Rob Davis - Memories of his MGs and Living on Barbados!
Updated: Feb 27
Rob's Life in Cars
Here are some of the pictures James has of Rob's cars; for captions and the full collection just click here for the website gallery!
From references in the letter this was written by my dad - Rob Davis - in late 1988:
The MG Car Club
PO Box 251, Studley
Warwickshire, B80 7AT
My son James wrote to you in June informing you of my MGA Twin Cam which I have here in Barbados. It would seem you kindly forwarded the letter to Nick Cox of the Twin Cam Group, who telephoned him soon afterwards. I am writing to Nick separately on this occasion.
I originally joined the MG Car Club back in 1958 when I had a D Type Midget. In those days I had no idea how rare they were and I made considerable alterations to the body and mechanicals. It finished up looking like a J2 special, but I remember it went very well and handled like a true thoroughbred.
There followed a PB which I supercharged and raced between 1960 and about 1964. If I remember correctly the fastest lap around Silverstone was 120 dead. That was in the days of Mel Jones and his J4 replica. During the PB era I had two 1500 MGA's and then the beloved Twin Cam was bought in 1962 from an Italian named Renato Fratini. It had not been treated well but it was sound and went like the clappers! A very dated expression, but that is how cars went in those days.
I raced the Twin Cam on and off in the MG Car Club events until 1976 (I think) and it usually gave a good account of itself. During this period I owned an MGB GT - rather slow but practical, a couple of 1275 Cooper S's - enormous fun, an MGC - great cruising car and transformed with XAS tyres, and finally a V8 - fabulous, wish I still had it. I remember one joyous occasion continually baffling a Dino driver up to about 80mph. We stayed in close station on a long journey to the West Country.
I moved to Barbados in 1980 and last year shipped the Twin Cam over. Since then the car has been down to the last nut and bolt and it now on its way back together. I cannot wait to drive it again. Incidentally, having not run for six years, the batteries somehow survived and after some work on the brakes and electrics, I had a great run to Liverpool, seeing 6,600rpm in top on the last stretch of Motorway.
I hope I haven't bored you to death, but if you are still with me, I should like to rejoin the Club. The strange thing is that according to my UK bank account I still pay a bankers order into an MG Car Club account, but whether of not it is the same one as you use, I could not tell you. Anyway please send me the necessary forms, which I shall duly fill in and return as soon as possible.
Rob's Decades on Barbados - His Spiritual Home
I've grown up loving the written word and latterly enjoying story telling (I hope you agree!). Dad was not a natural fan of the written word, his dyslexia saw him struggle to compose and write letters; that said he wrote many scripts and word processors, then computers, were a boon to him.
Dad's artistic talent was with pictures. His creativity, composition skills and passion was infectious. He graduated in the 1950s from Ealing School of Art, he took up photography as a hobby whilst being an apprentice at BOAC. Following the tragic death of his father, he left BOAC and became involved in the family camera shop in New Malden, London. In the early 1960s he relocated with his sister and mother to Essex and opened his own camera shop in St Botolph's Street, Colchester: R E Davis. After many years of retail and film developing, he diversified into "audio-visual" which at that time took pictures in 35mm slide film format and created seamless AV shows set to soundtracks.
Leaving his retail days behind him he took the audio visual business concept to Barbados, it was a growth sector requiring both skill and significant investment in equipment. He was for many of those early years the only supplier on the island. Some of the largest and complex multi-media shows I ever witnessed him deliver used 16 separate projectors - 4 banks of 4 projectors stacked vertically - all synchronised and set to a sountrack, pictures fading in, chasing across the screen, zooming in and out - and not a computer in sight in those early days - just Dove controllers that syncronised the banks of projectors.
His clients included the Barbados Board of Tourism as well as Castrol, Alfa Romeo, Pitney Bowes; a large number of American companies that held conferences on Barbados over 3 decades. Over these years he toured around the world supporting his customers, all loyal to him as he was to them - putting in whatever it took to ensure their events were delivered smoothly and with aplomb. The Barbados Board of Tourism was his first customer and he often travelled with their party on international travel expos.
"I remember times he would work for 48 hours solid to hit a deadline, only stopping for a quick drink and bite to eat. To this idea I have no idea where he summoned up the stamina."
He and my stepmum Bonnie both worked in tourism over many years and I believe the island owes them a real debt of gratitude. They knew a great number of people on the island and hosted many visiting celebrities and dignitaries - from royal families to pop stars, authors and global business leaders. They helped stimulate and generate many tourist dollars to support the island. Dad fell in love with Barbados - known affectionately by early colonial settlers as "Little England" - and he held it fondly in his heart as his true spiritual home.
I have many childhood memories of being in his studio; him engrossed in work or on the phone, slides strewn across the light boxes, reel to reel audio tape splicing, scrap slides and tape literally all over the cutting room floor! Inevitably he would be untidy, hunting missing items as he long had a reputation for being absent minded. I spent many hours at his side as he went about his business, as his runner, holding cameras and equipment, putting up audio visual kit and tearing it down.
"Typically all his multi-media shows were rear projection, with the audience out front in an auditorium or conference suite. He'd find me an area near him to crouch whilst he was up and about orchestrating the audio visual and sound equipment from this staging area. We were out of sight and earshot of the audience - whilst we could hear the audio the slide projectors would chatter away; like a set of stacked dominos falling in synchonised perfection. I was so proud and in awe of his creativity."
I wish copies of these shows existed, alas they didn't survive as the technology moved on and slide projectors literally became redundant with video taking over and the content being disposed of.
One memorable afternoon I joined dad and his friend in a Cessna - flying at 50ft over the East coast with him hanging out of the door taking aerial shots. Also many daytime and evening tourist voyages along the coastline on Tiami, Jolly Roger, Captain Patch and the Bajan Queen as well as many, many hotels, restaurants and beach bars stretching along the South and West coast of the island. Then there was the the stunning Harrison's Caves, meeting Sir Gary Sobers and other celebrities - there is so much crammed onto such a small island. Barbados is roughly the same size as the Isle of Wight and - when in the air - one of only 2 islands in the world with a regular Concorde service. After dark, usually 6pm with its proximity to the equator, the soundtrack is of tree-frogs - overlaid on occasion with steel drums playing or chattering bajan conversations in a wonderfully warm and humid environment - all this firmly ingrained in my memory as it used to be in my dads before Alzheimers robbed him of them.
Dad had a great sense of humour; as shown in the brochure below; I received it at school with one of his rare letters - the idea was his to help promote a friend's hotel - proving he was always prepared to go the extra mile to help contacts and friends and do whatever it took to "get the shot".
Inevitably when I visited I would soon enough be tidying his studio, able to lay my hands on equipment and tools when he needed them. Sadly, when I returned months later, the task needed re-doing all over again! He never complained and we never spoke of my doing it, I always just struggled to understand why he didn't keep it that way. We worked well together and in an identical manner on the MG. It was like I knew what he was thinking or about to ask for. Magic.
Perhaps his dis-organised nature was as a consequence of his creative style; I just figured he spent more time hunting these missing items than taking the time to be organised! I reflect that perhaps it was the early signs of his Alzheimers. Certainly Bonnie and I have had discussions on what could have led to his Alzheimers, so much is unknown about the causes of this disease, resting on the many noxious and toxic chemicals he used to develop his own films.....
When dad was in the nursing home in those final months, Bonnie would play "The Merrymen" (an infamous Bajan band that he worked with) specifically their song Beautiful Barbados. Dad would close his eyes, sway his head and gently wave his arms as if conducting - despite the ravages of Alzheimers it clearly triggered something happy inside his head. As well as many local bands, steel drum and calypso bands, dad worked with Maxi Priest and other local artists.
Rob and Bonnie were part of a thriving ex-pat business community on the island. Dad's ultimate swansong prior to his retirement was setting up The Visitor Channel. Beaming into every hotel over the island with free to view local news and weather loops, it offered local bars, restaurants and associated tourist businesses the chance to advertise; along with local events and festivals.
Fast forward to the MGA being back from America in the UK and me being reunited with the car and my history file. It now contained some Wikipedia screen prints detailing the first owner - Renato Fratini. I had never researched him. I find it somewhat ironic that the MGA's first owner was also a highly creative artist - albeit in a different field. He too was full of life - just like dad. He too was taken tragically - albeit a different malady.
Rob Davis was finally released from Alzheimers in September 2019. Aged just 79, dad was a shadow of the creative, driven, talented, practical, clever, funny, spirited gentleman that influenced so many and inspired and instilled my passion for all things automotive. His family and friends miss him very much.
If I've not lost you to this point - thank you. These are some of the things that spring into my mind when I reflect on him and when I drive our MG. The noise and smell specifically act as triggers. Memories are so precious and I can speak from experience - we cannot ever take them for granted. But now, on this site, they are saved forever. This technology underpins my legacy mission.
Love you dad, rest in peace.