An interview with Andrew & Charles, founders of Autoclassics.uk
by Andrew Barber
When you meet Charles Woollam and Andrew Waller for the first time, it soon becomes very apparent that they both have a huge knowledge of, and passion for, classic, vintage and prestige cars, along with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of motorsport. What also becomes apparent is their passion for photography (and their competitive nature!).
I am meeting Charles and Andrew in the garden on a sunny summer morning. They have driven to Hampshire in their (near identical) silver Mercedes SLKs and I ask them how their love of cars came about?
They tell me that it is no surprise that they both became “petrol heads” as they grew up in families that were in some way involved with cars and motorsport.
Andrew’s father was, in the 1950s, deeply involved in Land Rover trialling. “It was not until after his death, when we discovered records of my father winning regional events, that I realised how successful he had been,” says Andrew.
He also had an uncle who had various classic sports cars from the era, including MGB GTs, E-type Jaguars and, later, Ferraris including a 246GT Dino and a 250 SWB.
“As a child, whenever uncle Michael visited us, I was taken by the beauty and apparent speed of his latest car. My particular favourite was an E-type, which he had in the early 70s. I guess this is where my love of expensive, fast cars really started,” he confesses.
He also recalls, as a young boy, standing on the roadside watching the vintage cars struggling past on the classic London to Brighton car run. “They weren’t as fast as my uncle’s cars, but in my eyes, they were just as special,” he says.
Charles’s explanation of his love of all things automotive is not dissimilar. His father had Jaguars. “Buckets of them” apparently.
He was also mad about car racing and subscribed to Motorsport magazine and throughout the early 1970s, Charles would thumb through these magazines once his father had finished with them and kept a scrapbook of photos he carefully cut out.
Then he recounts a tale of how, when he was very young, he posed for a photo next to a waxwork model of two-time world champion Jim Clark, while on a family visit to Madame Tussauds in London. “For me, he was an absolute legend. He was the only celebrity on display that day that I was interested in,” he says, adding “Fast cars and motor racing is something that’s in the blood and it never, really goes away.”
They talk and tease each other about the cars they have owned themselves. I ask them what their favourite was and the most fun to drive?
Charles tells me about a Triumph Vitesse he once owned. “It was very punchy in low gears!” he admits.
Andrew recalls a bright orange Mini Clubman he had for a while when he borrowed it from a family member that “hopped around corners” but his favourite (for now) is the SLK he is driving today. “It’s fast!” he grins.
Changing the subject as quick as a racing gear change, I ask them how they became friends.
They explain how they met while both working for the same surveying firm and their mutual love of motorsport and photography created an instant bond that has endured over the years.
As their careers took different paths they would still meet frequently, away from work, to indulge in their passion for cars and taking pictures (mainly of cars!) and it will come as no surprise that, in addition to hanging around race circuits, they also became regular attendees at the Goodwood Revival and the Festival of Speed. These classic events have become a rich hunting ground for each of them, both vying to see who could capture the best image of the event!
“It’s not just the speed that I am interested in, though,” says Charles, “I love the classic lines of the cars from the 50s and 60s, many of which look like they’re flying even when they are stationary. It’s their design and beauty that I love to capture.”
Andrew reminds Charles that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and reveals that his true love, in terms of cars, is not drawn to one particular era.
“It’s the rarity value that attracts me,” he says. “When you see a classic that you know only a handful were made of, or if it’s a car that was driven by a racing legend or took part in a famous race; that’s what fascinates me and gives them that special appeal.”
It was following a visit to Goodwood that Charles and Andrew decided to set up Autoclassics.uk as a business venture.
While at one of the Goodwood events they got talking to a private collector of classic cars, who invited them to visit him at home and spend the day taking photos of his cars.
“It was the most fun we’d had for a long time!” grins Andrew.
“Getting the right photo takes time,” says Charles. “You need to get the lighting, positioning and angles just right to do a car justice. It can take hours, but that day flew by!”
“This collector was very happy with the results when he saw them that he asked us for very large prints of some of the shots that we took. They look amazing on the walls of the garage where his cars are kept. It made us think that there was a gap in the market for the provision of high-quality photography and prints that don’t cost the earth,” says Andrew.
Not long after, Charles was put in contact with CKL Developments, who restore, maintain and undertake race preparation of Jaguars for their owners. He was invited along to a track day at Goodwood and was given the freedom of the circuit to enable him to get shots of the cars that CKL were responsible for.
“I could go pretty much anywhere and was able to get some amazing photos for the client. It was like street photography on a race circuit, with no crowds!” he smiles.
Andrew and Charles subsequently received further commissions from owners of classic and vintage cars who also wanted high-quality images.
“Sometimes they are just looking to capture the essence and beauty of their pride and joy, or they may be looking for an action shot of themselves in their car as they sweep around a tight corner on a track day. Others are looking to sell a particular car and want photos that highlight its beauty and quality,” says Charles.
“When you’re looking to sell a modern classic or vintage car in what can be a highly competitive and crowded marketplace, you need to be able to make your car stand out from the crowd. Photos taken on a mobile phone are fine for classified adverts in the local paper, but we find that clients want something more that can help them to illustrate sales literature and attract buyers,” Andrew explains.
“There’s a big gap between the photos produced by Bonhams for their auction brochures and those you see in Autotrader!” laughs Charles, adding, “That’s where we fit in.”
“Our photos reflect our love of cars and capture the magic of motorsport. In many ways, we see cars as works of art,” says Andrew.
“What could be better than having paying clients who enable us to indulge our passion?” he asks.