WHEN Simon Wilkinson was a young boy his dad took him along to his workplace - the Lotus car factory.

“He worked as chief buyer for Lotus founder Colin Chapman and was on was on the team that gave birth to the famous Lotus Cortina in the early sixties,” says Simon, who lives in Thornton. “He bought everything from toilet rolls to body shells and trims for the cars.

“We lived in Hertfordshire and on a Saturday he would take me and my brother Nicholas to the factory in Cheshunt. The offices had wood-panelled partitions and creaking floorboards. We were very young - I would be about three - and we were more interested in playing on the office telephones than looking at the cars. I used to go on one of the telephone extensions and ring Nick in the office next door. We thought this was great fun.”

His dad, Thomas, was also involved in creating mock racing cars using Lotus 7 chassis for the 1966 film Grand Prix starring James Garner.

“It would have been far too costly to crash real Formula 1 cars so they kitted out Lotus car to look like them,” says Simon.

He adds: “I wish I been a bit older and able to appreciate what the factory was all about. If dad had stayed longer I may even have ended up working there.”

At the time Thomas - who was awarded an MBE for his role as a navigator in the Berlin Airlift - drove a company car, a Ford Anglia.

“CYM 893C,” Simon rattles off, followed by a string of other car registration numbers. “I’m dyslexic and I can’t remember telephone numbers but I can remember the numbers of almost all the registration plates my family have ever owned.”

He recalls how, after the family moved to Bradford, his dad had seat belts fitted in a Ford Anglia 1200 Deluxe. “I remember him taking it to CD Bramall’s for it to be done. “The seats were vinyl-covered and on long journeys to Devon or Cornwall in summer our skin would stick to them. It was really painful getting up.

“After that he bought a Ford Cortina estate, YKW 433L, and then another Cortina, NUG 7P - that was a beauty.”

His dad’s background in cars has led to his life-long passion for them. “I’ve always been interested - I used to go to motor shows and collect the car brochures. I once went to the Rolls Royce stand and put on an American accent. I told them my dad was interested in buying one, so I could get hold of a brochure.”

After passing his test the first car Simon owned was a VW Beetle. “They were cheap to buy, but were draughty, noisy and the fuel consumption was horrendous. That car cost me £50, and £60 to insure. It was white but ended up multi-coloured after I fitted different parts and sprayed them.”

One of his cars ended up being two-tone. “There were some two-tone cars about then and I sprayed the bottom half Tuscan beige. Crazy - I don’t know what I was thinking, but it wasn’t too bad a job.

“I got it from CD Bramall, where I worked as a teenager removing the protective wax coatings that new cars were covered with in those days.” It was through Bramall’s that he secured an apprenticeship in the vehicle industry, working primarily on Ford vans.

He once blagged his way into the manufacturer’s famous Halewood plant for a nosey around, after meeting one of their employees on holiday. The worker also passed on his staff discount to Simon, which he made good use of.

“It was 22 per cent off - I used it to buy my first brand new car - an Escort XR3i, B870 KEM. I was 24 and had it for about three months. Then they brought out a Mark lll RS Turbo and I got the discount again.

“I was one of the first people in Bradford to own one. It was so unusual to see another that when you passed you’d both flash your lights. I got another one after that - I liked Ford as I had been Ford trained and knew the systems.”

Cars that followed have included a Sierra Saphire and a Mercedes 190. “I saw one outside the Alhambra and thought ‘I have to have one.’”

In 2006 the father of two grown up children left the motor trade and has since co-run Aire Valley Cleaning Services. His car, a Volvo XC60, gives a nod to his trade - it has ‘MOP’ on the number plate. “I also have a 2009 Audi with AVC, the company’s initials, on it.”

Simon’s eclectic taste in vehicles includes tractors. He co-owns a 1966 Massey Ferguson 135. “When we came to Bradford we lived in East Bierley surrounded by farms and I developed a love of tractors. I’ve taken part in charity events such as the Bronte Tractor Run.”

He is, he says, one of the few people to have had a “knuckle-clenching” ride in a Ferrari F40. “My friend bought it new for £250,000, it is now worth more than 1.5 million.” He is always on the lookout for cars. “I must be Autotrader’s best surfer,” he laughs. “I’ve been looking at Porsches recently, I would quite like a cabriolet - we can all dream!”