than waving his own flag. It’s one of quietly and efficiently getting things done, and coming up with results. It was these characteristics that Geoff Fletcher, BMW managing director spotted. He suggested Williamson take on the Rover/Land Rover dealership for Auckland formerly handled by Colin Giltrap’s Rover of Greenlane.
From his years of working with Williamson with Motorsport Lifestyle and the BMW touring cars, Fletcher was impressed with his managerial qualities.
“He has great attention to detail and enthusiasm to make things work. It’s determination to do things right – and he works his way through the issues,” says Fletcher.
Williamson could see the big picture for the Land Rover business – then owned by BMW. “I had vision of where I wanted to go, but I could see what my shortfalls were.” Those shortfalls were managing the scale of the business he wanted to develop. “My eyes have always been bigger than my wallet and my talent,” he laughs.
“Motorsport Lifestyle was myself and sons and few others dedicated to motor racing – it’s close group of people. At Land Rover we have lot of staff but I try and keep the personal touch.”
It was Geoff Fletcher who helped resolve the situation, by bringing Williamson and general manager Murray Difford together. “I knew Murray, he had lot of experience in new car franchising, and I thought he could help,” says Fletcher.
Difford was working in Melbourne at the time and had 30-year association with BMW.
He came over, met Williamson and the two worked on feasibility study to take over the Rover Group franchise and move it to Parnell. “Visibility is vital key for vehicle exposure, and this is probably the best site in Auckland,” Difford says of the corner Strand site.
And they’ve not been disappointed. “We reached our 12 months’ sales target in 10 months,” says Difford.
It was, he adds, marathon to achieve it. “But it’s necessary if you’re going to ramp up business. That’s the level of commitment.”

Motoring chess
Williamson admits that when BMW split from Land Rover earlier this year – he had more than few anxious moments anticipating the outcome. It’s an environment he’s learning to live with however.
“The challenge is trying to work out who you can align yourself with that’s going to give you stable future that will justify the investment. The outcome is that Land Rover is now with the Ford Group, Rover is still working with BMW in small way, but now owned by company called Phoenix who have no history in this country.
“We have very loyal Rover base in New Zealand. It’s quite surprising the number of people who always buy Rover. It’s interesting the number of repeat customers – some seven, eight or nine Rovers. It’s all they buy. So we’ve got to make sure we can continue to supply that brand. Our future rests with Land Rover which is becoming the company’s mainstay brand with an exciting future.”

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