Businessman and museum founder;
Born: April 14, 1928; Died: August 15, 2013.
John Saunders, who has died aged 85, was the son of a railway guard and a maid who grew up to fulfil his unusual dream - to own a museum. He was 66 before he finally realised that dream, opening the largest private motor museum in the UK. The Stondon Motor Museum, which attracts car and motorbike buffs from around the world, has eight halls showing more than 400 classic cars, motorbikes, police cars, buses, fire engines and military vehicles.
An engineer by trade, as a young man he bought, refurbished and collected cars dating back to the earliest days of the motor vehicle. He already had around 40 cars at his home and many more stashed in friends' garages around the country when he decided to live his dream. He bought a former garden centre in the village of Lower Stondon, Bedfordshire, reluctantly removed the remaining plants and replaced them with his vehicles. In 1994, he was delighted to have a fellow car buff - actor Steve McFadden (better known as Phil Mitchell in EastEnders - open his new museum.
Over the best part of 20 years, he expanded the museum to include army tanks, aircraft, a full-size replica of Captain James Cook's ship HM Bark Endeavour and more than 400 model aircraft and helicopters of all eras. The last-named were hand-made and painted by one man, the Rev Allon Taffs, pastor of Therfield chapel near Royston, Hertfordshire, from the 1960s to the 1990s. After his death in 2006, the Rev Taff's brother donated the model planes - the result of 40 years' work - to the museum. Mr Saunders's own favourite exhibits, which he had bought and driven himself, were a 1971 Rolls-Royce Corniche (with one of his many personalised number plates, FJS 22) and a Bentley Turbo R, which he later sold to help keep the museum afloat.
Frederick John Saunders, known as John, was born in Peterborough. His father, Frederick, was a guard on trains of the London and North Eastern Railway before it became nationalised as British Railways. His mother Margaret was a maid in the country mansion of one of the local gentry. When the Saunders family moved to Hitchin, John went to the local Wiltshire-Dacre Junior School and St Mary's before studying engineering at Luton Sixth Form College and later graduating BSc.
For the Kryn and Lahy metal works in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, one of his first jobs was to design a jib for a high-lift crane. Moving to De Havilland in Hatfield, he helped design the wings of the company's Comet aircraft, as well as a one-man submarine for inspecting shipwrecks, before deciding to branch out as an entrepreneur on his own. He first set up a TV tube and reconditioning business in Birmingham, a lucrative trade at the time. He then moved to London to take over a plastics business which had a royal warrant for making PVC suit covers to be used inside wardrobes in the suites of the Royal Yacht Britannia. He took amused pride in the fact his creations kept moths away from the Queen's clothes.
Mr Saunders later found a niche in making plastic greenhouses. After Women's Own magazine featured a greenhouse designed by him, he sold thousands and, after upgrading his design, set up the company Norfolk Greenhouses in 1975, selling his wares by mail order. The company is still going today in Mildenhall, Suffolk, and Mr Saunders was its chairman until his death.
In the late 1960s, he bought a boatyard in the Norfolk Broads and designed a "caracruiser", a kind of motor caravan with an outboard engine which meant it could be used on land and water. The vessel sold particularly well in Ireland and many still turn heads on the roads and waters of the Broads. Mr Saunders went on to buy Brundall Bay Marina and helped develop it into what is now the largest marina on the Norfolk Broads, with moorings for more than 300 boats. He sold it somewhat reluctantly in 1988 when he decided to focus his mind and his money on his dream - the motor museum.
Saunders was a Fellow of the UK's Institute of Directors, based on London's Pall Mall, which encourages entrepreneurs while promoting business practice which benefits not only the business community but society as a whole.
His wife Joan, whom he married in 1953, died last year. He died of throat cancer and is survived by two sons, a daughter, 10 grandchildren and a great grand-child.
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